Summer is here and it's a hot one! The weatherman says it's going to be a record breaking 102 degrees in Kentucky today and it's going to stay this way for awhile. It actually reached 107.6 at our home yesterday.
This is the time of year when your chickens will need more special attention. Chickens have a much higher body temperature than you or I and will generally feel that rise in heat faster then we will. The average body temperature for a chicken normally will run at 102-103 degrees F. Their heart rate is normally 280-315 beats per minute. Another fact is a rooster will take around 18-20 breaths per minute while a hens is 30-35 breaths per minute. The average life span for an egg laying chicken is around 5-8 years for large breeds such as your Rhode Island Red's but have been known to live 20 years while 'meat' birds only live 1-3 years.
Heat can create more problems for your chickens than cold weather can. It's easy to see they are insulated rather well with many feathers. Chickens fluff up their feathers as many birds will do which traps air between the layers which keep air in as a insulation in cold weather. In warmer weather they seek out shade. You will notice them lay down and spread their wings and bodies out to cool down. The main way a chicken cools itself though is drinking plenty of cold water.
Since we as humans do not speak chicken 'cluck cluck language' our chickens let us know in other ways such as body language when they are uncomfortable or getting overheated. Number one will be having their mouth open and panting and most often they will have their wings spread somewhat hanging at the sides of the body. They will lay around more. Egg laying will drop. Chickens will eat less in warm weather. Chickens can not sweat so they hold their wings open away from their body and pant to release some of that extra heat in the summer. Chickens cool themselves by blood flowing through the comb and wattles which then cools and recirculates back through the interior part of their body. In extreme heat they most often will seek out a shady location to lay and rest.
I've read that adult chickens will start to pant once temperatures reach in the middle 80's. With the heat we have moving through our region now special care is essential to keep a happy and healthy flock. Heat stress factors can be damaging to a chickens health and well being even leading to death in some cases. We can prevent this by paying close attention and meeting their needs in these conditions.
This is the time to have additional amounts of water available for your chickens. In high heat conditions chickens will drink twice as much water. Try keeping extra pails of water available for your flock both in the coop and outside as well. Having more than one source of water for chickens also helps in preventing fights between them over 'who gets to drink first'. Place pans around the yard so chickens do not have to walk to far to find it. This will encourage them to drink more and more often. Make sure the water is clean and fresh! The best rule to live by is replacing the water daily so it is always fresh and cool. Chickens will drink more water if it is cool rather than warm. During hot weather algae is more likely to grow so remember to clean out the water bowls more often too.
In extreme heat it is extra important to provide plenty of ventilation inside the coop. A thermometer is an essential tool to have in the coop to monitor the heat conditions. All windows should be open for air circulation. Thick bedding such as pine shavings can be a heat absorber and should be used more sparingly having only an inch or so in thickness. If you have electric in the coop providing a fan will help in circulating air flow. Having constant air flow is a must. Roof vents will help in removing trapped heat around the ceiling. Look for signs of mold in the coop if using straw or hay. Using hay and straw in the coop during hot weather can start to rot much faster which turns to compost which in turn will only add more heat. Remove and clean the coop if any mold is found.
Always make sure you are providing plenty of shade for your chickens in warm weather. Place an old watered down bed sheet over the coop. Use anything you can think of to provide shade. If you do not have an abundant amount of shade think of ways to provide that important necessity. A simple cardboard box turned on it's side with a hole cut out for ventilation will help during warm weather.
WAYS OF COOLING OFF CHICKENS:
Provide frozen water bottles. Frozen water bottles can be placed in the bedding inside the coop. They can be placed in the water pans to keep the water nice and cold. 2-liter bottles are wonderful to use.
Hosing off the coop. Take the hose and apply water to the walls and roof of the coop in extreme heat conditions. Hose the run area early in the morning paying special attention however that the chickens are not standing in the water which can lead to foot problems.
CHICKEN HEAT STRESS MANAGEMENT:
Providing Electrolytes, When a chicken pants it will alter their electrolytes, so adding electrolytes to the water will aid in rebalancing. This will increase the chickens drinking habits making them drink more water which they need in extreme heat conditions. When supplementing the water with anything it is always important to speak with your vet or health specialist.
In extreme heat chickens eat less so it is important to feed them during the coolest part of the day. Remember digestion produces more heat.
Provide evaporative cooling. Water misters and foggers can be used. Providing water on chickens helps to cool them off in high heat conditions.
Avoid overcrowding, Overcrowding increases heat. Provide plenty of room for your chickens to move freely. Provide shade in as many areas as possible. Try not disturbing your chickens in the middle of the day. They need to do their own thing and rest when they can.
When free ranging, Taller grass, shrubs and weeds prevent air flow. Make sure they have plenty of places where the grass is short and shady locations. Make sure you are providing plenty of fresh, clean cold water.
Provide chilled or frozen fruits and vegetables, Providing chilled fruits and veggies will help in cooling off your chickens. Avoid grains such as corn which are high in starch content during extreme heat conditions. High starch content grains will heat up a chickens body temperature.
Provide a dirt area, Providing loose dirt that has been waterred down and allowed to drain will be a cool area they can lay in and dirt bathe. A chicken likes nothing better then rolling around in cool dirt! Try to have plenty of these areas so all your chickens have space to cool off.
Leave your chickens alone, As much as we love our chickens and want to be around them it is best to leave them alone during extreme heat conditions. At this time you want to keep stress levels down as low as possible. Let them do their own thing. Avoid picking them up which will increase their body temperature. Only monitor them during hot weather for signs of excess heat stress.