Here in central Texas, the heat and humidity can be a brutal combination. And the “season” for heat and humidity can seem to go on f.o.r.e.v.e.r. So we know all about keeping me from losing my cool…ahem, I mean keeping our chickens cool.
Know the Signs
Some signs of heat stress in chickens are: panting (chickens do not have sweat glands, so they pant to help cool their bodies down through respiration), spreading wings away from their body, pale combs and wattles, and generally lethargic. You may also notice a reduction in egg production, egg size, or poor shell quality.
Here are ten things we do to keep our chickens cool:
- Plenty of water: chickens need access to plenty of fresh, clean water all the time, but especially when the temperatures soar. It also helps to keep their water, whatever setup you use, in the shade.
- Speaking of shade, it’s helpful if they have some. By a pure stroke of genius luck, we ended up building our coop in the center of a cluster of trees. Once the trees are fully leafed out in the spring, their entire coop and surrounding yard is completely shaded (which consequently also gives them relatively good air cover from hawks).
- Besides keeping their drinking water in the shade, we also have black rubber shallow feed pans full of water around their yard (in the shade). I’m always shocked by how cool the water stays when it’s blistering hot outside.Another way chickens will cool themselves down is by standing with their feet submerged in water. I swear, we can almost see them hike up their “bloomers” and wade in.
- And speaking of standing in water to cool down, chickens love mud puddles.No matter what time of year it seems (mild winters here), if we’re ever out watering trees, the chickens flock (no pun intended) to the water pooling around the base of the tree. Even with five gallons of fresh clean water in the waterer, they’d rather go stand in, scratch around, and drink from a puddle.
- When we say we spoil our chickens by giving them treats, those treats are fruits, vegetables, and grains. In the summer, items with high water content like cold melons, berries, and lettuces are a great supplement on a hot day.I’m here to tell you, our chickens will knock. you. over. for a cold watermelon or cantaloupe on a hot day!
- You can also give them popsicles.No, not otter pops! Chopped fruits and veggies frozen in an ice cube tray (with a little water) make great snacks to beat the heat. Fresh mint is also a good, cooling herb to add to these popsicles.
- Every year, we string a mister line across their yard. Again, this is in the shade, so it helps minimize evaporation. We come out to the coop in the evenings every day of the summer, we find the chickens in the “wading pools” and digging around in the soil right underneath the misters. It’s not as effective in our high humidity climate, but when I stand in the mist, I can definitely tell a difference in my body temp!
- We built our coop with plenty of cross ventilation. There is a huge window in the west people door, one on the south side of the coop and one on the east side of the coop. We also have ventilation “windows” at the very top of our north and south walls, just below the roof.These, coupled with the “summer screen door” for the chickens’ opening to the coop, allows for air movement through the chimney effect.
- Even with all the windows and cross ventilation, we also have fans in our coop. Air movement is key, especially in humid climates like ours.
- Taking it a step further, on really hot nights, we’ve even put wet towels (my hubby’s Grandma Jane use to get “tow sacks” soaking wet) and hang them up near fans, but not in front of the fan blocking air flow. And we also recycle juice bottles, fill them with water, and freeze them. We put those blocks of ice in front of the fans. They don’t last all night obviously, but as the chickens are getting settled down for the night, you can feel the cooler temp of the air blowing past the blocks of ice.
Read up on chicken breeds when you’re selecting your chicks. Some folks need cold tolerant birds, and some, like us, need heat tolerant ones. And observe your flock. We have made our own notes about the breeds that seem to do the best at handling the heat.
Cheryl Aker blogs about her animals and homesteading adventures on her blog, Pasture Deficit Disorder. You can also follow her on Facebook.