In the Willamette Valley, we don't have too many days that are unbearably hot. Last Tuesday, July 1st, the mercury hit 97F on our thermometer. All the creatures on the farm felt the heat and each has their own unique way to deal with it. Chickens are one of the creatures that can really benefit from a little assistance when it's hot out, especially the meat breeds. Without a way to cool off, chickens readily overheat and die. Since there are so many folks around the Portland area who raise chickens, I thought I'd share a few tricks we use to help keep our chickens cool.
Provide plenty of shade and cool water
Ensure the chickens can create a dust bath. If the floor of the chickens' run is any other than plain dirt, consider adding a shallow rubbermaid container with fine dirt.
Increase ventilation in their coop (adding a fan is great, just try to keep it from blowing directly on the chickens when they are roosting)
Add reflective material to the coop roof, especially if you used black shingles for roofing. Using corregated metal for roofing solves for this permanently!
Provide frozen fruits and vegetables. All my animals LOVE frozen peas on hot days.
Add a misting system if you have lots of chickens that need to quickly cool down. We've used a small sprinkler to help water down the coop and run on really hot days. The sprinkler immediately cools down the air, but will also keep the area cool due to evaporation. However, unless you're in a pinch, I don't recommend directly hosing down your chickens... they will freak out.
Avoid giving your chickens cracked corn! It increases their body temperature, so save it for those cold days in winter.
Not sure if you're chickens are suffering from heat stress? Here are a few signs that your chickens are beyond their comfort zone....
They are panting, with their beaks open
No interest in eating
Laying around with wings outstretched
Slow to respond or not responsive when stimulated
If you have a chicken that is suffering from severe heat stroke, it needs immediate attention. We've successfully revived chickens by bring them someplace cool, misting them with water (ensure it gets to the skin and doesn't just roll off their feathers), help them drink by placing their beak into some cool water, and then let them rest with minimal stress. If you have electrolytes available, putting some in the water will certainly help.
We hope these tips help next time the weather becomes toasty. Keep those chickens happy and healthy!