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How to care for your chickens in the summer months.

Do temperatures soar in your area in the summer? Did you know that excessive heat can kill chickens very quickly? 

How to raise chickens in summer: pin for later.

Chickens are experts at regulating their body temperature during cold winter months. A fluffing up of feathers and they're done, even in the most extreme freezing weather.

Heat is a different matter. They're not good at keeping their body's heating system under control when the temperature soars. Poultry don't have sweat glands but depend on losing heat through their wattles and combs.

And sometimes, that's just not enough.

They're still just about comfortable at around 24ºC (75ºF) but anything over that and they'll start to feel uncomfortable. Once the dial hits 30ºC (86ºF), they need help to remain at a safe body temperature.

By the time the temperature reaches 32ºC (90ºF) they'll be at serious risk of over-heating. If the weather remains hot and they get no help to cool down, heat stress will result.

And heat stress can lead to serious problems - even death.

When to act?

Start planning for summer care before temperatures get too high. Don't leave it until the heatwave hits - you're losing valuable time.

It's critically important to know the signs that your chickens are in distress, and what you can do to help. Doing nothing is not an option: chickens die because of heat stress.

Don't just rely on weather forecasts. Watch for changes in your flock's behaviour: if you see panting through open beaks, pale combs and wings held well away from their body, it's time to take action.

If you're unsure of the symptoms to look for when your chickens are stressed during summer heat, take a look at this page. It lists the ten most common signs of heat exhaustion and potential heat stroke.

5 steps to raising chickens safely in summer.

In this article we'll look at five simple steps you can take now to make sure that, when temperatures rise, your chickens will be safe. 

The steps are simple and generally use things you'll have around the house, but even so you'll need to make sure you do have the right tools in hand now.

Step 1: Make sure they have plenty of cold drinking water.

It may seem very obvious, but chickens drink a lot when it's hot - between four and five times the amount they would normally need. So make sure your flock has a constant supply of cold, clean water during hot weather, even if that means changing it several times each day.

  • If you use metal containers, remember that they'll heat up quickly in the sun. Make sure they'll be in the shade all day.
  • Think about changing the way you provide water for your flock in the heat. There are more effective ways than one or two large containers.
  • Offer a series of smaller, more shallow dishes. Use whatever you have - bowls, basins, pots - anything that holds water works.
  • Your birds need to conserve energy, so don't make them go hunting for water. Put the containers in different places around the run, particularly wherever they go to keep cool. 
A Livorno chicken has a large drinking bowl of water under a bay tree.One of my Livornos comes out from underneath the shady bay tree for a cooling drink from a large food bowl.
  • Using a large ice block in a shallow dish will melt slowly in the heat and the water it provides will be cool.
  • Do not use Apple Cider Vinegar when it's hot.  It's great for many things but heat is not one of them. 

Step 2: Promote summer health by using electrolytes.

If your chickens are showing signs of overheating, using electrolytes in their drinking water is a good way to rehydrate them quickly.

The easiest way to think of electrolytes is as a chicken form of Gatorade - but without the added flavouring and colouring. 

Added to drinking water they can restore the minerals and vitamins lost when chickens are dehydrated. But it's also important not to overdo it - chickens cannot take a lot of salt.

For more detail about electrolytes, including a home made recipe you'll be able to make from items already in your store cupboards, see this article. It will open in a new page so you can easily come back here when you've read it.

Step 3: Show your flock some love with juicy fruit.

Summer fruits are plentiful in the shops (and on our trees!) now, and make a good treat for chickens particularly if they're chilled.

  • One of the very best is watermelon because it contains such a high percentage of water. It's fat free, has almost no salt and contains multi-vitamins and antioxidants. the perfect summer food for your flock!
  • Buy a large one, cut into pieces and freeze. It will melt slowly in the heat. Chickens love the sweet taste and, as they're eating the flesh they're also ingesting the liquid. 
Chickens eating watermelon to keep cool in the heat.Watermelon is a particularly good food for hydrating your flock.
  • Other juicy treats like pears and strawberries are also a good summer delight, but beware of feeding too much. It can make for "interesting" poop!
  • Figs are a particular favourite for my chickens - they even have their own fig tree!

4. Freeze to breeze through summer with a healthy flock!

Some summer veggies are also a good idea to help keep your chickens hydrated during the summer heat. Freezing them into a tasty summer salad is even more of an insurance against heat stroke!

Again, the chickens consume the water as they peck at the ice block to get to the veg.

It's really not rocket science.

  • Take some watery veggies - tomatoes are a good one (no, the tomato is not poisonous to chickens, only the tomato vine) as are cucumber, sweetcorn (not cracked corn - that will raise your flock's temperature, not lower it), lettuce (tends to go limp with freezing but they still like it!), shredded carrot...
  • Add water.
  • Freeze.

For more ideas about this, take a look at my article about a frozen treat my chickens love.

Seven hens enjoying a frozen treat in the shade of their fig tree.My chickens like to be first to the table when a frozen veggie treat is on the menu!

5. Promote chicken care in summer with a dust bath.

It's a sad fact that warmer weather attracts lice and mites to chicken coops. And those pesky beasts can not just irritate but suck the life out of chickens at a time when they need all their energy to beat the heat.

  • Dust bathing is a good way to both get rid of mites, and help your flock cool off in the heat. 
  • Although I provide dust bathing areas in the form of a children's sand pit, old tyres and wooden blocks, my flock usually make their own space, here under their fig tree.
Nine of my chickens enjoying a summer dust bath in the shade.Dust bathing in the shade of the fig tree. The pipe is a sprinkler system.
  • The green pipe on the lower left of this photo is a home made sprinkler system - an old hose pipe with pinholes made at intervals! - which they like to make use of when temperatures are very high.
  • Make sure your summer dust baths are placed in the shade. 
  • For more detail about dust baths, why they're important and how to make them, take a look at my article, here.

If you've taken these steps to care for your chickens in summer, you can now spend your time just enjoying the season!

Here are some other articles you'll find useful for summer chicken care.

Raising chickens - month by month tasks - link.
Raising chickens for eggs - link.
What do chickens drink? Link.
How to go on vacation when you have chickens - link.
Frozen treats to keep your flock cool in summer - link.
Lavender's uses in the chicken coop. Link.
Dealing with rats in the chicken coop - link.
How to clip chicken wings - link.
How to make a first aid kit for your chickens - link.
Link to Raising Happy Chickens home page.