6 Tips to Help Chickens Beat the Summer Heat
Raise more heat-resistant chickens and keep your flock healthy on hot days
By Jodi Helmer
When temperatures rise, chickens can struggle to keep cool.
“A chicken’s core temperature is naturally high, making it especially susceptible to heat stress,” says Gail Damerow, author of “Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens” and “The Chicken Health Handbook.”
Chickens do not sweat. To cool off, they pant, vibrate their throat muscles, and hold their wings away from their bodies to increase airflow. While these natural responses help, they may not be enough during heat waves. Without enough relief from the heat, chickens can succumb to heat stroke.
Follow these six tips to raise more heat-resistant chickens and help your flock stay healthy during hot spells.
1. Choose Heat-Tolerant Breeds
If you live in an area with long, hot summers, choose breeds that are suited for the climate. Gail suggests breeds such as Ancona, Andalusian, buttercup, Catalana, and Leghorn, which originated in hot climates and have light feathers and large combs and wattles that help them stay cool.
“In hot weather, blood circulation through large combs and wattles increases to help dissipate body heat,” Gail says. “Since feathers trap heat close to the body, another warm-climate adaptation is sparse body feathering and no feathers on the legs and feet.”
Breeds such as Rhode Island Red, Brahma, and Barred Rocks are less heat tolerant.
2. Prioritize Shade
Make sure your coop and run are located in a shady spot or consider adding protective shade elements.
In an open pasture with few shady spots, consider hanging tarps or shade cloth to provide much-needed respite from the heat, suggests Dr. Jon Moyle, extension poultry specialist at the University of Maryland.
“Chickens don’t like to be out in the hot sun,” Jon says. “If you turn them loose in the yard, they’ll look for the shaded spots to stay cool.”
You may also like: How to Clean Your Chicken Coop
3. Watch the Water
Providing your flock constant access to fresh water is important all year long, but it’s critical in the summer. Since water heats up in the sun, Jon suggests keeping waterers in a shaded spot and refilling them with cold water several times a day. Adding ice cubes will keep water cool temporarily. If you use a hose to refill waterers, “remember to run the hose long enough to get the hot water out,” Jon adds. “Chickens will drink more if the water is cool.”
You may also want to add electrolytes to drinking water to replenish the ones chickens are losing in the heat.
However, “do not spike drinking water with vinegar during hot weather,” Gail cautions. “One of the effects of acidified water is to reduce the availability of calcium, which in turn causes hens to lay fewer eggs and with thin shells.”
4. Encourage Air Circulation in the Coop
Airflow helps chickens stay cool. Open the windows to get a breeze moving through the coop and make sure you have hardware cloths securely attached to each pane to keep predators out.
As temperatures heat up, chickens may need extra help cooling down.
“If you have electricity [in your coop], the easiest thing you can do is install a fan,” Jon says. “Air movement is going to cool them more than anything else.”
You can also try to get creative with a homemade misting mechanism. “In commercial poultry houses, we have sprinklers for really hot days and we’ll sprinkle the chickens with water,” Jon says. “We also have fans and the air movement causes evaporative cooling.”
You can lightly mist adult birds to help cool them down, but never mist chicks; they could catch a chill and die.
5. Change Your Flock’s Feeding Schedule
Digestion increases body temperature. To keep your chickens from overheating, feed them in the mornings and evenings when temperatures are cooler. Consider adding cold or frozen foods, such as pineapple, watermelon, and strawberries, to their diets; these fruits contain a lot of water, which can help keep chickens hydrated.
However, frozen treats—even fruits and veggies—should not take the place of a commercial chicken feed that contains the right balance of nutrients. Jon suggests limiting treats to no more than 10% of a chicken’s diet.
Another important factor to keep in mind is that feed goes stale faster in hot weather, according to Gail. She suggests keeping rations fresh by buying smaller amounts of feed more often and storing it in a cool place.
6. Add More Cooling Features to Your Run and Coop
A small wading pool can give chickens a spot to stand, cooling their bodies through their feet. Clean it often so chickens are not drinking fouled water, Gail advises.
Another way to help chickens get relief is to place frozen bottles of water covered in an old towel in the coop. This will give the birds a cool place to perch during a heat wave.
You may not be able to control soaring temperature in the summer, but you can use smart strategies to keep your chickens cool when hot weather hits.