From Twin Falls to Pendleton, D&B shoppers are bracing for a heat wave. Forecasts call for two weeks of triple-digit temps. For those who keep backyard chickens, this is bad news for their feathered friends.
In extreme heat, your chickens will pant, they could be a bit lethargic and their egg production could also be effected. Don’t freak out. It’s just their way of coping. But there are a few things you must do and can do, to make them more comfortable.
1- You must provide them with fresh, cold water daily. Water is their most important nutrient. Some of my chickening friends even go as far as putting an ice pack or frozen water bottle into the girls’ water fount during the high heat of summer.
2- You must make certain they have shade. Hens are smart enough to find the cool locations around their run or yard—but if there is no shade, you should formulate a way to provide some. It’s vital they have shady spots. If you provide shade by using a tarp of some sort, make certain you are not blocking airflow.
3- Check the airflow in and around your coop and run. I’ve always taught would-be chicken keepers that ventilation is more important than insulation. However, if you have a southern exposed wall on your coop, that radiates the heat, insulating it would be a good idea. When I was a kid and it got real hot in our little coop, we used a box fan by the window. It circulated the air very well.
4- If you can, provide them with cool treats. Refrigerated watermelon rinds and frozen peas and corn are great treats that go a long way in lowering a chicken’s body temperature. Avoid giving your chickens cracked corn or hen scratch in the summer, as those two “treats” elevate a chicken’s body temperature. That stuff is great for the wintertime—when they need some added heat. But, put it away for the summer.
5- Let them scratch their way to some cool earth. It’s best if the girls can find an area to do their dust baths that is protected and dry. They clean themselves this way and, at the same time, by digging into the cool earth, they lounge in it and cool themselves.
If your girls don’t have access to a dry, protected area for dust baths, pick up a hooded cat box at D&B or a tub of some sort. Fill it with dry, airy dirt or playground sand, and the chickens will do the rest. I like the hood on the cat box because it keeps the dirt or sand from getting pushed out while the girls do their thing. Plus, it’s protected from rain.
There are a few other steps you can take to cool your hens in the heat. Some chickeners have been known to set up sprinklers or misters, through their hose lines. A word of caution, do this away from your coop and the litter in the coop. Trust me, you don’t want wet, mushy litter, no matter how hot it gets.
If you’ve taken all the steps above and the girls are still way too hot, you might want to take them for a swim like my friend, and fellow chickenista, Beth Duke does. Chickens float and have been known to enjoy the cool water. Beth is the director of the “Duke Center for Literary Excellence and Poultry Pampering” in Delta, Alabama and stops at nothing to make her girls feel indulged.