New chicken owners can often find seasonal care for their chickens a bit daunting. The good news is that the summer months are not particularly challenging and if you can keep your chickens from getting heatstroke then most of the battle has been won when it comes to their care. Check out this handy guide that will show you exactly how to master summer care for chickens.
Our guide to “Seasonal Pet Chicken Care: How To Keep Her Cool In Summer” includes how to check your chicken for heatstroke, 16 ways to keep your chicken cool (keep water and food cool, stay away from corn and scratch, make sure they have shade, use insect powder, misting spray, ventilation, use of fans, paddling pool, electrolytes for chickens, frozen water bottles, breeds for summer, making a breeze, mud baths, dust baths and what to do about deep litter) as well as things you should keep doing and what to do when fall/autumn arrives.
10 Warning Signs That A Chicken May Have Heat Stroke
The biggest issue with chickens in the summer months is the possibility of heat stroke, also known as heat exhaustion or heat stress. Just like human beings, chickens can become seriously ill if they become too hot.
In fact, it’s much easier for a chicken to get heat stroke because they cannot sweat and therefore their body has no means of regulating their temperature. So, if you find the signs of heat stroke in your flock – you must take action immediately.
Chickens Are Out Of Breath And Panting
If you can’t sweat, then the only thing that you can do to exchange moisture with the outside world is through “panting”. You can tell if your chickens start panting quite easily – you will see they are sort of gasping for breath but making no sound while they do so. There will just be damp air flowing out of the beak. It’s a bit like when a dog pants. If you are worried because your chicken keeps opening her mouth then you should read one of our latest articles all about why chickens do this here.
Then They Start To Breathe Quickly
Once a chicken has been panting for a while, in humid air, it will start to find that it can’t expel any water vapor and so it tries even harder to get the water out… you may find that you bird starts to breathe 10 times faster than it would normally. Sadly, this is a terrible strategy for staying cool and it makes the bird hotter in most cases and not colder, which makes the heat stroke even worse.
They Lose Electrolytes
When we sweat, we lose electrolytes and chickens don’t sweat but lose them anyway. These are the salts and sugars that make it easy to manage the body’s nervous system. It might sound like no big deal but lose enough electrolytes and a chicken’s kidneys can fail, their immune system can be depressed, it can hurt their laying too. There are no obvious signs of electrolyte depletion to begin with either.
They Stretch Their Wings
If your chickens suddenly look like they’re trying to reach their maximum wingspan and all their feathers are stood on end, they’re getting very, very hot indeed. They’re trying to open up their skin to the air and getting all the air in their feathers out (this normally acts an insulating layer for chickens).
They Stop Eating But Drink A Lot
If you were panting, how much would you feel like eating? Not much, right? This is also true for your chickens and for a short-period of time this does them no harm. They’ll drink much more water when they get like this because they’re expelling lots of water vapor when they pant. At this stage, you really need to make sure they’ve got water to drink. An overheating chicken can quaff up to 5 times their normal load of water.
If your chickens stop eating due to heat then there is a risk of nutritional deficiency and they could lay thin shelled eggs or stop laying altogether. If you are concerned about thin shelled eggs then why not read our post all about why your hens shells might be thin here.
The Get Diarrhea
This is a signal that things are about to go from not so bad to pretty bad. Diarrhea is due to the stress that the hot bird is feeling – unfortunately, it’s not going to help them get better – they will be expelling a lot of electrolytes as they do this and as we’ve already seen, they’re already going to be running low on electrolytes.
Your Chicken Starts To Look Like A Human Being Dragging Itself Through The Desert
Now, they kind of start stumbling around, they have very little life in them, the wings droop and everything looks like an enormous effort. They’re not eating, they’re drinking too much and their electrolyte levels are plummeting. It’s at this point that you can consider your chickens to be dangerously heat exhausted.
Egg Production Changes
A distressed chicken doesn’t make for an excellent layer, quite the opposite, in fact. Chickens suffering from severe heat stroke may stop laying at all, if they do lay there’s a good chance that they will have thin-shelled or soft-shelled eggs. You are now reaching the point where your chickens are in peril of serious health problems.
Staggering, Collapsing, Disoriented, Chickens That May Have Seizures
This is the penultimate stage of heat stroke in chickens and if you do not take rapid action now, it is very likely that your chicken will die. If they start staggering around like a drunk and having seizures (just like an epileptic human would) then they’re beyond “serious” and they’ve got one foot in the grave.
The final symptom is the last. As you might expect once a chicken drops dead of heat stroke, it’s absolutely too late. The lack of electrolytes has effectively stopped the heart and lungs from functioning and your chickens have died what is a fairly unpleasant death.
Of course, you should never get to this stage of heat stroke with your chickens. You should be making all practical efforts to prevent things from ever getting this far. If you’ve tried all the tips below to help your chickens and they’re not working – you should call a vet and ask for their help.
16 Things To Help Keep Your Chicken Cool In Summer
Fortunately, there are plenty of things that you can do to ensure that your chickens don’t collapse of heat exhaustion in the summer. None of these things are expensive or difficult to do and any or all of them may help save their lives when the temperatures start soaring.
It’s best to be prepared to spring into action and if you have left your chickens alone on a hot day, you should head home to ensure their safety rather than leave them all day long. It can be a very unpleasant experience to return to a dead flock.
Keep Their Water Cool
You want to keep the water cool but not too cold, which isn’t as hard as it sounds. Chickens won’t eat ice but on a hot summer’s day they’re not going to object if you put it in their drinking water either. Sometimes you can add ice directly to the watering system but sometimes you may just need to leave out some dishes of iced water if it won’t work to add ice to your waterer.
Keeping Their Food Cool
Another nice trick is simply to freeze the chicken’s food. Now, we need to be clear we’re talking about high liquid content fruit and veg here like cucumbers, carrots, watermelons, etc. and not about freezing grains (which would be a mean trick). Chop them up into bite-sized chunks and freeze for about 2 hours.
One thing that’s important to remember here is that apple pips are poisonous to chickens, so if you do this with apples – take the pips out, please.
Stay Away From Corn And Scratch
Some things take longer for a chicken to digest than others and the longer the digestion process – the more heat it makes for your chicken’s body. The two things that really aren’t going to help on a summer day are corn and scratch, save them for a cooler evening, instead.
Making Sure They Have Enough Shade
This might sound ridiculous but not all chickens have natural access to shade. The coop is often way too hot during the middle of the day for chickens to take refuge in and that means they need some shade outdoors. They might get this from well-placed plants, or you could always buy an umbrella and stick it up somewhere.
Get Some Insect Powder
One really unpleasant thing about the summer from a chicken’s perspective is that mites and lice love to come out to play and are quite happy to put some overtime into making your chickens absolutely miserable. Using a powdered insecticide (talk to your vet about this) can help head them off at the pass and keep your chickens cool and happy.
Think About Investing In A Misting Spray
We know, it sounds like we’re spoiling our chickens but, in truth, if you have a sprinkler attachment for your garden, how hard is it to replace that with a misting attachment when the world gets really hot and leave it on our near the pen so that your chickens can get a quick cool shower whenever they want? It makes a huge difference too.
Attend To Ventilation In The Coop
Did we mention that it gets very hot in the chicken coop? Well, it does. The best way to help keep your chicken coop bearable on a summer’s evening is to ensure that it’s ventilated enough to allow a breeze to pass through the coop. That’s what the windows are for. Crack them open a little and if you’re worried about predators, place a steel guard over them.
Maybe Install A Fan In The Coop
You have to be careful about putting a fan in a chicken coop for two reasons. The first is that chickens might hurt themselves, so you need to buy a pet friendly fan and not the first thing you lay eyes on at Costco. Secondly, you need to ensure that the electric cabling is protected from chickens because otherwise they’re going to burn the coop down or electrocute themselves or possibly, both.
Set Up A Paddling Pool For Chickens
Just before we give this bit of advice, we would like to point out that chickens have claws and if your paddling pool or baby pool is inflatable – you might want to think about making them a pool out of a plastic tub instead. Fill the pool with water maybe add a small handful of ice and leave it out at the hottest part of the day.
Don’t leave it out late, chickens need to be completely dry before they sleep, or they get diseases.
Consider Adding Electrolytes
If your chickens are showing any signs of heat stroke at all, you should be adding electrolytes to their water supply and if you know that they’re going to be facing insanely hot temperatures at any point in the day, you should also be adding electrolytes to the water. If you replace electrolytes before they lose them, they won’t get heat stroke. These are cheap (because they’re basically just salt and sugar) and can be bought online or from your vet.
The Frozen Water Bottle Trick
Get a large (one gallon) plastic bottle and fill it with water. Put the cap on and freeze it solid. Then take it out into the garden and bury it so that about half of it sticks out of the ground and cover it with a thin towel. Then let the chickens rub themselves against it to get cool. It will last longer, of course, if you bury it in the shade.
The Differences Between Breeds
Not all chickens are created equal and there are certain breeds of chicken that really love hot and sunny weather. That doesn’t mean they can handle Death Valley conditions or real freak temperatures, but ordinary hot sunny days aren’t that hard on Rhode Island Reds, White Plymouth Rocks, Leghorns or Welsummers.
Creating A Breeze For Your Chickens
Sometimes, all this won’t be enough and one of the easiest ways to get your chickens cool is to drag out a standing fan, angle it down and let it run. However, you need to keep an eye on this because while the chickens may love the breeze, getting too close to the fan might cause them an injury – you shouldn’t need to do this for very long but it can really help in the mid-day sun.
Create A Mud Bath
Chickens don’t always like to throw themselves into water, but they may appreciate the chance just to cool their feet down. You can make a corner of the coop a bit damp and they can come and stand in a little mud bath when they feel like it. Just don’t go overboard and soak the whole coop.
Make Sure They Have Space To Dust Bath
A chicken’s natural bathing cycle is to use dust to get themselves clean. This is actually also really good at cooling a chicken down. Now, most of the time hot weather lends itself naturally to providing dust for chickens but just in case there are none available to your chickens – you can always make them a dust bath.
Avoid Deep Litter?
We like the deep litter technique for making a coop hotter during winter because the composting action generates heat. However, we’d acknowledge that this isn’t an advantage in the middle of a heat wave – if it’s only a day or two, you probably don’t need to stop using deep litter but if it’s a month of more of extreme heat – it might be a good idea to clear out the coop and use ordinary bedding until the heat stops.
Things To Keep Doing During The Summer
These tasks need taking care of all the way through the year and not just in summer, but you can’t neglect them because you’d rather be catching some rays in the yard than working on your chickens. This is your part in ensuring you always have some tasty eggs on hand, and it won’t take as long as you might think.
Daily Care Routine
There are several things that every chicken owner should be doing every day:
- Make sure they have fresh food and water. We’d recommend that you buy an automated feeding and watering system because it makes this process really easy and it prevents the food and drink from becoming contaminated by rodents, insects, bacteria, etc. but even if you’re using an open system, everything needs to be fresh every day.
- Open and close the coop on time. You can buy a timed door operator to handle this or you can do it yourself but please understand the important of routine and try to make sure you open and close the coop at a similar time each day.
- Give a quick healthcare check to your chickens. You don’t have to go mad with worry about birds falling ill but the easiest way to make sure that a minor illness doesn’t kill your whole flock is to spot it early and treat it early. Just take a few minutes to look your birds over and make sure they’re behaving normally and there’s nothing wrong them.
- Gather their eggs. Not only does this mean that your eggs are going to be fresh, but it also helps to prevent hens from becoming broody. In Spring and Summer, it can be best to collect eggs several times a day as broody hens can be a bit of a pain and it will stop momma chickens from gorging on their own eggs which is every bit as creepy as it sounds.
- Keep an eye on the weather. It may get hot in the summer, but it might also be freakily cold, or a violent summer storm might suddenly roll in and ruin your chickens’ afternoon. If you’re aware of what to expect, you can help set up the coop, the yard, etc. to ensure your chickens aren’t too stressed out about the changes.
- A quick tidy up. We don’t hold with cleaning out the coop on a daily basis, though we know some people who do, but we do think it can help to clean up any serious “messy poop” moments and just make sure things are in order. Though if you’re using the deep-litter method, leave that poop alone, it needs to be there.
- Hand out some treats or play some games. Don’t let your chickens get bored and remember that the best way to motivate a chicken is to feed them. Some food treats can help boost the bond between you and your flock and also ensure that they are happy and content and thus laying at maximum productivity.
Weekly Care Routine
There are some other tasks that need to be done each week:
- Clean the coop thoroughly. Again, if you’re using the deep litter method, ignore this but otherwise, you want to change the bedding, sweep things out, give it a jolly good clean. We know some people let this slide a little in the winter but in the summer, it must be done each week, or it’ll get stinky and your chickens will get sick.
- Top up the Oyster Shells and Grit. You have to feed chickens these two peculiar commodities if you want strong healthy eggs and they need an endless supply. You buy them at your local feed store and then dispense them from small dishes placed in the coop.
- Clean the run. You don’t have to go mad with cleaning the run but it can’t hurt to give it a rake, clear out any holes they’ve made for dust bathing and throw out any non-degradable waste (corn husks, that kind of thing).
Monthly Care Routine
There are also a few things to be done on a monthly basis:
- Change the bedding in the nesting boxes. You may want to do this more often if you can smell ammonia from the nesting boxes – that’s the warning sign that things are not going well, and your chickens may be getting sick soon.
- Remove chicken poop from anywhere it’s building up. You can put some trays under the roosting poles in the coop to help catch this, though again if you’re using the deep litter method – you need the poop to stay in the coop.
- Stock up on supplies for your chickens. You want to make sure you have enough food and other supplies on hand to last a month.
Bi-Annual Care Routine
If you’re using the deep litter method, then twice a year you should be giving your chicken coop a thorough overhaul. That means getting in and giving it a deep clean. Get all the compost out. Then disinfect and clean everything that you can get your hands on.
Make sure to keep your chickens away until it’s all properly dry, you don’t want them to get sick from eating bleach or another chemical cleaning agent. You can, of course, buy organic cleaning products which are safer for the birds though a little more expensive.
Fall/Autumn Care For Chickens
Possibly the easiest season of the year for chicken care is the Fall/Autumn and it’s our favorite time to:
Relax A Little
When the going’s easy, you can afford to spend a bit more time just having fun with your chickens. Play some games with them. Talk to them. Remember why they make such excellent pets. Bonding with your chickens is priceless and the low demands of this season make it really easy to do.
Keep An Eye Out For Molting
Molting is absolutely normal and the time of year most chickens lose their feathers is in the Fall/Autumn. So, don’t be distressed if you come across a chicken strutting around in their birthday suit, that’s how this works.
However, you should just keep an eye on their feed and diet because molting can leave them vitamin or mineral deficient because it’s such an expensive process from a biological standpoint.
Also, don’t panic – hens don’t lay while they molt, normal service will resume with normal feathers.
We hope that our “Seasonal Pet Chicken Care: How To Keep Her Cool In Summer” guide has helped you to better understand your chicken’s needs in summer. Of course, as chickens are fairly simple birds this isn’t particularly complicated.
You just need to keep them cool and watch out for any signs of heatstroke. In most cases, you can ward off heatstroke just by following our 16 tips but if things get really bad, don’t hesitate to talk to your vet, they’ll be able to help.