It’s hard to ruffle your chickens’ feathers. But when you combine the summer heat, high humidity and lack of air circulation, you might just find your bird suffering from heat stress. Just like other animals or humans, extreme heat stress can cause sickness and even death in your birds, if it is left unattended.
Heat stress is likely to occur when a chicken exceeds its normal body temperature, a range of 103 to 107 degrees Fahrenheit. However, with summer heat and humidity more than 50%, chickens are more likely to become stressed by the heat. Other factors leading to heat stress include predisposition to heat stress based on breed or genetics, amount of feather cover, drinking water availability, temperature of drinking water and condition of the birds.
If your birds do experience heat stress, you will likely notice signs right away. They will slow or cease egg production, decrease their growth and hatching rate, and their egg quality will drop, laying smaller, thinner-shelled eggs. Heat stress is more likely to occur in older birds than young, spry birds.
Since chickens don’t have sweat glands, they cope with the heat through their respiratory system, so will pant to expel the internal heat. If you see a chicken that is panting heavily or holding its wings away from its body, it is severely overheated, and needs cooled off immediately. Since preventative measures are always better than trying to treat a sick animal, here are six ways to prevent heat stress in your backyard flock.
Make sure your chickens have access to shade. If you don’t have natural shade, like trees or tall shrubs, create shade. Secure a tarp over their run or allow them into their coop during the day if it has proper ventilation.
Water is Essential
Make sure your chickens have continual fresh, cool water. This might mean checking their water more than once a day and replenishing it. Also, consider keeping the water source out of the direct sunlight to help keep it cool.
Not only is water important for hydration, but it can also serve as a cooling agent. Provide a wading pool or misters to help cool your chickens, especially during the hottest part of the day. But remember, water for these cooling sources also need to be cool and fresh.
Feed When it’s Cool
Digestion generates internal heat, so eating will add to your birds’ heat stress. Feed your birds in the early morning or in the evening when it is cooler to aid in keeping them more comfortable.
Reduce Outside Distractions
Just like humans can be stressed by outside distractions, so can your chickens, and those outside disturbances cause additional, undue stress. Keep small children, dogs and other pets away from your chickens, especially during the primetime heat hours from noon to 4 p.m.
A large crowd generates heat. Make sure your birds have plenty of space both in their outside run and in their coop to spread out, so they are not too close together creating extra heat when crowded.
Dust it Off
It might sound odd, but birds rely on dust to help keep them cool. Provide them a dust bath – loose, clean dirt, for them to roll, and peck in – to help keep them cool. Keep this in the shaded area.
In addition to these heat mitigation techniques, Backyard Boost® Defense is a great support for any stressful situation. This liquid supplement promotes feed and water intake during times of stress and recovery to help support digestive health and a healthy inflammatory response. Defense contains Amaferm®, a precision-based prebiotic that helps combat the negative effects of stress, restores digestive health, and gets your hens back to producing eggs faster. This supplement also contains electrolytes to support proper hydration, phytogenics that support the animal’s immune system and a healthy inflammatory response and another prebiotic MOS to trap and expel pathogens, limiting their ability to do harm.
Keeping your backyard birds cool from the start is easier than cooling them when they are overheated. Keep them cool. Keep them happy and healthy. Keep them laying eggs in the summer heat!