Chickens are rockstars at a lot of things: laying eggs, throwing sass, making us laugh, digging holes… But one thing chickens aren’t great at is keeping themselves cool and collected in extreme heat. They need your help! In fact, your efforts could be life-saving. Did you know that extreme heat is more dangerous for chickens than freezing cold conditions? It sure is. Thankfully, there are many simple ways that you can help keep your flock of chickens cool and safe during hot summer weather. Read along to learn more!
How hot of temperatures is “too hot” for chickens?
In general, temperatures over 90 degrees Fahrenheit increase the risk of heat stress and heat-related illness in chickens, including death. Prolonged hot temperatures combined with high humidity is an especially uncomfortable combination, for chickens and humans alike. The degree of heat stress depends on a number of factors, including the chicken’s living quarters, diet, and breed. Heavier chicken breeds may start to become overheated around 85°F. On the other hand, smaller or lighter chicken breeds generally do better in heat.
Chickens can’t sweat to cool themselves. Instead, chickens dissipate excess heat from their combs, wattles, beaks, and feet. Meaning, any surface area that isn’t covered in their built-in down jackets! Therefore, chicken breeds with large combs and wattles are able to cool themselves more readily than those with small peacombs. Learn more characteristics of the Top 18 Backyard Chicken breeds here, including comb and body type, egg production, demeanor, and more.
Signs of heat stress and heat stroke in chickens
- Overheating chickens will usually pant: breathing heavily through an open beak, often moving their tongues up and down.
- Standing with wings held out away from their body
- Droopy and lethargic behavior
- Decreased appetite
- Pale or discolored combs and wattles
- Egg production may also decrease with prolonged heat exposure
Many of these signs and symptoms sound pretty scary – but I don’t want you to worry! With the measures described below, it is fairly easy to keep your chickens cool during hot summer weather with minimal intervention. If your area is known for high heat, hopefully you set up your coop and run with cooling measures already in mind. Or, you can make some modifications as needed.
Unusual heat waves pose the most risk for heat stress in chickens. Keep an eye on the weather forecast, monitor your chickens behavior, and be prepared to respond accordingly. Chickens that live in places with routinely hot conditions may become accustomed to the heat, and tolerate it better than those who are used to more temperate conditions. We have many Midwest and Southern friends who say their chickens do just fine with temperatures in the 90s. Here on the mild Central Coast of California, a heat wave of 90+ degree days is quite unusual, uncomfortable and risky for our flock.
10 Ways to Keep Chickens Cool in Hot Weather
1) Provide Shade
This is one of the most simple but crucial measures. Ensure that your chickens have a shady space to retreat on hot days. Our girls love to hang out under the trees in our yard. If your chicken run area is mostly sunny, create additional shade by draping black shade cloth over the run. Another option is to string one of these cool shade canopies between posts, fences, or trees.
2) Cold Fresh Water
Provide a constant supply of cold fresh water. On the hottest days, that may mean refreshing their water a few times per day. Some chicken keepers add ice to their chicken waterers to keep them cool. Instead of ice, you could also throw some frozen treats in there – like frozen fruit or vegetables! Keep their waterers in a shady and readily accessible location (e.g. not inside the hot coop, especially if they aren’t hanging out in there during the day). If your chickens are showing signs of heat stress, adding electrolytes to their water can help them stay hydrated and healthy.
3) The Right Cold Treats
Did you know that some treats actually increase a chicken’s body temperature? As we explored in our “Keeping Chickens Warm in Winter” article, high-carb treats like dry cracked corn and scratch warm them up from the inside out as they work to digest them. Thus, cut back or avoid scratch during extreme heat. Rather, provide cold, refreshing, high-moisture treats such as watermelon and other fruits and veggies.
Try freezing some treats! We like to give our girls frozen peas, corn, watermelon chunks, and chopped frozen strawberries on hot days. Another popular idea is to make frozen treat blocks. Fill a large “tupperware” type container with water and berries (or similar), freeze it overnight, and set it out the next day for the chickens to pick at as it thaws.
As always, treats should only be fed in moderation – especially in hot conditions, as chickens are likely eating less in general. This makes it quite easy to become malnourished, adding to an already stressful situation.
4) Freeze their Feed
In order to maintain optimal health, encourage your chickens to continue to eat their usual nutritionally-balance chicken feed. Freezing their feed for an hour or so before putting it out is one way to make it potentially more appetizing, as well as cooling. When chickens consume frozen food (including frozen treats), having cold material in their crop actually lowers their body temperature from within!
5) Ventilate the Coop
It is always recommended to provide good ventilation inside a chicken coop, but even more so in hot conditions. Ensure the coop has screened (but predator-proof!) openings that allow for a nice cross-breeze. If your coop is usually pretty buttoned-up for winter, are there any solid walls or doors that you could safely swap with wire fencing during the summer? Consider adding a fan in the coop if safe electricity is available, or use a solar-powered fan. Also, avoid overcrowding – in both the coop and run space! Nobody likes a crowd on hot days. Provide at least 4 square feet of indoor coop space and 10 square feet of outdoor space per chicken.
The measures you’ll need to take to ventilate and cool your coop depend on how much time your chickens spend inside, along with what the evening temperatures are like. For example, if they’re outside all day and the evenings cool off nicely, you might not need to make any serious adjustments. One thing we do is prop open the main coop door during hot days to keep the girls trying to lay eggs inside more cool – but we have to be diligent to remember to close it back up again at night!
6) Keep the Coop Clean (No Deep Litter Method)
During hot conditions, keep the coop as clean and tidy as possible. Reduce the bedding layer inside the coop to no more than 2 inches deep to prevent trapping in heat. Some chicken keepers use a “deep litter” method, which allows the bedding material (and chicken excrement) to form a deep pile on the coop floor. The built up material acts as an extra layer of insulation in the coop. As microbes work to break it down, the material physically heats up. While this is a clever way to keep the coop warmer during winter, it is less-than-ideal in hot summer conditions!
7) Set up a Kiddie Pool (or Mud Puddle)
Chickens can lower their body temperature by keeping their feet cool. Some of them love to stand in cool water on a hot day! I know many people who set up little kiddie or wading pools for their chickens to enjoy. Yet other folks say their chickens won’t use them much. It depends on the flock, and their opportunity to become accustomed to the idea. For example, if extreme heat is the norm and you always have a pool out during the summer, I bet the chickens take to it. But if you don’t usually provide one and then whip out a big blue kiddie pool during a random heat wave, your chickens will probably just look at it (and you) sideways. You can also add a few pavers/stepping stones in the pool, to give them a place to stand and feel more stable while inside.
Instead of a pool, another option to keep chickens feet cool is to create a muddle puddle area. Wet the ground and provide standing, muddy water. We all know how much chickens like dirt! Perhaps they’ll be more excited about getting their feet wet in mud if they aren’t keen on a water pool.
8) Use Misters (or Sprinklers)
Adding moisture to the air or ground around the coop and run will lower the surrounding temperature. As airborne water droplets evaporate, it immediately cools the air. Therefore, setting up a mister system is one effective way to help keep your chickens cool, and could be very worthwhile in places where regular hot days are common. Alternatively, you could use lawn sprinklers nearby, or simply spray down the ground with a hose on occasion.
9) Provide Dust Bath Space
Wallowing in dirt may sound like an uncomfortable pursuit to us humans, but that is how chickens keep themselves clean – and cool! Soil a few inches below the sunny ground surface can be several degrees cooler. Like ventilation, providing a nice dust bath space is always a good idea.
On hot days, be sure your chickens have a place to dust bath in the shade. If their shaded run area doesn’t have suitable ground material for dust bathing, create a dust bath! Fill galvanized metal tubs (what we use), a sturdy tote bin, kiddie pool, or other container with fine dirt or sand. Add a sprinkle of lime, wood ash, or food-grade diatomaceous earth for added mite and lice control. If possible, add large holes to the bottom of the container for drainage on rainy days.
10) Dunk the Chicken in Water
Okay, this sounds a little extreme… and that is because it kind of is! I suggest this option if your chickens are showing clear and persistent signs of heat stress, and the other ways we’ve explored to cool chickens down are not working (or possible). Truth be told, we have dunked our hot chickens in water on several occasions – and they seem to love it! Check out the video of Miss Ginger below. Before her bath, she couldn’t even stand up.
We are fortunate, and do not have regular hot weather where we live. Most summer days are in the 70s, and rarely over 85°F. However, that means that when we are hit with a random heat wave, our chickens are absolutely not accustomed to it. That also means we do not have misters, a kiddie pool, or other cooling methods readily available.
So, when our chickens are looking miserable and I am worried for their safety, we gently submerge them (only up to their shoulders) in a bucket of cool to room temperature water for about one minute. That is sufficient time to rapidly cool their internal body temperature. Once they’re done, the evaporation from their wet feathers will also help keep them cool for a while.
Note that you should NOT dunk them in freezing cold or even notably cold water. That is just mean, and can be shocking in its own right. If the water coming out of your hose is really cold, let the bucket of water sit out in the sun for a half hour or so to slightly warm. When we’re having a heat wave, our tap water is usually plenty warm to use as-is.
And that is how to keep chickens cool, comfortable, and safe in extreme heat.
In all, no one knows your flock better than you do! When things start to heat up, monitor them and respond in your best judgement and ability. If a chicken becomes alarmingly listless, a final resort is to bring them inside to the cooling comfort of your home. Don’t laugh! I know many people who do. Set up a large crate, bring them into a cool basement, or designate a spare bathroom as a temporary chicken sanctuary to keep your friends safe. They’re relying on you, after all.
Did I forget any good tips that you use to keep chickens cool in the summer? Add your experience (or ask questions) in the comments below! Also please feel free to spread the chicken love by sharing or pinning this article. Thank you for tuning in.
Interested in learning more about raising backyard chickens? You may enjoy these related articles:
- Backyard Chickens 101: What to Expect When You’re Expecting
- Top 18 Breeds of Chickens for Your Backyard Flock
- Baby Chick Care 101: Brooders, Heat, Health & More
- Chicken Health: Feeding Chickens Eggshells (or Oyster Shells) For Essential Calcium
- How to Sprout Seeds for Healthy Chicken Treats
- 10 Tips on Caring for Chickens in Cold Winter Weather