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 cool when the temperature rises.
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 keep cool, heat stress will result.
And heat stress can lead to serious problems - even death.
When to act?
Start planning to help your chickens cool down 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 exhaustion.
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 trying to keep cool during summer heat, take a look at this page. It lists the ten most common signs of heat exhaustion and potential heat stroke.
In this article we'll look at six quick and easy 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.
If you're looking for something in particular, use these links to get to that section. Otherwise, scroll on!
One of my "Chicken Chat" videos is all about how to keep chickens hydrated in the heat of the summer months.
It offers five simple, inexpensive tips to make sure your flock is kept safe when temperatures soar.
The video below is part of my "Chicken Chat" series of questions submitted by my Chicken Digest newsletter readers. It's available only to those who are subscribed.
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This is the article about a home made electrolyte drink which I refer to in the video.
Learn how to ask your questions, which I'll answer in my weekly "Chicken Chat" videos.
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. It's their main means of keeping cool.
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 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 - 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.
Looking for a simple home made electrolyte recipe? You've found it!
Summer fruits are plentiful in the shops (and on our trees!) now, and make a good treat for chickens particularly if they're chilled.
Some summer veggies are also a good idea to help keep your chickens hydrated during the 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.
For more ideas about this, take a look at my article about a frozen treat my chickens love.
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.
Making sure the ventilation in your chicken house is adequate is especially important in the summer months.
There should be a good flow of air from vents above chicken head-height. If you don't have them and you have electricity in your coop, try using a fan to blow some cooler air. Something like this is perfect.
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Leave the coop door(s) open during the day so that the coop has some air circulating.
Deep litter is a great method for keeping coops warm in the winter, and many people use it all year round.
However, I've found that sand is a better option if the temperatures are high. It keeps far cooler, is proven to lower the incidence of disease, helps keep feet healthy and is an instant dust bath!(1, 2, 3)
As an added bonus, flies are far less attracted to it - as long as you remove poop each day, of course.
Use a "construction sand", also known as "river sand" or "washed sand". Play sand is too fine and can cause respiratory problems.
A lot of "facts" you'll find on the internet are often people's individual views, based on inaccurate information repeated from poor quality sources.
The information I provide in this article and others is based not just on my own experience, but on evidenced facts from scientific, peer-reviewed research and books from highly respected and experienced poultry keepers such as Gail Damerow.
Some of the trusted sources I have used in this article are these.
1. S. F. Bilgili et al: "Sand as litter for rearing broiler chickens". Pub. Journal of Applied Poultry Science, 1999.
2. B.D. Bowers et al: "Sand litter temperatures during brooding". Pub. Oxford University Press, 2003.
3. V. A. Toroc et al: "Influence of different litter materials on cecal microbiota colonization in broiler chickens. Pub. Oxford University Press - Poultry Science, 2009.