Many small flock owners are concerned about keeping their chickens cool on these hot summer days. There are a few things you can do that will help them get through to cooler days in the fall.
Since chickens have a normal body temperature of 104-107 F, they can handle fairly warm temperatures. They don’t sweat like we do, however, so it can be more difficult for them to dissipate heat when the temperatures get quite warm. Birds pant to cool themselves. In doing so, they can breathe out quite a bit of moisture.
These things both lead to the number one priority for chickens in hot weather – water. It should be obvious, but chickens need access to fresh, cool water. Adequate water will go a long way toward keeping the chickens cool. Along with water to drink, water in the environment can be helpful. Spraying the ground around the birds can be helpful. They may get a little dirty, but they will be cooler. Moisture on the birds will help with evaporative cooling, functioning as “sweat” for the birds. Water misted into the airstream from a fan is another way of cooling the air around the chickens.
Air movement is another important part of cooling. If possible, fans can help a great deal. If electric fans are not an option, opening windows can help with natural ventilation. Often, if outdoor access is available, forcing the chickens out of their coop can be helpful. It may be much cooler outside, under a shade tree, than inside a building. Chickens may need to be locked out of their coops to keep them out, however.
If the birds do not have outdoor access, good ventilation is much more important. Insulation can be helpful to block solar radiation. Spraying water on the roof of the house may help cool the inside as well. Again, water misted into fans can be helpful. This will create the possibility of wet litter, so care must be taken not to overdo this.
Daily feeding patterns can be adjusted to help beat the heat. Digestion of feed causes a great deal of internal heat for the chicken. Providing feed in the late afternoon or evening, so most digestion occurs overnight while temperatures are cooler, can help. Removing the feed during the day will help keep the birds cooler. They will adjust to this feeding schedule very quickly. Chickens also tend to eat less when they are hot, so this can help keep feed consumption up. This, in turn, will help keep egg or meat production stable, even during hot weather. In extended periods of heat, increasing the protein level of the feed slightly can improve egg production. It may not be worth the effort for a short hot spell, however.
There has been some research showing improvements from providing extra electrolytes during hot weather. These can be provided in the feed or water. It is usually easier to mix these in the water, and this has the added bonus that chickens will often drink more water with electrolytes added. There is a limit to this, however, so don’t be tempted to think more is better.
Hopefully, these things will help keep your chickens alive and well during this hot weather.