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How to make summer a breeze for your hens

Andrew Fothergill, National Poultry Advisor at Farmgate Feeds gives his advice on caring for your flock over the warmer months.

As we head towards the summer - much to our delight, we must not forget about our two-legged friends who can struggle in the heat.

Sustained hot temperatures and high humidity produce uncomfortable conditions for hens. Most people don’t realise that 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, it can affect their eating patterns- this could lead to health issues and reduced egg production.

The degree of heat stress depends on a number of factors, including the chicken’s living environment, diet, and general wellbeing. 

Housing environment

Offering good ventilation inside your chicken coop is a necessity all year around, but especially in the warmer months.

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.

Provide shade for your hens by creating roofs on the run or stringing a canopy between posts or trees and remember to keep lights off during the day to reduce heat.

Reducing the bedding layer on the floor of the coop to no more than 2 inches deep will also benefit your hens. Too much bedding can act as an insulator trapping heat inside.

Water

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.

Afbeelding: FG hens LR

Nutrition

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.

General wellbeing

A consistent body temperature is important in your flock- this normally ranges between 105-107 degrees Fahrenheit.

Chickens can lower their body temperature by keeping their feet cool; some love to stand in cool water on a warm day. 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.

If you don’t take special measures during warmer weather your hens could show signs of heat stress or heat stroke.

Signs include:

  • Panting: breathing heavily through an open beak/ moving their tongues up and down
  • Standing/ lying with their wings held out from their body
  • Droopy and lethargic behaviour
  • Reduced appetite
  • Pale or discoloured combs and wattles
  • Egg production may also decrease with prolonged heat exposure