Do you know all of the many different ways of keeping chickens cool in hot weather?
There are lots of ways to keep chickens cool and happy when it's hot.
If you aren't keeping chickens cool enough, egg production will drop and they may get heat stress or even become critically ill.
Use some (or all!) of these tips to keep your flock cool and happy in summer heat.
Chickens Have It Made in the Shade
Shade is the number one thing chickens need to keep cool in hot weather. Summer heat is no joke when you have a full set of feathers.
Just imagine how you would feel wearing a down-filled coat in summer... you'd be steamy-hot and completely miserable in the sun.
In an ideal situation, your chickens should have natural shade they can cool off in.
We have two apple trees that overhang our chicken run on the west side to provide a shaded area, a wooded area on the north side of the run, and a clump of birch trees inside the run. Additional shade on part of the east side of our run comes from a clump of birches outside the run.
If you don't have shade from trees or plantings in your coop run, you'll need to provide it with tarps or a roof over the top and side of part of the run. The tarp you use should be lighter in color to reflect heat (dark tarps will absorb heat, and clear plastic will obviously not shade anything and will actually magnify heat).
Another option is shade cloth, which despite the name, lets sun through, but will reduce the amount of sun beneath it to create a somewhat shady area. Shade cloth also is porous, so it will let water through.
A well-ventilated coop provides shade--put an easy-to-read thermometer inside so you can monitor the heat and adjust ventilation if needed during heatwaves.
Water, Water, Everywhere...
Chickens need plenty of fresh water no matter what the weather. In hot weather, place buckets of cold water in the shade instead of the sun and consider adding ice cubes. We set out multiple two-gallon buckets (filled fresh daily) in the shade, and a five-gallon lidded bucket with water nozzles on the bottom hanging from the fence.
In really hot weather, hose off the coop roof to lower the temperature. Consider a baby pool with a couple inches of water in it for chickens to wade in.
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A water mister will cool the air around it by 10 or more degrees, and will make nearby ground moist and cool. Bonus: moist ground is good bug hunting ground for chickens.
Ruffle Those Feathers with a Breezy Fan (or an Air Conditioner!)
If you have electricity in your coop you can hang an electric fan off the run fence or inside the coop to provide a cooling breeze.
Safety alert: Chickens and their coops are dusty. Dirt and dust can cause motors to run hot, and even to catch fire.
You need to be careful in putting any electric appliance outside (such as hanging from a run fence) because of the risk of electric shock. Please consult a professional to make sure motor housings are okay in dusty areas and that everything is properly grounded to eliminate fire and shock hazards, and that electric cords are safe from pecking.
A well-ventilated coop with good airflow will allow hot air to rise and will have enough openings for fresh air intake. Ventilation is important in summer and winter. As always, openings should be screened with hardware cloth for safety (not chicken wire and not window screening).
What about air conditioning in your backyard coop? An air conditioner might be a solution in a really hot climate or for super hot days. Kelly Liston of Oh Lardy put AC in her Phoenix, Arizona, coop.
Down and Dirty Is Really So Much Cooler
Dust bathing in shade is one way to for chickens to keep their cool in summer heat. A foot or so below the surface, the soil is cooler than the air temperature.
You might have noticed this effect at the beach, where the sand is hot at the surface and much cooler below when you dig. Chickens will use the soil to dust bathe, and a spot in the shade where they can get down to cooler soil will make them happy in the heat.
If you don't already have dirt bath areas in the shade, create a way for chickens to dig down in a shady place. Besides water and shade, this is one of the best ways to keep chickens cool.
Cool as a.... Cucumber?
Chickens love cucumbers, and mine get to gobble down overgrown cucumbers from the garden. Cucumbers are a hot weather treat, but my absolute favorite way to keep chickens cool in the summer is to slice open a watermelon and watch them devour it.
My chickens can peck the red insides of a watermelon down to green rind in less than 20 minutes.
Watermelon (as you probably know) is mainly water and works to hydrate chickens as well as distract them from the heat. Chickens also love other types of melons.
Tasty fluid-filled treats are a great way to keep chickens cool.
Have you considered icy treats for your chickens? You can freeze a bowl of water with frozen fruit or red raspberries in it, then hang in a hanging basket holder or place in a shallow pan for the chickens to peck at. The red of the berries will attract them to the ice and pecking the ice will keep chickens cool.
Frozen bottles are another cooling treat. Freeze water in one-liter soda or small milk jugs, and then place them in nesting boxes to keep chickens cooler while they lay eggs.
If you have the freezer space, freeze water in a few gallon jugs and hang them near a roost from an overhead beam or fence space by looping rope through the handles, or set the frozen gallon jugs in the ground in the shade--these frozen water bottles will temporarily create a cooler space for the chickens to hang out near.
Signs your chickens are just too hot:
A chicken having a hard time from heat stress or heat stroke will breathe or pant through an open beak, hold wings low and away from the body, and have loss of appetite. If you see signs of heat stress, your chickens are working to lower their body temperature and you need to act fast to help them.
Heat stress is a definite sign you need to keep your chickens cooler.
Also note: the color of your chickens may have an effect on how they handle heat. Chickens with darker feathers will get hotter much faster than a paler (less heat absorbing) feather color.
What to do with a hot chicken?
To cool off a hot chicken quickly, put its feet and legs in a bucket of cool water (keeping its feathers dry since that is how they regulate their body temperature). How can you be best prepared? Have a five-gallon bucket filled with cool water handy in case of signs of heat stress. An electrolyte solution may help your chicken bounce back from overheating.
So there you have it, the many ways to keep chickens cool and happy when it's hot! And as we all know, happy chickens are the best chickens.
Do you have a favorite way of helping your chickens stay cool when the temperature soars? Let us know in the comments below!
All photos via Daphne Cybele
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