Laying hen care in hot weather

Jun 21, 2021

This is the time of year when your chickens will need more special attention. Chickens have a much higher body temperature than humans and will generally feel that rise in heat faster then we will. The average body temperature for a chicken normally will run at 102 – 103 degrees Fahrenheit. Their heart rate is normally 280 – 315 beats per minute.
Heat can create more problems for your chickens than cold weather can. It's easy to see they are insulated rather well with so many feathers. By fluffing up their feathers, chickens trap air between the layers which provides insulation in cold weather. In warmer weather, they seek out shade. You will notice them lay down and spread their wings and bodies out to cool down.
Chickens let us know in other ways when they are getting overheated. Number one will be having their mouth open and panting. Most often they will have their wings spread somewhat hanging at the sides of their body, and they will lay around more. Egg laying will also decrease, and chickens will eat less in warm 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 their 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.
The main way a chicken cools itself, though, is drinking plenty of cold water. This is the time to have additional amounts of water available for your chickens. 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 in preventing fights between them over 'who gets to drink first.' 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. 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 to have in the coop to monitor the heat conditions. All windows 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 so in thickness.
Having constant air flow is a must. If you have electric in the coop, providing a fan will help in circulating air flow. Roof vents will help in removing trapped heat around the ceiling. Look for signs of mold in the coop if using straw or hay. Using hay and straw in the coop during hot weather can start to rot much faster which turns to compost which in turn will only add more heat. Remove and clean the coop if any mold is found.
Always make sure you are providing plenty of shade for your chickens in warm weather. If you do not have an abundant amount of shade, think of ways to provide that important necessity. A simple cardboard box turned on its side with a hole cut out for ventilation will help during warm weather. Place an old watered down bed sheet over the coop. Use anything you can think of to provide shade.
Hose off 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; however, pay special attention that the chickens are not standing in the water which can lead to foot problems.
Avoid overcrowding. Overcrowding increases heat. Provide plenty of room for your chickens to move freely. Provide shade in as many areas as possible. Try not to disturb your chickens in the middle of the day. They need to do their own thing and rest when they can.
When free ranging, taller grass, shrubs, and weeds prevent air flow. Make sure they have plenty of places where the grass is short, as well as shady locations. Make sure you are providing plenty of fresh, clean, cold water.
Providing loose dirt that has been watered down and allowed to drain will be a cool area they can lay in and dirt bathe. A chicken likes nothing better than rolling around in cool dirt. Try to have plenty of these areas so all your chickens have space to cool off.
Leave your 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.
Stop by your local Co-op for all your laying hen needs. For more content like this, check out the latest issue of the Cooperator.

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