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I have been keeping chickens for well over 20 years at this point, and I have certainly noticed that over that time we are seeing more and more days where the temperature exceeds 100°F (38°C). We just spent several days with temperatures in that region and it got me a little worried about my chickens.
Chickens are a bit like pigs in that they can not sweat. We as humans sweat and as that sweat evaporates from our skin we are cooled down in the process. Chickens do not have that luxury.
Keeping cool is not just about your chickens being comfortable. If your hens begin to overheat it can have some serious consequences on their health both in the short and long term.
In this article, I discuss some of my experiences with keeping chickens in warmer climates and share a few tips and tricks to help keep your chickens cool when the temperature is high.
How To Keep Chickens Cool When It’s Really Hot
As I write this article I am well aware that the term ‘high temperature’ is relative to where you live. You can not compare what is classed as a warm day in Florida to one in Alaska.
However, when it comes to chickens, I would say anything above 80°F (26.5°C) would be considered warm and you may start to notice a change in the behavior of your birds.
Generally speaking, chickens do not do well when it gets really warm. As mentioned they do not have the ability to sweat to cool themselves down, and all those feathers are perfectly designed to keep the heat in rather than let it out.
How Do You Know A Chicken is Too hot?
Obviously, your chickens can not call out to you and let you know they are too hot. They have no good mechanism for sharing information with us, so we have to know the signs they are overheating.
If you see one or more of the signs listed below, then you must act quickly to prevent further distress and possibly medical issue with your chickens.
The most common signs your chickens are suffering in the heat include;
Your chickens may show one or more of these signs as they begin to get too hot. Some chickens may go downhill really quickly whilst others can potentially stand the heat for much longer periods. Much will depend on the individual breed of the chicken.
If your chickens do begin to show any of the signs above, consider following as many of the suggestions below, but if you are at all concerned for the long-term welfare of your chickens, seek the advice of your local veterinary surgeon.
Are Some Chicken Breeds Better in Warm climates?
Almost every single breed of chicken we keep in our backyards or on our homesteads has been developed by dedicated breeds over the last 100 to 200 years.
When someone develops a new breed of chicken, they typically breed that bird to bring out certain traits. Usually, they are looking for a breed that lays more eggs or has tastier meat, or maybe the breed was developed for bright plumage.
Whatever the reason, that bird will also have been developed to do well in the local climate. If you are breeding birds in Southern Europe where the days are long and hot, you will naturally end up with a chicken breed that does well in that environment.
Knowing this information means we can look at strains of chickens that were developed in warmer climates and then look to those to see how well they cope with the heat.
In my experience, each of the breeds listed below generally does well when the temperatures rise.
This list is not intended to be exhaustive and I am sure there are other breeds that I haven’t listed that will do equally as well, but I know from personal experience each of the ones I have listed can stand warmer temperatures, at least in small doses.
Some of those I have listed are also listed in my article about breeds of chicken that do well in colder climates, but that is because they are generally hardy birds that will do well pretty much wherever you keep them.
I have always found that breeds of chickens that were developed primarily for egg production rather than meat tend to do better in the warm. I suspect this is because they physically have less meat on their bones meaning they have a lower body mass.
Small, flighty birds also seem to cope better with the heat. I generally notice my bantams struggle less with the heat than their full-sized cousins.
How Do You keep chickens cool when it’s hot?
There are many different things we can do to help keep our chickens cool when the temperatures rise. Some, like providing them shade, are fairly basic, and probably something we should be doing anyway, whereas others you might not have thought of.
When the temperature rises, try some of these ideas;
Ensure chickens have ample fresh drinking water
Making sure our hens have enough fresh drinking water is clearly basic, but when chickens get hot they drink a lot more water.
As discussed previously, chickens can not sweat to lower their body temperatures, so one way they can help themselves is by drinking considerably more water than usual.
If you usually have just one drinker, consider adding one or two more. If you are not at home all day, ensure the drinkers are as full as possible before your leave home.
Try and use closed drinkers rather than open pans of water that can be easily knocked over or where the water can evaporate rapidly. In recent years I have been using a lot of chicken waterer cups (see the ones I mean on Amazon.com).
If necessary, refill the waterers halfway through the day. Your chickens will be much better off drinking fresh, cool water rather than water that has spent all day warming up in the sun.
Ensure there is sufficient shade
Making sure chickens have sufficient shade is a basic that gets overlooked so often. When we position our coops and runs there are so many things we need to think about that we sometimes don’t consider the obvious.
I try to ensure around 50% of my chicken’s enclosure is in shade for at least the hottest parts of the day.
The more shade you can provide for your hens the better. If you can combine that shade with some protection from the rain too, then you are on to a winner.
If providing shade is tricky, consider raising your coop up on legs or blocks so the hens can get underneath it. This will then provide a shaded spot for the chickens can retreat to when the sun is at its strongest.
Add ice to drinking water to cool it down
Needless to say, any container of water that is sitting out in the sun is going to heat up fairly rapidly, and for our chickens to cool down they need their water to be as cool as possible.
If you can, place the chicken’s waterers in a shady spot. Adding ice to the water will also help cool it down, making it more refreshing when the chickens drink it.
Admittedly, the ice will not last very long before it melts, but you can always add a few more cubes after a couple of hours.
Provide a fan to add airflow
If you have a power source near your chicken’s enclosure, try adding a fan to create a flow of air.
Often when it is hot there is little to no wind. Adding a fan can create vital airflow to make life more comfortable for your chickens.
Ideally, the fan should be outside the run, pointing in through the fence or mesh. Placing the fan inside the run is not ideal as the chickens might knock it over, peck at wires, or get injured by the fan itself.
If you have access to an agricultural fan then you may be able to use it inside the coop, but always check with the manufacturer first. You don’t want your fan to catch fire because the inside is filled up with dust from your chicken’s bedding.
If your chicken coop has adjustable air vents, make sure they are all open to the maximum. Temperatures can be surprisingly hot at night and your hens will be locked inside the coop with the door shut. The more ventilation you can provide them the better.
Offer frozen treats or treats in a block of ice
Another simple way you can help your chickens stay cool is to offer them either fruit that has been frozen, like a slice of water melon, or a block of ice that has frozen seeds or berries inside it.
Last year when we had a hot spell I took some old tubs, half filled them with over-ripe berries from my fruit patch, and then filled the tub with water. Once it was frozen solid I just tipped the ice block out of the tub and left the hens to peck at it.
Frozen blocks like this not only keep the chicken cool but are also a great way to relieve boredom if your hens are showing signs they might be bored.
Add a tray of fine sand for dust bathing
Another way chickens have to keep themselves cool is to take dust baths. Chickens love to cover themselves in fine sand or dirt, and they use dust baths much like we have a regular bath.
Dustbathing helps the chickens cool down and removes any pests that may be living on the hens like mites or lice. Many pests love the warmth, and chickens can be irritated more than usual when it is very warm.
Provide trays of water for the hens to stand in
The final tip I have for helping your hens to stay cool when the weather is very warm is to place trays of water around the run. Chickens will happily stand in shallow trays of cool water.
As their legs are generally not covered in feathers they are the perfect place for heat to escape from the chicken’s body.
The only drawback with providing trays of cold water is the fact that the hens will poop into the trays about 5 minutes after you place them in the run, but that’s chickens for you.
Chickens can suffer when the temperature is really hot. They do not have the ability to sweat to cool down, and they are typically stuck in the run or coop we provide them.
It is essential that chickens have an area that is shady, access to fresh water, and ideally a source of air movement or ventilation to help keep them cool.
Some breeds are better at handling the heat than others, but providing you put some basic steps into place, your chickens should be just fine, even on the hottest days.
If you found this article helpful, why not check out another one I wrote recently titled ‘Will a Fox Take my Chickens?’.
- Animal & Food Science College Agriculture, Food and Environment