Heat Stress in Chickens

Jun 19, 2020

It’s the time of year when your chickens will need more special attention. Chickens have a much higher body temperature than you or I and will generally feel the rise in heat faster than we will. The average body temperature for a chicken normally runs 102-103 degrees F. Their heart rate is normally 280-315 beats per minute.

Heat can create more problems for your chickens than cold weather. It's easy to see they are insulated feathers. Chickens fluff their feathers, as many birds, which traps air between the layers keeping air as an insulation during cold weather. Chickens cannot sweat so they hold their wings open away from their body and pant to release some of that extra heat in the summer. Chickens cool themselves by blood flowing through the comb and wattles which then cools and recirculates back through the interior part of their body. In extreme heat they most often will seek out a shady location to lay and rest.

Chickens exhibit multiple signs when they become too hot:
  1. Their mouths will open and they will pant.
  2.  Often they will have their wings spread,  hanging to the sides of the body.
  3. They will become more inactive.
  4.  Egg production will drop.
  5. They will eat less.
To help chickens beat the heat have additional amounts of water available. In high heat conditions chickens will drink twice as much water. Try keeping extra pails of water available for your flock both in the coop and outside as well. Having more than one source of water for chickens also helps prevents fights between them. Place pans around the yard so chickens do not have to walk too far to find it. This will encourage them to drink more often and increase water intake. Make sure the water is clean and fresh! The best rule to live by is replacing the water daily so it is always fresh and cool. Chickens will drink more water if it is cool rather than warm.

In extreme heat it is extra important to provide plenty of ventilation inside the coop. A thermometer is an essential tool in the coop to monitor the heat conditions. All window should be open for air circulation. Thick bedding such as pine shavings can be a heat absorber and should be used more sparingly, having only an inch or less in thickness.

If you have electricity in the coop, providing a fan will help circulate air flow. Constant air flow is a must. Roof vents will help remove trapped heat around the ceiling. Using hay and straw in the coop during hot weather can start to rot much faster which turns to compost adding more heat. Remove and clean the coop if any mold is found.

            Always make sure plenty of shade is provided for chickens in warm weather. Place an old watered down bed sheet over the coop. Use anything you can think of to provide shade. If you do not have an abundant amount of shade think of ways to provide the important necessity. A simple cardboard box turned on its side with a hole cut out for ventilation will help during warm weather.

Hosing off the coop will help cool the coop. Take the hose and apply water to the walls and roof of the coop in extreme heat conditions. Hose the run area early in the morning paying special attention, however, chickens are not standing in the water which can lead to foot problems.

               In extreme heat, chickens eat less. So, it is important to feed them during the coolest part of the day, early morning just as the sun rises. Remember digestion produces more heat.
Provide evaporative cooling. Water misters and foggers can be used. Providing water on chickens helps to cool them during  high heat conditions.

Avoid overcrowding. Overcrowding increases heat. Provide plenty of room for chickens to move freely. Provide shade in as many areas as possible. Try not disturbing chickens in the mid day. They need to keep reserpration rate low to help maintain low body temps.

When free ranging, taller grass, shrubs and weeds prevent air flow. Make sure chickens have plenty of places where the grass is short. Preferably in shady locations.

Provide a dirt area, providing loose dirt that has been watered down.  This will be a cool area they can lay in and dirt bathe. Make sure water is not standing, because excess time water will cause foot rot problems. A chicken likes nothing better than rolling around in cool dirt!

Leave chickens alone.  As much as we love our chickens and want to be around them it is best to leave them alone during extreme heat conditions. At this time you want to keep stress levels down as low as possible. Let them do their own thing. Avoid picking them up which will increase their body temperature. Only monitor them during hot weather for signs of excess heat stress.


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