We’re all looking for the best ways to help our flock beat the heat. Here’s a home recipe to keep on hand when the temperatures threaten their well being. Knowing how and when to quickly make homemade electrolytes for heat exhaustion can be the difference between life and death for your backyard chickens…
When your day old chicks arrive from the hatchery they will need food, water, heat, light, fresh air and space. They will arrive stressed from excess heat or cold, lack of food, and might be showing signs of dehydration. Your chicks can survive several days on the stored yolk in their body, but heat, food and water should be the first priority upon their arrival. It’s a good idea to have electrolytes on hand before you pick up your chicks. They might look a bit wilted from their travels, and this will help perk them up. I don’t usually use electrolytes more than two days. A popular brand of electrolytes is Sav-a-Chick, and is available online or at local feed stores.
Old School Practices
On the day your chicks arrive you should have a draft free box (lined with paper towels) large enough to provide a heat lamp (red bulb) at one end. Be sure to allow enough room for a cooler area so that the hatchlings can get away from the heat source if needed. A good rule of thumb is to provide a 1/2 square foot of floor space per chick. The temperature in your brooder should be 90-95 degrees for the first week, then decrease the temperature by 5 degrees each week following. You can raise or lower the lamp to help obtain that proper temperature. If you don’t need to use a heat lamp in the brooder, for the first few days, keep a light on so the chicks can find their food and water. After a few days, I suggest switching to a simple night light, just to help prevent piling or suffocation.
A Better Way… Today’s Choice: Heat lamps are often hard to regulate temperatures, another choice is using a Brinsea Chick Brooder. They are safer, and you won’t be spending so much time adjusting the heat lamp. Available on Amazon. If your chicks are in a room with a temperature of around 65-70, radiant heat is a better choice than a heat lamp. We have learned over time to pitch the heat lamp and make the switch to a more natural heat source from a radiant heat brooder.
On week two, you can start using shavings for bedding (not cedar) in the brooder. You can also raise the drinker a bit to help keep the water clean. Use a drinker made for chicks to avoid the possibility of drowning. Chick starter feed is all your hatchlings will need all the way until they are at their point of lay… which is about 5-6 months.
Something to watch for that can put your chicks in danger is pasting up, this is simply a poopy butt. This is real common in baby chicks, and if not tended to, they won’t be able to poop and can die. So keep those fuzzy butts clean by using a baby wipe, or a wet paper towel. Learn more about Pasting Up.
Once again it’s that time of year when soaring temperatures raise concern to chicken keepers. For those who can free roam their flock there is less worry. But if you have backyard chickens that are confined to a coop, your worries are quite valid. Here’s what you can do to make your flock more comfortable.
There are steps to take that will help your chickens beat the heat, but it will take a little effort on your part. If your coop is over crowded it’s time to expand, too many birds in small quarters is just asking for trouble. Air flow is vital. Chicken droppings generate heat, so be sure to clean the coop and lay down fresh bedding. If at all possible provide a fan for ventilation, if it isn’t… find a way. A fan could be the difference between life and death.
Keeping the Flock Hydrated
There is a pecking order among chickens, so provide extra water sources for those lower-ranking birds who might not be allowed to use the drinker.
Chickens will drink more if the water is cool, provide cool water at the hottest time of the day. If you have broody hens, make it easy for them to access water, don’t assume they are leaving the nest… some don’t. Tip: Full buckets of water will stay cold longer, put out a few. Shallow ground drinkers work nicely for bantams.
It’s always a good idea to have electrolytes on hand for those really hot days. Simply add it to your flock’s water source. Electrolytes for poultry can be found at your local feed store. It comes in many forms, choose one best suited for your needs & the size of your flock.
Chickens may or may not like a mist system, my birds hate them, however, I have heard positive feedback from other chicken keepers. So it may be something to consider useful in dry climates. A more positive approach is to provide your birds with a small flooded area for them to play in. Even if it’s just a hose allowed to drip, they are magically lured to this life saving man-made oasis.
Triple Digit Temperatures
Here in Phoenix, our temperatures can reach 115+ degrees, this is when it’s time to bring out watermelon, cantaloupe, lettuce, or anything that will help hydrate the flock. These foods will be better for them than layer pellets containing corn, which produces even more unwanted heat. During these heat spells, I ration layer pellets, offering it morning and night only, for about an hour or so.
Recipe for Successful Chicken Keeping in Excessive Heat
Shade is essential to the survival of chickens in extreme temperatures, especially if they’re cooped. Your coop is best placed under a shade tree, but remember the sun moves and may leave your birds exposed to direct sun during the course of a day. Never use tarps. Shade cloth, mesh tarps, and shade sails are excellent for keeping the sun out, yet they don’t restrict airflow. Shade cloth is cheaper than mesh tarps and is available in most garden centers. Mesh tarps might be pricey, but they’re a lot easier to hang. Both, are durable and offer long-lasting wear.
Offer watermelon of cantaloupe & place it in a shady area.
Find a way to hang a fan a foot or so from the ground.
Provide an area where a hose is on a slow stream or drip.
Keep drinkers filled with cool water. Tip: Buckets kept full will stay cold longer.