I’ve been worrying about this for a while- it seems silly right? Worrying about chickens getting too hot in Michigan. I get asked a ton of questions about keeping chickens through our cold winters, but nobody ever thinks to ask if they’ll be ok in 90+ degree weather with high humidity. Chickens’ bodies perform best below about 75 degrees F; over 90F they can start to have real problems, especially heavier breeds. They can suffer heat stress and stop laying eggs, and on the extreme end of the scale they can die. We had an incident when the chicks had only been here for a week- it was early March, they were tiny and living in a brooder box under a heat lamp, and our weird Michigan weather zoomed up to the high 80’s. I came home from work and found the little chicks panting and laying down in the brooder box, wings outspread. I’m pretty sure that scarred me, and I’ve been paranoid about temperature extremes ever since.
Luckily, the blog I linked to above has some great tips for keeping chickens cool in the summer heat. I’ve reprinted their tips below in bold, with my take on how it’ll work for me:
- Provide shade: the girls like to hang out under their coop even now, digging shallow holes and taking dust baths. In the summer, I’m assuming this will be where they spend a lot of their time- if I feel like they’re not getting enough shade, I may just throw a tarp over the top of the run to provide a little extra protection from the sun.
- Keep them supplied with cold water: it should be pretty easy to toss a few ice cubes into their waterer, and since I usually keep it in the coop it’ll be shaded.
- Provide dirt bath areas: the girls have already created some good spots for dust bathing, in the shadow of their coop. I have a hard time imagining any scenario where a chicken didn’t have a place for dust bathing, unless they had a wire or concrete floor in their run.
- Add electrolytes to their water: I picked up several packs of these from Tractor Supply when I was getting supplies before getting the chicks- we still haven’t used them, so when it gets hot I’ll definitely add them to the water.
- Turn off lights in the coop: no problem here, since we don’t have a light in the coop.
- Increase the ventilation in the coop: we have two vents in the ceiling with adjustable vent flaps that can direct air in or keep it out, and a large screened back window. In the summer, we’ll definitely keep the back window shutter open, adjust the vent flaps to direct air in, and there’s the possibility of leaving the front leaded glass doors open (I don’t like that idea, because even though we’re confident that the run is predator proof, I’d rather not take any chances).
- Place reflective foil on the roof of the coop in the morning: kinda the premise behind those car dashboard visors. We likely won’t use this due to the green roof, but it’s a smart tip to keep in mind with other coops.
- Give them a shallow pan of water: like a bird bath! In general I want to keep these chickens completely dry, but if they opt to splash around in some water, I won’t stop them.
- Install a fan in the coop: I’ve been considering this, but with my set up I’m not sure how I could make it work. The fans would need to be on the side of the coop, and I certainly wouldn’t want them there in the winter; I’d need to install them and then board them up when it got too cold out. If there’s a way I can do this without destroying the aesthetic of the coop and/or compromising the structures ability to keep them warm and dry in the winter, I’ll consider it.
- Give them cold/frozen fruits and vegetables: watermelon seems like it would be a great choice for this. I’ll definitely be doing this one.
- Don’t feed them cracked corn: I’ll save the cracked corn for cold weather, since it brings up their body temp.
- Dig a shallow pit and lightly mist it with water: I can see doing this in extreme situations, making the hole deeper than it would normally be from their dust bathing.
- Freeze water bottles or milk jugs with ice: kinda like air conditioning for the chickens! I bet they’d wind up scared of it, like they are of most new things. Still, in an extreme situation, this seems like it would help immensely.
- Leave them alone: keeping their stress levels low is the name of the game, and something I try to do regularly anyway. The only time these girls really get ruffled up is when my bf’s dog circles the coop run, breathing heavily.
- Put sprinklers on the coop roof: I can’t do this with my setup, but I do wonder if watering the green roof wil help.
- Decrease the litter in the coop: we only have maybe an inch and a half of pine shavings in the coop at present, and the litter gets cleaned daily, so this may not help much. The theory is that deep litter acts like a compost pile, generating heat- so, if you’re a deep litter coop, you’ll want to take this advice to keep the heat level down.
- Mist them with cool water: I’m pretty sure the chickens would freak out if I did this, so chances are I won’t.
Armed with these tips, I’m hoping I won’t have a repeat of our “too hot” incident- I’ll still keep my eyes peeled for signs of heat stress throughout summer.
SIGNS OF HEAT STRESS:
-panting, with beak open
-laying around with wings outstretched
-no interest in eating
-slow to respond to stimuli, unresponsive