Just as humans and our furry family members can struggle in hot, humid weather, so too are chickens affected by the heat. Summer can be unrelenting and the hot, steamy conditions often don’t completely pass until mid Autumn – and they can arise again by early Spring.
While humans can sweat to cool down, sit in air conditioning, go for a swim, or take off layers of our clothes, our feathery family members need some extra human help to cool down.
Are Your Chickens Struggling with the Heat?
Though chickens can survive in most temperature conditions, they can have trouble adjusting to weather extremes, and summer can be very tough in the chicken coop.
It’s much easier to warm a chicken up than it is to cool it down. Temperatures exceeding 24 C can begin to heat birds up and over 27 C causes stress – particularly if the humidity exceeds 75%. Sudden temperature spikes can also be more dangerous than a steady, gradual temperature increase.
Signs your Chickens are Struggling in Hot Weather:
- Panting or breathing with an open beak
- Listlessness, droopiness, and lethargy
- Decreased appetite
- Early molting
- Stopped or reduced laying
- Pale or discolored wattle or comb
- Extended wings and heads down
- Hot to the touch between the legs but not broody
Which Chicken Breed Does Best in Hot Weather?
Chickens can’t sweat. They do release some body heat through their feet, comb, and wattle, which have high concentrations of tiny blood vessels called capillaries. These circulate blood and body heat to the skin’s surface from where it quickly dissipates – unless it is too hot outside.
Chickens with larger combs and wattles are better suited to warmer climates, whereas those with smaller combs and wattles tend to be more winter-tolerant.
Chickens will also actively work to cool themselves – by panting and by holding their wings away from their bodies to enable airflow under the wings.
You can actively choose heat-hardy chicken breeds. These are better suited to hot weather, especially when the warmer climate is present for longer. Some breeds, in particular, are better conditioned to cope with hot, scorching, or tropical weather conditions:
- Plymouth Rock
- Easter Egger
- Rhode Island Red
- New Hampshire Red
- White Leghorn
- Fayoumi (Egyptian breed)
9 Ways to Keep Chickens Cool in Hot Weather
1. Chickens require Shelter
Provide plenty of access to summer shade in the run and yard – and create it if necessary. Ideally, your coop will also be partly shaded in summer and your hens will have plenty of shady spots to retreat to on hotter days.
2. Access to Water
Provide constant access to cold, clean, fresh water at all times, in the coop, the run, and the free-ranging yard. Water MUST be cool or cold – chickens will drink water even if it is warm or hot and this can kill them.
3. Chicken Coops need Airflow
Ensure the coop is well ventilated and kept clean, and shaded. If necessary, safely add a fan to the coop. You may also need to ventilate the coop against solar heat especially if the roof is corrugated iron.
Using foam boxes or hay bales on the roof and covered with plywood. Have ventilation openings in the roof to allow rising hot air to escape, and windows or an open wall to allow for cross-breezes.
4. Cool down the coop with water
Lightly spray your chickens with a fine mist of cool clean water. Hose down the outside of the coop itself.
5. Keep Drinking water Cool
Add electrolytes to your chickens’ water trough and add ice cubes as well to keep the water cool. Place waterers in the shade to help keep the water cooler.
6. Keep food in a cool place
Freeze the normal nutritious chicken feed for an hour before giving it to your birds. Offer healthy feed and reduce warming foods such as cracked corn, meat, bread, and other rich foods.
7. Give Chickens cold treats
Offer treats of frozen watermelon, frozen peas, or frozen strawberries for them to peck at, as well as hanging lettuce or cabbage for them to easily access.
8. Cooling Down a Heat stressed Chicken
An overheated chicken needs to be cooled down – gently dunk your hen in cool water, but not her head, to help reduce her core body temperature promptly.
You can also set up a very shallow kiddie pool or create a cool mud puddle for the hens to stand in and cool their feet down.
Have stepping stones or similar so the hens can choose where they stand. Be careful of this with chicks, as they can drown.
9. Provide space for a dust bath in the shade.
Chickens enjoy having a dust bath together. If the soil has been slightly dampened, this will be away for the chickens to cool down. Damp soil in the shade is nice and cool.
How to choose what breed of chicken is right for you in a hot climate
Selectively choose your chicken breed – opt for breeds with large wattles and combs for efficient self-cooling. Choose smaller, lighter breeds with lower levels of body fat. Choose less densely feathered breeds and avoid breeds with feathery feet and legs. Birds with lighter colored feathers will reflect rather than absorb sunlight and solar heat.
Hot weather can be rough on chickens, and even deadly when the temperatures are extreme. Pay attention to keeping your hens cool, comfortable, and calm, and they will continue to thrive throughout the summer.