Preparing the Chicken Yard for Summer

Shade, the Crucial Necessity for Survival in Phoenix

Shade Sail

Sunday was the perfect day to get the chicken yard ready for the summer, 80 degrees and not a cloud in the sky.  We hung the shade sail overhead offering the birds at least a small area out of the sun.  The summer nest area is in place, and the little mud pond for them to cool off in has been repaired.

They will need a new box fan, but otherwise we’re ready to battle temperatures that literally can cook a chicken before its time.  In about two months 115+ degrees in the shade is a given.  In the full  sun, don’t really know for sure, haven’t found a thermometer that exceeds 120 yet, not kidding.

The summers in Phoenix are brutal, and my chicken keeping skills are tested each and every year.  As a newbie I failed my birds a few times over, but last year there was only  one fatality. This year the goal is zero!

I have only three heavy birds this year, the rest are exhibition birds who fair quite well in the heat. Two of the three heavy birds are free-range, so they’ll be fine. The other heavy bird is the only one I’ll have to watch closely.

I sold all the heavy breeds, Orphingtons and Partridge Rocks a few weeks back. They are the first ones to drop from the heat if in confinement. When I say confinement, I mean an area 24ft by 20 feet, not a coop.  Keep chickens in a coop here in summer and you’ll have dead chickens by noon.

For more information and suggestions on keeping chickens cool in Phoenix go here

Raising Winter Chicks in Phoenix

When Can Chicks Be Moved Outside?

It’s a good guess you have your new chicks in a box in the house or garage and are watching them quickly outgrow their safe haven of comfort and warmth.

At about 6-7 weeks old they are becoming a handful, looking a bit crowded in their quarters, and you’ve had enough of keeping up with the mess. I understand your dilemma and have good news for you. We live in Phoenix! With mild winter temperatures, even at 6-7 weeks your chicks will be fine outside with the right housing accommodations. However, first you’ll want to lower the temperature in their brooder over the next few days to get them used to cooler temperatures.

A suitable coop for 6-7 weeks old chicks is something that will protect them from wind and rain. If your coop is drafty, a large tarp will do wonders. Buy the highest grade tarp you can find, or use two.

If there’s a cold snap, say below 40 degrees, simply cover the coop with a heavy blanket. Moving blankets from Harbor Freight work great and they’re only $8. The chicks will huddle together at night and keep each other warm.

Give them lots of shavings or hay in the coop, provide low-sided brooder box filled with shavings in the corner for them to sleep in. If they don’t use it, that’s okay too.

Prepare for the Phoenix Heat Now

While watching your chicks grow in the confinements of their coop, this is a good time to think about summer’s arrival and prepare their outdoor environment. Keeping chickens in Phoenix is tough, keeping them in small confinement quite honestly… can be a death sentence.

Think I’m Kidding? I’m not, this could be your coop temperature in July.

June and July will no doubt reach 110 to 115 degrees. This means, your coop could easily exceed 120 degrees, even if it’s in the shade. It’s imperative to provide a play area where they can dig holes in the dirt to stay cool.
A play area can simply be a fenced area off the coop. Look for or create a shady spot preferably near a water source so it’s easy for you to access. This is important because there will be days when you’ll want to use a mister, or maybe flood them a spot to help them cool off.

Raising and Starting New Chicks

Preparing for Next Season

October arrives! There’s a morning chill in the air that’s perfect for catching up on those long over due chores in the chicken yard.   The brutal sun and crazy high temperatures of summer baked tarps, buckets, and even the wood on the coop.  Now is the time to replace, repair, and prepare for next season. Temperatures are mild through March, the evenings may dip down to the 30’s, but freezing is just an occasional occurrence.

January and February is Arizona’s rainy season, but certainly nothing I would consider measurable. My hens have shelter from the rain, but they don’t much use it. They prefer to scratch around in the mud unless it’s literally pouring, which is close to never. However, with possible rains , the dampness and mild weather is perfect for pests.  Good chicken housekeeping  on my farm  includes a thorough inspection of the coop and birds for hitchhikers every October and March.  So far I’ve never had a problem with pests, but nevertheless,  it’s better to be safe than sorry.

My coop is roomy enough for all of them to fit inside, and the door is left open all day. The nest area is located at the rear of the coop and elevated about two feet.  That is the only area that I board up so they have protection from wind and rain.  I over-fill the nest area with Bermuda hay because it’s soft, and they all huddle together for warmth at night. I don’t use any artificial light or heat lamps.

All the birds look a bit frazzled from the hot summer months, especially Lady Madonna pictured below. All those long feathers on her head and neck spent a good deal of time wet from the water trough. But as all the others, she is getting her new feathers as the *molt season has already begun.

Lady Madonna, Silver Laced Polish Hen

By the end of October it will be in the upper 80’s for a high, and 50’s at night. I feel that is cool enough to introduce scratch to their diet as a treat.  The colder it gets, the more scratch I feed, assuming corn helps keep them warm.  If not, at least they‘re kept somewhat busy scratching around looking  for 10,000 kernels scattered about the yard.

Egg Sales / Production

Egg production is expected to drop substantially over the next month, this is normal, and directly related to the fall and winter seasons.  I’ve already noticed a 40% decrease in production just in the last two weeks.

Can’t help but notice that money is tight everywhere, and it’s no secret that *shelf eggs are cheaper than *nest run eggs.  The last few years my eggs were far more in demand than today, even though graded store bought are cheaper.  In order to be competitive with shelf eggs, my standard price of $4 now buys 17 ungraded nest run eggs instead of 12. I don’t weigh or measure my eggs, nor do a separate them by color, however I do package them for sale by size.

Starting New Chicks

It is a little different raising chicks in the extreme heat of the Arizona desert. October is the best time to raise chicks in Phoenix,  it’s much easier to keep chicks warm than it is trying to keep them cool.  High temps in the day are in the mid to high 80’s and nights in the high 50’s and low 60’s. My brooder area is an addition off the house without controlled temps. Therefore, 80’s outdoors means 90+ in the enclosed off the house structure. I use a red low wattage brooder lamp at night about 20 inches above brooder and only natural lighting during the day.

At 3.5 weeks I move them to the outside coop. They will be confined there with a 250 watt red brooder lamp 3ft above ground which is left on day and night. Half of the coop is unheated. Temps in late Oct. are usually in the 80’s and at night upper 50’s.

At 4 weeks I open the coop doors to the chicken yard offering them the choice to fly the coop so to speak. They will venture out briefly then run back to the coop. After about 4 days they brave the outside world. Brooder lamp is still left on. Every night the coop doors close and all chicks are huddled together under the lamp.  It is now the first part of November and temps. are in the mid to upper 70’s, lows around 55.

At 5 weeks the birds are fully feathered, heat lamp off around 10AM, and turned on around 3PM. I find this important because the brooder lamp lures them in the coop as dusk approaches – exactly where I want them to go every night… always.

At 7 weeks the temps are high in the mid 60’s and lows in the 40’s. No heat lamp. However, it is now that I introduce an LED light where I want them to sleep at night, and eventually lay their eggs. The birds go the the light, even though it provides no heat. I choose an LED source of light because the batteries last a really long time, up to a month. My nesting area requires a ladder ( I use a sturdy tree branch) and as long as there is light up they all adapted quite easily to the change.

Heat Tolerant Breed Favorites:

Dominiques, Ameraucana, and Orphingtons are the top egg producers on my farm, they are consistent egg layers for approx. ten months, taking two months off in the cooler months. Leghorns don’t seem to fair well in the heat, fatality rates have been high and I no longer keep them.  Rhode Island Reds and Ameraucanas are with out a doubt the most hardy. However, I find the RIR to be bullies and since I’ve eliminated them from my flock I have much happier birds. I keep the Polish varieties as well and find them quite hardy.

Note: Although I’m rather partial to the Orphingtons, they are indeed broody and can be troublesome when they won’t leave the coop during the hot months.

And Furthermore…

Dominique hen [dark speckled bird] is laying an egg in this picture

Mamma hen pictured below makes the newsletter this month for her strange behaviors. Not only is it bizarre that she produces polka dot alien looking eggs, but she finds them quite tasty too.  Immediately after she lays an egg, she breaks it and eats it – shell and all. I’m not sure what to think about that…

Mamma, Dominique hen

Penny Lane, AKA Freeloader pictured below also makes the news as the new non-egg layer of the flock. She’s either on strike for six months, or quit her job altogether.

Penny Lane, White Crested Blue Polish Hen