Coop or Free Roam?

Every good chicken keeper knows the importance of protecting their birds from predators. Most of us will, or already have lost birds to a coyote, hawk, fox, bobcat, etc, etc. It’s devastating to see the after mass, I know, it’s happened here, I lost seven birds after a coyote attack in 2016. That changed everything I loved most about keeping chickens.

Since the attack, my birds have been completely safe after building them a 10×10 predator proof enclosure. Unfortunately, that means their happy life of free roaming our acreage came to a screeching halt. To me, it meant never enjoying my birds out and about, it was now just a chore for their well being. Chickens live for the opportunity to scratch in the dirt and look for bugs, sunbathe in the morning sun, or finding that perfect spot for a dust bath. Since confinement, I’ve noticed the overall health of my flock has not quite been what it was.

The heat plays havoc on confined chickens in the desert southwest, heat stroke is real, and it’s deadly.  Free roam flocks have a much higher rate of survival, and are quite resourceful in finding shade and cooler ground to burrow in.  So this brings me to a dilemma, coop for safety from a predator, or free roam for quality of life and comfort from the extreme heat?

Quality of Life
Today I opened the gate and gave my flock the opportunity to live a happy life. After considering the risk, I decided being cooped up in 110+ would have the same outcome as a predator attack… both could mean a death sentence. I will do my part to protect them every way I can. They will be confined from dusk to late morning, but during the hottest part of the day they will be free to find comfort.
Here’s some of the girls who found a comfy place in the feed room… where there’s a giant oscillating fan and mist system. 🙂

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Chicken Coop is Ready for Summer

Spring is saying it’s last goodbye here in Phoenix. Temperatures are reaching the 80’s during the day and that means only one thing… the real HEAT coming. I took advantage of the mild weather yesterday and prepared the chicken coop for the dreadful 115 degree days which inevitably are just around the corner.

Mist systems are in place and in working order, even the old fan has been replaced with an industrial grade high powered oscillating model specifically made for barns.  Sun screens are all new, and double layered on the east and west side of the coop. I dragged out the big drinkers to help keep the water cool, and replaced the covered nest boxes with the open tops. After a thorough cleaning and fresh shavings, we are ready for summer, bring it on! How do we look?

It’s definitely a challenge keeping chickens in extreme heat, this article will give you lots of tips on what you can do to keep your flock safe. Cold weather is not a problem, but heat is a whole different story… and it can be a deadly one.

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Suitable Treat in Place of Chicken Scratch in Summer

Looking for a treat that’s little out of the ordinary 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 in it, so lets not add fuel to the fire by giving them even more.

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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 just give them just enough to add that little diamond in the rough among the oats.

Mixture I Use:  Find a suitable container and fill it with 3 lbs Rolled Oats and 1/2 cup Hemp Seed.

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Tip: Here in Arizona our temps reach 115+ quite often. I find it best to only feed them early morning and again at dusk. Feed actually puts them even more at risk when they are already a candidate for heat stress.  A few handfuls of rolled oats keeps them happy during the day when corn is an absolute no-no.

More information on Chicken Keeping in Extreme Heat

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Desert Temps Reach 116, Chicken Survival Tips

Battling the Heat, the Tools for Survival

Oh my! 116 today and keeping chickens in this ridiculous heat adds to my chore list when it’s  just so hard to be outdoors. But for the love of chickens, I pour on the sun screen, hide from the sun under a giant umbrella, and head out to the barn.  By 8AM it’s already in the 90’s and too hot for the flock to be confined. It’s most certainly better to allow chickens to dig holes, seek out shade, and  follow their own instincts on ways to best battle the heat. Of course, as a desert dweller, I have a few tricks up my sleeve to help them find relief.

A Few Tips, Create a Cooling Station!

Here’s what I do. There’s a portable mist system in the shade and a low sided shallow pool with a few bricks inside for them to sit on. The bricks stay cool, some use it, some don’t. None of the birds seem to fancy the mist system, nevertheless, it does cool the immediate air by about 20 degrees, so I entice them to the area with fresh greens or fruit.

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Layer pellets are available, but kept in their coop where the temperature is undesirable. Considering there is corn in feed, it should be kept at a minimum because corn produces heat. Some chicken keepers will pull feed completely during the day when it’s this hot. But I find this unnecessary, since chickens limit their food intake by choice… at least mine do.

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Predators are a worry when the chickens are allowed to free roam, but let’s face it, confined chickens in 116+ temperatures is a death sentence in these parts. I take my chances, keep an eye on them, and hope during the day predators won’t be actively looking for food until sundown.

Chickens like to dig holes, don’t discourage this. It’s their instinct to find cooler ground. They will look for anywhere water has been and choose that spot as the ideal place to settle into. Help them out, dump their drinkers in the same place every day, or leave a hose in the shade on a tiny drip.

Keep the drinkers clean and offer COLD water during the day. Chickens aren’t fond of hot drinking water. Large drinkers will stay colder longer, but I also use shallow buckets or bowls so I can add a chunk of ice during the day. The worst choice for a water source (where it’s super hot) are nipple drinkers, here’s why…

Avoid Nipple Drinkers

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Nipple drinkers are neat gadgets, but if you live in an oven, forget using them, especially the type with those tiny drinker cups.  The water in the small cups get way too hot and chickens avoid using them. Using nipples are just as useless in my opinion. The water in the container itself may be cool, but the water sitting in the lines heats up fast, and your birds wont drink enough to stay hydrated.

Remember, the sun moves, either you have to move your drinker to keep it in the shade, or provide water in various locations to assure there is cool water throughout the day. Nipple drinkers are not usually movable, they’re meant to be low maintenance, fill ’em and leave ’em… which is exactly why they’re not used on my farm.

Keeping your birds hydrated with cool water is absolutely vital…  and just to make sure they have enough fluid intake, offer up some watermelon!

More Helpful Information | TBN Ranch

 

 

Chickens and Heat Distress, What to Do

When Should you Supplement your Flock with Electrolytes?

In the heat of summer there’s warning signs when chickens are suffering from heat distress. Once you recognize these signs, consider them as reason to add electrolytes. Electrolytes are available in feed stores who carry retail poultry products. You’ll find easy to follow instruction on the back label informing you how much to put in their drinking water.  Simple!

Electrolites

Warning Signs Heat Distress

Panting
Holding their wings away from their body
Combs and wattles a deep red
Restlessness

Signs of Heat Stress | What to Do

Much more dangerous is Heat Stress. Below are the signs your chickens are in great danger and could possibly even die if you don’t act quick.

Not eating or drinking
Pacing
Disoriented
Wobbling
Lethargic
Dark reddish-purple wattles and combs

Submerse chicken in warm water (a 5 gal. bucket from Home Depot works nicely) and move bird to a shady spot. Don’t bring the bird indoors, it will only cause more stress when returned outside. A fan nearby would be ideal. Don’t try to force water, when the bird cools down it will drink on it’s own. Chicken feed is not important at this point,  don’t push it, offer watermelon instead.

Learn More about Summer Chicken Keeping…

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