Help Chickens Beat the Summer Heat

Keeping the flock cool when the weather gets hot.
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Chickens beating the heat with a cool drink of water from an unused planter.

Chickens beating the heat with a cool drink of water from an unused planter.

Chickens beating the heat with a cool drink of water from an unused planter.

Summer can a great time of year for those raising backyard chickens. Longer daylight hours mean an increase in egg production and by mid-June we are already collecting more eggs than we can handle. Unfortunately, as temperatures continue to rise here in North Carolina, the chickens will begin to slow down, egg production may drop and the health of even the hardiest chickens can be threatened when the thermometer regularly sits over 90 degrees and occasionally climbs into the triple digits.

If you are in regions where summer heat can be oppressive, it can be important to select breeds that handle hot weather well, but all chickens can use a little help when the days become hot enough to, well, fry an egg on the sidewalk.  Check out these heat-busting tips to get you started.

Provide plenty of fresh water. Having water available at all times is always important, but never more so than when the weather gets hot. Keep multiple sources available and even consider adding ice cubes to the water or blocks of ice for them to peck at.

Allow access to shade. If free-ranging, make sure chickens are able to cool their heels in a nice shady spot when the sun is high.

Ventilate the coop. Still air can prove fatal to birds inside the coop. Make sure the coop has been constructed with adequate cross-ventilation and consider adding an exhaust fan to keep air moving.

Choose the right snacks. Tossing scratch grains out for the chickens is usually a good idea, but digesting whole grains will raise the resting temperature of a chicken. Lay off the grains until things cool down and try substituting a cool treat of frozen vegetables.

Play in the sprinkler. Some people set up misters for the chickens to cool down in the hot weather. Similar results can be achieved with a standard lawn sprinkler and it is kind of fun to watch them play in the spray.

Give them a bath. Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you pop them in the tub. Chickens get clean by getting dirty. Rolling around in dust and shaking it loose cleans their feathers and dislodges pests like mites and lice. As an added benefit, a good dust bath will help them cool down in warm weather as the earth cools their bodies and wicks away excess moisture and oil from the skin. A dust bath is little more than loose dirt and perhaps ash. Free-rangers are usually able to find a spot, but chickens kept in a run will benefit from the addition of a shallow wood or cardboard box filled with loose dirt. This is worth having all year long, but is never more valuable than when trying to help them cool down in the heat of summer.

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