Turns out I'm not the only one that feels like a fish out of water when the humidity and heat strike hard mid July here in Wisconsin. My chickens were right there with me! Chickens and high heat plus humidity can be a deadly combination, especially this Wisconsin summer with the heat index climbing into the low 100s. So I wanted to share a few of the tips and tricks I've learned to keep my flock comfortable when I feel personally feel like melting.
Let's first discuss why chickens need a little extra help. Chickens don't sweat like we humans do. They are like dogs in which they pant to release heat from their bodies. You can also spot the signs of an overheated chicken when they are holding their wings outward from their body or ruffling their feathers constantly to release the heat (chicken feathers are excellent insulation). So let's get to my top five tricks I've used to help keep my chickens cool this summer.
1. Frozen Water Bottles or Mason Jars
One of the best tricks I used to keep things cool is to fill old water bottles or mason jars with water and stick them in the freezer. Just be sure to leave room for the water to expand when it's frozen or you will have a broken glass mess in the freezer!
Once they are fully frozen I pull them out and set them around the chicken run in the shade. This allows the chickens to lay down on them or around them to cool off. I've spotted my birds nesting on top of these frozen jars in the shade for hours, keeping their bottoms cool.
I also throw a frozen water bottle inside their waterer to keep the water especially cold. Keep in mind when it's 100+ degrees outside - the water inside their waterer will be too. Chickens will drink excessively to cool themselves off internally, pretty smart for a so-called bird brain if you ask me! So don't be alarmed if you see some watery feces during the hottest parts of the summer.
2. Use that Hose!
Another great trick I use is to hose down a spot in the mud or sand so the birds can lay down on the cool wet ground. One of our birds' favorite spots is underneath our coop. Since our coop sits 12" off the ground on top cinder blocks, the birds love to camp out underneath it. The ground there is all sand and small gravel, making it the perfect spot in the shade to hose down. I do this sometimes twice a day to keep it cool!
You can also attach a mister to your hose and let it mist over the chicken run during the hottest part of the day. The mist can cool an area by up to 15 degrees! One thing to keep in mind is that once you are done misting and the moisture evaporates, it can leave the area hotter and more humid than before. One way to avoid this issue is to mist in the shade towards the later end of the afternoon, say like 3pm on. My chickens love this trick and will strut around in the mist, play in the mud, and lay down on the cool earth until the early evening hits and the heat breaks.
3. Cool Treats
If my chickens were left on a desert island and could only bring one type of food with them, that food would undoubtedly be watermelon. If you have never given your flock a watermelon, or any summer melon for that matter, you are missing out. My chickens will literally purr when I set down a cold watermelon cut into halves for them.
Melons are a great treat because of the high water content and electrolytes they provide for the chickens when things get too hot for them. Cantelope, musk melon, watermelon, tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries, or rasperries - all these fruits when stuck in the fridge overnight will make a great cool down treat.
Another wonderful frozen treat is to cut up greens or grass in ice cube trays, fill the trays with water, and toss the cubes out into the run for the girls to pick at. I did this a few times with mixed results, watermelon was truly the winner.
4. Cooling Herbs
For those of you who garden, you know that mint can be quite the bully in the herb bed. My spearmint and peppermint are everywhere as soon as late June hits. As an invasive plant, it's important to cut it back regularly and make sure no roots are being sent out in the wrong direction, ahem, like halfway across the garden and into the potato patch...(guilty).
Anyway, what to do with all that cut mint? Use it on your chickens! I crush the leaves and stems in my hands by twisting the cut sprigs and sprinkle it in their nesting boxes, the chicken run, and even put it in their water. You know how a glass of cool water with a sprig of crushed mint is so refreshing? Yeah, it's the same for your flock.
Mint in general is a wonderful addition to your chicken's environment. Not only do mints lower body temperature naturally, they also repel mice, act as an insecticide, and are great for your bird's respiratory and immune system. Go mint!
This may seem like a no brainer, but when we first got our coop and run together, we realized very quickly that we were missing a very important aspect in the quest towards chicken happiness - SHADE! We let our chickens free range for most of the spring and summer so they had plenty of forested shade, but when the heat wave hit we had to keep them in the run so they were as close to water and the hose as possible. We realized they spent most of their time underneath the coop (you can see the small space in the picture above) and we wanted to give them a bit more space to play. Enter my amazing handy boyfriend!
Using six 2x4x8' studs and two sheets of white corrugated steel he constructed this steel roof lean-to in one afternoon. I think white is a good color choice as it reflects the sun's heat and light, keeping things cooler underneath.
This has been a wonderful addition to our run and cost us about $75 to construct. Again, having shade for your chickens seems a no brainer, but sometimes things fall through the cracks when you are a beginner!
Those are my top tips and tricks that I have personally tried and loved. Do you have any additional tips you want to add? Leave a comment below!
Thanks for stopping by Green Willow Homestead! From chicken rearing to orchard planting, we've got our hands full and we love sharing what we've learned along the way. Follow along as we strive to live a toxin-free life and turn these five acres from just property to a fully functioning small-scale homestead.
1. Sustainable World
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6. Zero Waste Home
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