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Heat Stress and Chickens

Time for a Public Service Announcement for my fellow chicken owners. We’ve been having a heat wave here in New York. Three days (so far) over 90 degrees with no rain. These are perfect conditions for chickens to get heat stroke. The best course of action is, of course, prevention.

close up of larg ewhite chicken with text overlay heat stroke in chickens

There are a few things you need to do before the heat hits. Most of this is generally good practice for having chickens but when the temps climb it becomes essential.

I wrote about the Dark Side of Chicken Keeping earlier and a few of the main points from that post come in to play here. Definitely check that post out if you’re new to chickens or you are hiding in the AC from the oppressive heat and need something to do.

Water

two little girls filling chicken wateres with a hose surrounded by chickens

Chickens can’t sweat but the they do pant and hat causes water loss. Drinking cool water helps them cool down from the inside while replenishing what they lost while panting.

Make sure they have plenty of water, check as often as possible. I have extra 2 gallon waterers I put out when it’s hot plus the normal 2  five gallon waterers.  And I have a few shallow black feed bowls that I fill every morning and afternoon.

Always have extra available. It doesn’t take a lot for one to get spilled, another gets mostly consumed and then evaporates, ect.

Earlier I mentioned my post on the dark side of chickens, one of the main points in that post is about the pecking order. IF you only have one water source and the top birds decide it’s only for them the bottom birds are SOL.

Chickens aren’t nice, don’t expect them to be.

two little girls filling chicken wateres with a hose surrounded by chickens

Extra water sources are especially important if you have ducks & geese. They will try to bathe in them and either tip over the waterer or spill it all.

I also have a large kiddie pool that I keep filled for the geese and ducks. It’s usually disgusting about 1/2 an hour after filling but birds are gross and don’t seem to mind.

Keep the water in the shade. The metal waterers and the black bowls will heat up and feeding hot water isn’t doing much for the chickens.

You can also give them extra food with a high water content like watermelon or other fruit. Don’t count on a watermelon to keep you birds safe in the heat but it’s helps.

Shade

Make sure they have a place in the shade. If your birds free range they will find somewhere nice and cool.

I have a small grove of trees where they birds like to hang out.I also find them under the deck a lot where conditions are perfect for dust bathing.

If you keep them in a coop or run make sure they have shade and ventilation. My barn has two doors that open for a nice cross breeze, luckily it’s almost always breezy or down right windy where I live.

If you aren’t so lucky invest in a fan. Barns are very dusty places so look for one with a sealed motor. Dust will get into the motor and kill the fan and it can even start a fire.

Health

Keep your birds healthy; sick, over- or underweight chickens are more likely to have problems.

Don’t mess with your bird too much when it’s hot. Check on water, make sure no one is having any issues but otherwise leave them alone.

I try to feed in the early morning and again at night when things have cooled down. The sun goes down around 9 so I’m out at 7:30 with feed.

If you have chickens you understand the feeding frenzy, that level of activity is too much when it’s 95 degrees with 100% humidity and no wind.

Breed Selection

Consider this before you buy: chickens with large combs use them to help cool down in hot weather. Most of the birds I have here (Wyandottes and Brahmas) have small combs.

I did this intentionally because it’s better for our winters, large combs are more susceptible to frostbite. It also means their combs are more or less useless for cooling. Match your chickens to the weather.

It’s obviously easier said than done right? I live in the north east where we have terrible humidity, freezing cold snowy winters and hot summers. It is what it is, you adapt and prepare for the worst.

Identifying Heat Stress/Stroke

I’ve had this happen twice. It’s awful, that’s an understatement to say the least. I hope this never happens to you and you birds.

Another point I made in the Dark Side of Chickens post is that they have a death wish. They love  to put them selves in dangerous situations.

The first time I had just moved the second ‘batch’ of chicks out with some that were about a month and a half older. I had a temporary separation wall.

Long story short the wall was knocked over, the chickens went the wrong way and instead of escaping I ended up with a pile of chickens. I got to them pretty early and only two were really affected.

The second time was when we moved. About 1/2 of the birds were affected (don’t move in July)

Early signs of heat stress include heavy panting, wings held away from the body and listless behavior. Chickens pant and hold their wings out all the time, it’s when it starts to get out of  control that you need to worry.

Lime green poops is another symptom to look for. If you have a lot of birds it might be hard to see who it’s coming from.

If it progresses to heat stroke  the birds will lay on their side with their stretch out with their legs and feet sticking straight out and  their head sticking out the other way.

They also get stiff and usually won’t react unless you pick them up. They feel hot and stiff.

Treatment

*** Disclaimer – I am NOT a vet. This is what I have done in the past and what has worked for me. I have never lost a bird to heat stroke***

The first thing to do is cool down the birds. I dunk them in cool not cold or freezing water. Rub the water into the feathers, especially under the wings and on the head. You want the skin to cool down.

Try to get them to drink some water. You can put electrolytes in the water if you have them. I usually keep a bottle of pedialyte in the house just in case.

Keep them separate from the other birds until they are acting normal. Keep them in a shaded breezy area, I’ve been known to keep a dog crate in my always 60 degrees basement just in case.

Don’t let it happen again! Prevention is 100 times better than treatment but freak accidents do happen so it’s best to know what to do.

Have you ever had a chicken with heat stroke? What did you do?

Don’t Forget to PIN this to your Chicken Keeping Board. Check out by Livestock page for more ideas or start here:

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