Are your chickens struggling with the heat this summer? It's been hotter than our typical summer here in Oregon, and my chickens are complaining. So let's talk about ways to keep them cool, shall we?
Can chickens swim?
The question burned in my mind as hot as the summer sun cooked the top of my head. I was confused, because I'd always heard that chickens cannot swim. Their feathers aren't water proof so they'll become drenched and make the bird sink. But then I read a blog post that showed pictures of swimming chickens. (You can check it out HERE). So chickens can swim? I looked at my hot chickens then at the big empty tub in the yard...
Please forgive me. I was just trying to help. But apparently, not all chickens like to get wet. To me, the tub full of water looked like the perfect way to cool my birds. I mean it was hot. Really hot. My chickens beaks hung open and they couldn't stop panting like dogs. They held their wings away from their bodies when they walked, and their necks throbbed so fast with heavy breathing, I wanted to do something. So I filled the tub. Please don't judge me. My intentions were good. But I think my birds are still mad at me.
Let's face it, heat is hard on chickens...
The truth is, when it comes to chickens, it's the heat we need to worry about more than the cold. Heat stresses chickens out. (I know what you're thinking: So do people who throw them in tubs of water. But then you're completely missing the point). The point is, heat can be hard on chickens, and even cause them to die of heat-stroke. So to help you out (and to keep you from drowning your hens), I'm going to share my tips for helping your chickens beat the heat this summer. (Don't worry, these are the good tips!--No really).
How to keep chickens cool in summer's heat:
1. Chickens like foot baths. Did you know chickens don't sweat? Instead, they cool off through their feet, combs and wattles. (I just learned this, so I think it's cool). Apparently, dipping their feet (or combs and wattles) in cool water can bring instant relief from the heat. So to help them out, we now place shallow dishes of cool water in the yard for our birds to stand in. Sometimes, we even put a chunk of ice in the water (not so they can stand in ice-water, but to keep it cool longer).
Watch what happens when Honey stands in a dish of water. She starts off with her mouth open, panting from the heat (poor thing).
Some chickens need to be shown how to do this, but then they figure it out and will do it on there own. And some chickens will NOT put their feet in the water for anything! If your chickens are water-shy, you can place a brick in the dish. The stone will absorb the water and be cool to the touch. Chickens can stand on the stone when they need to cool down.
2. Chickens love popsicles. These can be made of just about any fruits and vegetables your chickens like to eat. I like to start with food that's already frozen, like peas, corn, blueberries, etc. I use small bowls and cover the frozen food with water. Beginning with already frozen food helps everything freeze very fast so my chicken-treat pop-sicles are ready in about an hour. My chickens totally dig this cooling snack and they end up drinking the melted water and juices too.
3. Chickens need plenty of shade. Our chickens have several shade trees to hang out under, but when it's super hot, they tend to stake their claim on our front porch. (They kinds of have the run of the mill around here right now. You can read that story HERE).
The birds call dibs on the porch because it happens to stay shady there until about 5:00 o'clock in the evening. They like it also, because the concrete is cool under their feet. It's funny, but we have these two pieces of plywood leaning against the wall (waiting to be used on our permanent coop). The birds take turns lining up back behind there where it's a few degrees cooler. When they do this, it looks like they're playing a game a sardines :-)
It doesn't really matter where the shade is, the point is, chickens must have shady places to rest and hang out when it's hot.
4. Chickens like a good summer shower (even if it's from the hose). Spraying down the ground with a hose make chickens happy. On a hot day, a freshly sprayed patch of earth can be several degrees cooler than the surrounding area, due to the principal of evaporative cooling. Often, we'll go out and hose down a favorite shady spot for our chickens. They get all clucky and pleased when we do this. They'll see us coming and stand and wait for us to finish. Then they'll take off scratching around in the newly moistened area. Not only is this good for finding creepy-crawlies, but it's also good for cooling our birds.
5. Chickens like a clean cool watering hole that's not a hike away. When it's hot, chickens don't like to travel long distances in the sun to get to their water. They like it even less when their water gets warm. Since our birds free-range most of the time, this becomes even more important as they can wander pretty far at times. To encourage them to stay hydrated, we take extra measures...
- Instead of just one standard water dish in their hillbilly run (read this post to understand that term), we place several water dishes around for our chickens. We keep one on the porch, one under their favorite shade tree, and one over near the wood-chip pile where they like to scratch up bugs. Then, as the shade moves, and our chickens with it, we move their water too.
- During hot weather, we keep our ice trays full. Since chickens resist drinking warm water, we make a point to check their dishes often. It only takes a minute to fill each dish with fresh cool water and stick some ice in it. (The ice just helps it stay cool longer). Roo thinks this is a special treat when we bring out the ice, because he always calls the girls over when we do this. "Oh-oh! Come see, girls! It's that weird cold stuff again. Come get it while the gettin's good!"
TIP: If checking water dishes and cooling them with ice throughout the day seems impractical, check out the link at the bottom of this post to an automatic waterer that hooks up to a hose for a continuous flow of fresh cool water all day long.
- On days when our birds have to stay in their run for part of the day, we make sure to have more than one dish in there, too. One day we came home to find that the water bottle (with the chicken nipple) had fallen from where it usually hangs on the wire wall. It's a good thing there was a second free-standing waterer, or our birds would've been up a creek (a very dry creek) without any water for who knows how long.
- In the chicken run, we've learned not to place the free-standing waterer on the ground. (In the yard is fine where the ground is clear, but in the run where it's crowded and the ground is covered in straw or something else, it's not a good idea). We place our free-standing waterer on a sturdy wooden box so the water trough is at the chickens' head level. This way, they can walk up to it and drink, and when they scratch around, they don't fill the waterer with straw, dirt and poop (which is just nasty)!
6. Chickens think dust baths are cool (literally). Chickens are a dusty bunch. Though some may like to swim in water (I still find this hard to believe), most chickens prefer dust baths. Our chickens favorite dust bath area happens to be next to our porch. Like I said, it's shady there, and we have this dry-as-a-bone flowerbed (no flowers, of course) where the bird's have hallowed out a couple big dust bowls for bathing in. They dig down to where the soil feels cool and then wallow and roll and flick dirt over themselves. (Don't elephants do this too)? Sometimes we spray the soil with water where they bathe, then a little later in the day they enjoy the damp coolness.
7. Chickens go crazy over juicy fruits and vegetables. Our chickens go berserk when we give them things like watermelon, apples, cucumber, tomatoes, and corn on the cob. When it's hot, we opt for these treats instead dry scratch. Chickens bodies actually heat up while processing grains and carbs, so scratch isn't the best choice. When it's hot, it's best to feed them only a good layer feed and then give them fruits and veggies for their treats. We make sure these juicy yummies come straight from the fridge, nice and cold. Man-o-man, do our birds go crazy for this kind of thing!
8. Chickens need plenty of air circulation. Our chickens free range most of the time, so making sure they have fresh air is not usually a problem. But if your chickens are in a coop (run) during the day, rigging up a fan to circulate the air may help keep chickens comfortable, especially around the nesting boxes, which can get pretty stuffy.
By the way, speaking of air circulation, did you know chickens don't like to get wet for good reason? Getting wet prevents air circulation around a chicken's body. Swimming chickens may seem pretty cool, but when it's very very hot, a wet chicken may actually suffer. Chickens feathers don't function the same as a duck or a goose. Once a chicken's feathers become wet and sodden, they stick to the bird's body and make it hard for her to fluff her feathers and get ventilation around her skin. This can actually make her overheat, as opposed to keeping her cool. So using things like water misters can be dangerous (not mention sending a bird for a swim in a tub--ahem).
Talk to me. What tricks do you use to keep your chickens cool? I'd love to hear your story in the comments below.
Until next time...
Joy--Fearless Farm Girl,
"Farm girl: it's a verb, because it's what you do."
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Helpful products to keep chickens cool:
Helpful books on chicken keeping:
Other related posts:
Beginning chicken keeping: Mistakes to avoid, and how we survived our first year! (Funny story with helpful advice).
How to train a rooster to be nice (or at least to stop attacking you)!