As we learnt last year, UK summers can be erratic, so we must prepare for all eventualities especially where heat waves are concerned. Although hens are a low maintenance animal to care for, one thing that they are not great at is keeping themselves cool, calm and collected in extreme heat!
Sustained hot temperatures and high humidity can cause uncomfortable conditions for hens as birds cannot sweat and so to cool down, they open their beaks, pant and spread their wings. These cooling strategies can become exhausting and if not enough, can affect their eating patterns which can lead to health issues and reduced egg production.
Here are some top tips which will make all the difference to reducing the effects of heat stress on your flock.
Offering good ventilation inside your chicken coop is necessary year-round, but especially in the summer. The simplest way to do this is to fit a window and leave it slightly open when the hens go to roost. Make sure any openings are predator-proof and if your coop is built predominantly for winter, check if there are any walls or doors you can carefully swap with wire fencing. This will provide your hens a nice cool breeze during the night.
In your hen’s outdoor space, ensure there is shade available - if there is no natural shade from trees you can create roofs on the run or string a canopy between posts or fences. You can also reduce the bedding layer on the floor of the coop to no more than 2 inches deep. Too much bedding can act as an insulator trapping heat inside.
Remember to avoid overcrowding – nobody likes to be too close on hot days! At least 4sq ft of indoor coop space and 10sq ft of outdoor space per chicken is perfect.
The easiest thing you can control is your hens’ water supply. Providing a constant supply of cold fresh water is essential on hotter days. Drinking water will help to cool a hens’ body temperature; in high temperatures chickens can drink up to twice as much water, so this may mean refreshing their supply a few times a day. You can even add ice cubes to keep their water cool!
Keep your hens’ water feeders in a shaded and easily accessible location (e.g. not in the hot coop, especially if they aren’t in there in the daytime). There are numerous kinds of containers available - galvanised feeders are a great option as they are weatherproof and durable so will be unaffected by sunlight and strong winds.
Hen feed is best served fresh so store it in a cool, dry environment. Give your hens their morning and evening feed in a shaded area and only offer treats after they have finished their main nutritional feed.
Cold, refreshing treats with high-moisture content, for example watermelon and other fruits and vegetables are great in high temperatures. When hens consume cold food, it lowers their body temperature from within.
A consistent body temperature is important in your flock - this normally ranges between 40ºc - 43ºc. . If a bird is still looking pale and panting, provide both water for drinking and an opportunity to paddle and bath in very hot weather.