Meet Dottie, she’s a Leghorn Hybrid at nearly 3 months and my little trooper in the desert heat. Smart and resourceful to say the least. Unlike the other members of the flock, she cools off in the little pool provided and takes full advantage of the mist system.
Most of the flock is looking a little rough from temperatures ranging from 110 to 117. Not to mention I’m not feeling my best battling the heat while bringing them ice and fresh fruit during the day. But this is what chicken people do right? We love our birds no matter what. Ok, I’ll be honest, sometimes I do question myself on why I purposely add more chores to my life by keeping chickens! But isn’t it funny how the drudgery of chores is forgotten when they’re all done? Maybe it’s the fresh smell of pine shavings in the hen house, or the basket full of pretty eggs. But one thing is for sure when I’m heading back to the house, that last glance behind makes it all worthwhile. I feel blessed seeing my happy feathered family busy scratching in the dirt looking for nature’s little chicken treasures.
• What Fully Feathered Silkie Bantams Look Like • Brooder to Coop, Suitable Outdoor Temperatures
The Silkies are 6 weeks old and ready to leave the brooder. They’ve been raised in an insulated shed with natural light, and their only source of heat was radiant heat from the Brinsea Brooder. Night temperatures were between 48 and 55 degrees, and although I veered from the golden rule of keeping the brooder at 95 the first week and lowering the temperature by five degrees each week, my chicks showed no signs of discomfort. I usually don’t move chicks from the brooder until 7 or 8 weeks, but being kept in cooler conditions they tend to feather quicker. Here they are, Fanny, Jo, Pat, and Randi. Happy, healthy, thriving youngsters in their new coop. Which ones will stay or end up in the sale pen will be a question answered when they’re about 6 months old. This breed is nearly impossible to sex at this age, so the only sure way is to wait for the eggs or hear the crowing. Note: Remember to acclimate your chicks to cooler weather if they are being raised indoors. Chicks raised under a heat source and kept at a consistent temperature may take a week or two longer to fully feather.
Once again it’s that time of year when soaring temperatures raise concern for 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 overcrowded 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 in morning, mid-day, and night 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 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 or 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. Use shade cloth, mesh tarps, or shade sails. Electrolytes for poultry
Shade is hard to come by in Phoenix, but not impossible if you’re creative. If your chickens are in a small coop they are unlikely to survive triple-digit temperatures, I know that sounds a bit harsh, but it’s true. June will most likely exceed 110, which means 120+ in the coop, and that’s a death sentence. Your birds will fair well in temperatures up to 105 if they are not confined, have shade, and a place to dig a hole in the dirt. Make sure they have cool water available, if the water is too hot they won’t drink enough to stay hydrated. Make it easy on yourself, use buckets instead of those chicken drinkers that are impossible to clean and a big hassle to fill. When temperatures reach over 105 in the shade it’s time to introduce a fan to the chicken yard. I don’t use anything fancy, a $20.00 box fan will do the trick. Hang it from a fence (wreath hangers work nicely) or anyplace where it won’t tip over. Your birds will stand in front of that fan like they were watching a movie!
June and July are the worst months for excessive heat, 110 -115+, and when you really have to stay on top of your chicken-keeping responsibilities. Mist systems help cool the air, especially with a fan to keep the air moving. I like the standing misters ($10.) that attach to a hose. Place it right in the chicken yard, and dig up a small area near it so the moisture forms a little mud pool for the birds. If you free-feed your chickens, don’t in summer. Feed produces heat, so feed early morning, a little during the day, and just before they return to the coop at night. Never offer scratch feed in summer, it’s a hot feed and unsuitable for your feathered desert dwellers. Offer your flock a watermelon, or a head of lettuce instead, this will help keep them hydrated.
Danger Signs of Heat Exhaustion
The first sign of trouble is dark red, then pale comb and wattles. As their condition worsens they will become unstable on their feet, lethargic, wobble, and even fall over and lie lifeless. They will die quickly if you don’t act fast. Note: Heavy or meat Birds such as Orpingtons are the first to show signs of heat intolerance, watch them closely. Chickens will hold their wings out from their body, pant, and lay in holes on their side – all normal behavior when they’re very hot. What to Do Submerge the chicken in a 5 gal. bucket of warm water and place the bird under a shade tree. Don’t bring the bird indoors to air conditioning, this will only make matters worse when you return the chicken to the outdoors. A fan on low will help cool the bird quickly, they usually recover within 15-20 minutes. Ideas for Providing Shade Shade Cloth Mesh Tarps Lattice Palm Frond Shade Sails