Looking for a little out-of-the-ordinary treat for your flock? We all know scratch is probably a chicken’s all-time favorite, but that should be your last treat choice in the summer months. Scratch produces heat, that’s why we feed it in the winter (especially at night) to help keep them warm. Layer feed already has corn, so let’s not add fuel to the fire by giving them even more.
Instead… Try offering them rolled oats, they love it and it’s safe to feed as a treat! It’s super cheap and often sold by the pound in loose bulk feed bins. Hemp is another healthy supplement, but it’s high in protein and fattening, so just give a little. I add Hemp to the rolled oats, mix it all together and toss it to the flock mid-day. Hemp is spendy too, another reason to give them enough to add that little diamond in the rough among the oats.
Is your chicken yard and coop suitable to sustain the well-being of your flock during the summer months? It’s essential to prepare for extreme heat, or your birds may suffer from heat exhaustion. Sun is the #1 enemy of confined chickens, especially in small quarters. In Phoenix, extreme temperatures will reach 115+ degrees, and we must take special precautions to help our chickens fare well. Remember, happy chickens fill the egg basket, agitated chickens acquire behavioral issues, are low producers, or may stop laying altogether. Here’s what you can do to keep your chickens happy and healthy this summer…
It’s not that hard to accommodate the basic needs of chickens in hot weather, with a little effort on your part they will fair well. First of all, cramped housing, even in the partial sun can be a death sentence. If your coop is too small, the easiest way to give them more room is to build a large enclosure around the coop. I can’t stress enough, the more space the better.
Coop Location / Shade / Natural Behavior
Your chickens need a shady place, watch the sun, and make sure their coop and play area has morning AND afternoon shade. Keep water out of direct sunlight and refill drinkers with cold water in the afternoon. You can also freeze a chunk of ice and put it in a shallow water container on those really hot days. Get acquainted with artificial shade products such as shade cloth, shade sails, and my favorite, grommet mesh shade tarps. Never use waterproof tarps, they inhibit airflow, which is crucial to your birds’ survival. Chickens stay cool by digging holes in the dirt. They must have a natural earth area to do so. Chickens may or may not appreciate a nearby mist system. If you choose to experiment, place it where it won’t interfere with their drinker or food source. A wet area under a shade tree or low bush provides an ideal oasis for chickens. Dig a shallow hole large enough for your flock to enjoy the benefits of a hose on a slow drip. On really hot days, you can offer your birds relief by flooding that area about an inch deep. They will stay quite busy looking for worms and insects while they cool down.
Warning Signs of Physical Heat Distress
A common sign is a change in behavior, such as bullying, pecking each other, or pacing. When uncomfortable from the heat your chickens will hold their wings out from their body, pant, or both. Extremely dangerous signs of heat exhaustion are when your chickens become lethargic, pale, disoriented, or stumbling. This is when you must act quickly. At this point, it is best to submerge the bird in a large bucket or tub with WARM water. Place the bird in a shady, preferably grassy spot SEPARATE from the other chickens. If at all possible a fan is very helpful. I do NOT suggest bringing the bird into the house where it is cooler.
Quick Fix Fluids
An excellent source of fluids on a hot summer day is watermelon! If you have a large flock, simply cut a watermelon in half, set it on the ground, and let them feast. They will pick it clean and love every minute of it! Another option is adding electrolytes to your chicken’s water sources, you’ll find this product at your local feed store.
Feed & Diet
Scratch feeds should be avoided altogether in the summer. Corn is a hot feed, which is the last thing chickens need during summer. Instead, a bit of crimped oats will be accepted by your birds as a suitable treat. Feed in general produces heat, so on days that reach 115-120 degrees, I ration all feed, offering small portions a few times a day.
Hay and straw hold heat, a better choice in summer is shavings or sand. Keep the coop and nest boxes clean, chicken droppings also produce unwanted heat. If you have broodies, make sure there is a convenient water source nearby and plenty of ventilation. A fan to help move the air around your birds is extremely beneficial.
The rule of thumb is starter crumbles or pellets until the first egg. Young birds are often uninterested in table scraps, but there are a few other nutritious feed sources they will eat… and actually like. After the first 3 weeks, it’s just fine to introduce a bit of grass, this is a good way to keep chicks busy, especially if they are beginning to peck each other. Just make sure to sprinkle grit around to help with digestion. At about 4 months old, I introduce hemp seed and rolled oats just to add a little extra nutrients to my young pullets diet. For no particular reason other than they like chicken scratch, I add that too. I don’t recommend adding this mix to their starter feed, they will only make a mess trying to pick out all the good stuff. I always feed supplements and treats in a separate hanging feeder. Liquid supplements mixed in their feed is certainly a plus, and I do use them for my Silkies, but they like hemp seed better and it’s a great source of protein containing a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. However, it should be fed sparingly because of the high-fat content.
As a feeding guideline, I feed four young pullets hemp seed, rolled oats, and scratch in these amounts… 2 heaping tablespoons of rolled oats per day 2 heaping tablespoons of scratch per day 2 tablespoons of hemp seed every other day. Hemp Seed is usually sold by the pound at feed stores that sell lose bulk feed, and rolled oats too! My pullets are now 7 months old and laying daily. This is the only flock I’ve supplemented with hemp seed and the first time I’ve had flawless perfect first eggs.