Keeping Your Flock Cool
We are approaching the hottest months of summer and our birds are feeling it just as much as we are. In many areas of the country it is hot, humid, and unbearable at times. It is very important to keep your flock cool during this time, or at least make them comfortable. Instinctively, the birds know what to do when they are hot.
The chicken has a normal body temperature between 104-107 degrees Fahrenheit in comparison to the human which is 97.9 degrees Fahrenheit. When the air is below the body temperature by 10-15 degrees, it is not difficult for us to maintain a healthy body temperature, however when the temperature reaches above 100 degrees, we are all in danger. Heat stress is very common in chickens and other fowl during the summer and the cause of many summer deaths. Unlike us, birds do not have sweat glands, therefore they rely on their respiratory system. With this said, they pant to cool themselves. The panting evaporates the water from the throat which in turn lowers the body temperature. In addition to the panting, such species, such as our popular chicken, have their own mechanism of cooling: their comb. In some regions, a breed of chicken can have a larger comb than the same breed in another region in order to adapt to a certain climate. Both hens and roosters can have this large comb, so don’t be fooled!
How to Manage Your Flock
Here are some pointers on managing your flock in times of heat.
1. Water is very important. Always provide fresh water to your flock. If you can add misters to your coops, this will decrease the body temperature by 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit. You can add some shallow water pans as well so the birds can dunk their heads in or wade in. Chickens and ducks will stand in water to keep cool. Other than adult ducks, it is not recommended to have your chicken swim in pools or lakes as they can drown. A shallow dish is fine, however.
2. Once a week you can supplement the drinking water with electrolytes. Panting alters a bird’s electrolyte level at times and by replenishing them in their water, it will help them continue to stay cool. The supplementation also increases the water intake, therefore the bird will stay more hydrated during these stressful hot months.
3. Make sure your birds have a well ventilated housing and that air flow can come through. Fans can be added to help air flow. Having a shaded area will help the birds stay cool as well.
4. Birds produce body heat, therefore make sure your coops are not overcrowded. The birds need space to dust bathe and relax, rather than produce more heat than they need.
5. If litter is used in the pens, make sure you clean it often to reduce ammonia build up. Fresh air is very important for proper respiratory functions, especially since birds rely on their respiratory system to pant.
6. If your birds free range, make sure your grass is cut. The shorter the grass, the cooler it will be as the tall grass restricts air flow. Bird will find bare ground to cool down since it absorbs the sun and heat the most. They will dust bath in dirt to keep cool.
7. Make sure to feed your birds during the cooler hours of the day. This can be the early hours of the morning or the evening. The churning of food produces heat and can contribute to heat stress if the birds are fed during the peak hours of heat.
Your birds will appreciate you and you will feel better by following these tips. Heat stress can be a problem for many backyard chicken owners, however some management can help your flock stay cool during these hot summer months. Stay cool everyone!