There's a time each year
That we always hold dear
Good old summertime
With the birds and the trees'es
And sweet scented breezes
Good old summertime
When your day's work is over
Then you are in clover
And life is one beautiful rhyme
No trouble annoying
Each one is enjoying
The good old summertime
In the Good Old Summertime (Les Paul & Mary Ford)
Hot days are coming! For those living in southern climes, summer heat has been knocking at the door already. Just like humans and other animals, chickens need to find cool spots to beat the heat, and clean cold drinks to sip. Here’s how to keep your flock having fun in the sun... while the livin' is easy.
Many breeds of chickens are designed to cope with sweltering temperatures and humbling humidity. These breeds hail from the Mediterranean and the steamy southeast Asian regions. Centuries of natural selection have endowed these chickens with the proper gear for handling the heat. Large combs and wattles, sleek bodies and tight feathering, allow them to shrug at tropical Thailand temps or doze under Spanish skies.
All chickens are descended from birds that foraged tropical jungles. Choose heat tolerant breeds if you have summer sizzling temps. Try Aseels, Malay, Penedescenca, Leghorns, Anconas, Fayoumi and Andalusians. Some small-bodied breeds do well in the heat and true bantams all hail from the tropics. Hamburgs or Welsummers are also fun choices. All of these birds are active and need safe, free-range living to work off some of their energy.
In their native regions, these chickens are given the freedom to use all of the resources they need to stay cool – water, shade and clean bathing areas. Even their natural diet of insects, greens, fruits and seed heads provides most of their nutritional needs, as well as being non-heat producing foods. Avoid offering too much oat, wheat, sunflower and corn (the kind of grains in scratch feed) during summer weather. Choose lighter seeds like quinoa, amaranth or millet. And of course, ensure chickens have access to nutritional vegetables and fruits.
Coops and pens
When animals are restricted from being able to source their needs, or not provided with proper environmental welfare, they will experience chronic stress. Bare, dirt pens without living brush, grass, and tree cover are disasters waiting to happen. Pens become “tired” and invite flies, dust and pathogens. Coops can be sweltering - always provide a fan or even air conditioning if temps require it. Chickens require dense cover, brush, leaf-litter, foliage trees and enriched living areas to be healthy and free of disease causing stress.
Coops trap birds in an environment that can quickly turn deadly. Unlike humans, chickens do not have the large amounts of bare skin that dissipates heat... and they can’t sweat. Chickens must do three things to regulate their body temperature and prevent becoming overheated:
- Chickens pant to cool off. Like dogs, they evaporate water by what is termed “gular flutter.” But chickens never drool!
- Birds dissipate heat through their heads, legs, feet and by lifting their wings. Never wrap a chicken’s feet, as they use their feet to regulate body temperature. Only bandage a foot for medical/injury reasons.
- Chickens will locate cool ground in order for their feet to transfer heat into the soil! We know how great cool soil feels on bare feet.
Note: Coops must have a thermometer. Sit in your coop on a hot day to test for livability. If you don’t want to sit in there, neither do the chickens! Humans cope with heat better than chickens, so you can imagine how much worse it will be for them. It's literally NOT for the birds.
Shade, uncompacted soil for bathing, and fresh water are extremely important. Do not leave water sitting out in the sun. It will heat up and become unpleasant. Water must be refreshed and buckets cleaned daily. Never allow scum or algae to build up in the buckets. Don’t waste money on bucket additives – just use good old elbow grease. There is an old saying in the country – “if you wouldn’t drink out of it, neither should your animals.”
Water tip: Place a block of ice in the waterer. It will melt slowly, keeping the water cool and inviting. You want to encourage your birds to drink in hot weather. This can prevent heat stroke.
Lush greens will be at the ready for the flock to munch. Birds will also be in full swing for egg production and raising a family. Always keep oyster shell (made just for chickens) free choice. Keep an eye on the grain, as wet or humid weather can translate to faster spoilage. Keep feed in tight fitting bins.
Small flock keepers (less than 7 birds) may want to purchase grain in smaller sizes. Plan to go through 50 pounds in a month or so - or it will begin to lose freshness. Chicken grain should be firm, dry and smell like cereal or fresh whole wheat bread. Never feed musty, buggy or moldy/off-smelling grain. This is deadly to your birds. It may seem that buggy grain would be just what the birds would love! It isn’t. If you notice cereal moths in your feed, toss the feed.
Heat stress Fun Treat: Pick up some dried Chubby Mealworms! Grab a foam, or plastic, cup and place in the mealworms with enough water to cover. Freeze solid and set this cold treat out for the chickens to enjoy!
Heat stress is a medical emergency. Birds need immediate attention. While uncommon, it pays to be aware of this condition. Here are some signs to look for:
1. Immediately bring the bird into a cool area.
2. Sponge cool water under the wings, on their legs and feet, and underneath the bird - where feathers are thin.
3. Carefully wet combs and wattles. Use a dampened cloth to prevent getting water into the chicken's nose.
4. Keep the bird in a cool room until recovered. Offer fruits and cold water.
While your chickens may not be jumping into the pool, they will be busy enjoying the great weather and fresh snacks. Share you summertime pictures!