It’s spring here in Australia as I write this and we’ve had 4 days in a row over 33ºC (around 90ºF) and while it has mostly cooled off overnight, the days have been unexpectedly warm for early November.
Fortunately I have been able to keep a close eye on the girls to make sure they are not getting overly stressed by the heat.
It has meant I have mostly stayed close to home, which I don’t mind and while it takes some work it means the girls are comfortable, healthy and unstressed which means they will keep on laying those beautiful eggs. It is definitely worth the effort to keep them happy and cool.
Heat stressed chickens will try to lower their body heat by squatting close to the ground with their wings up and their beaks open ‘panting’ like a dog pants. This is all normal, however if your chickens start to stagger, or have convulsions it’s time to step in and help cool them down and quickly.
To make sure they don’t get to this stage, here’s my top five things you can do to help your chooks through a hot spell.
- Make sure they have access to shade at all times of the day. If you have large well established trees in their area then that is a super easy solution. I don’t, so we have strung up some shade cloth over their drinking area so they can cool off when they come for a drink.They also have access under their house from within their yard so they can park themselves under there for some really deep shade and if they feel the need they can dig themselves into the ground as well to keep themselves cool.
- Make sure they have access to plenty of cold water. Without access to water, chickens will dehydrate very quickly, so make sure they have a constant supply of clean drinking water all day and night.
- Increase ventilation in their coop. Our chooks are free to roam during the day so they can find even the slightest breeze and take advantage of it, but at night when they are locked up in their coop, they are less able to re-locate to cooler spots if needed.
Over winter, we close the coop up by attaching more corrugated iron to the outside to keep the cold winter winds out.
In summer we remove it and they simply have small squared mesh on the sides of their coop. This means any breezes which are around will pass through the coop and keep them cool. Part of the coop is closed in so they can be protected from any unseasonal winds if needed.
- Make ice cubes for them to peck at. This cooler water will give them something colder to drink once it starts to melt, as well as keeping them (and us!) entertained for a while. If you are forewarned of a heat wave, you could freeze a bit of chook food in the blocks to give them a reward when they break through the ice.
- Give them access to dust. Giving chooks a chance to take a dust bath will cool them off too as well as help them manage any mites or fleas which they are more prone to in the hot weather. Try to keep the dust bath area away from their drinking water – you don’t want the dust they kick up ending up in their water bowls, nor do you want the chooks taking a mud bath when the drinking water gets inevitably kicked around towards their dustbowl area.
Also remember to pay special attention to broody chooks. If you have a broody chook, she may be so diligent she won’t get off her nest to drink or eat. Make sure she has access to water very close by where she is nesting so she doesn’t have to leave her eggs for too long.
Always remember to check them a few times a day too, for your own peace of mind and you will notice if any of them are a bit wonky too and be able to treat them early. If they are staggering or appear dazed, then act as soon as you can to get them to a cooler place with cold water to drink.
Chooks are actually pretty resilient and they will know how to keep themselves cool as long as we provide some shade, water and dust they should survive the hot days of late spring and summer.