Keeping Your Chickens Cool In The Summer

069Summer……….  A time to hopefully slow down, take a vacation and BEAT THE HEAT!  As I say to most people, I like the summer when there is no humidity.  Unfortunately, many summer days are accompanied by high humidity in Southern Ontario.  On those days, it’s hard to want to do much more than stay in the house where the air conditioner keeps us cool.

For the chickens…….it’s a whole other story.  Imagine someone telling you to go outside in 90 degree heat, continue your daily routine AND WEAR A DOWN COAT that must cover you from head to toe.  Oh…I forgot to mention…lay an egg while you’re at it!  Whew… I’m getting hot just thinking about it.

So….here’s a few tell-tale signs to let you know that your chickens are getting over-heated.   When you see them walking or resting with their wings spread out, you know they are hot.   When you see them this way, they are trying to expel some body heat from  underneath their wings.  This is definitely a place where heat collects on a chicken. If you don’t believe me, stick you hand under the wing next winter and feel how toasty that spot is on a chicken.

Secondly, they will continue to keep their mouth open as another way to dispel heat.  It’s kind of like the way a dog  pants when he/she becomes too hot.  Below is a picture of Swiffer who is definitely hot.  She has found a spot on the deck where she is attempting to cool off underneath a deck chair.

Holy @$#! It's HOT

Holy @$#! it’s HOT

So here’s a few things you can do to make your chickens more comfortable during the dog days of summer.

1)  Make sure that they remain hydrated by providing lots of fresh water.  You may be surprised at how much water they will drink on a very warm day.  The volume can almost double on such days.001

2)  Make sure they have somewhere to go in order to get out of the sun.  Our backyard has plenty of shade from large trees and the hens spend a lot of their free ranging time in this location on those days.001

3)  Substitute daily vegetable treats with some watermelon.   But, remember….the treat is only a supplement to the daily feed.  Too many treats and the egg count could go down.  As well, too much watermelon and you may have a chicken that gets the trots.  In the picture below, my hens breezed through the watermelon wedge in a few minutes.015

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4)  Withhold from giving any scratch on hot days.  On most mornings, I like to throw some scratch into the run because the hens do not have the opportunity to free range.  This thing called work  gets in the way. Anyways,   the scratch allows the chickens to do some foraging throughout the day.   But, scratch is high in calories and has the effect of increasing internal body temperature.  Hence, it is great to use on winter mornings and evenings to help your hens stay warm, but it is not a good option for hot days.

5)  Head up to the cottage for some R&R.  You’ll continue to get fresh eggs and the hens will get the chance to hit the beach.  What????  What else am I suppose to do with them?   Leave them behind????  For more on taking your chickens on vacation, click HERE.050

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6)  Finally, when the wife isn’t home……..let the girls in for a little free ranging in the comfort of your air-conditioned home!  Before you know it, they’ll be up on the couch consoling you as you watch  The Blue Jays blow another attempt at The Division Championship..  Ok……I was just joking about the chickens in the house.   ” I promise Hun, the chickens have never been in the house! I was just writing this for dramatic effect.  You know…..A great way to keep your reader interested…………………….  I know there was that time when Stanley (our dog) managed to open the screen door by himself …but I’m working on training him to close it!”.001

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Halfway Through Winter Update

After a Snow Fall

After a Snow Fall

I think we are pretty close to half way through winter.  I can honestly say that I have NEVER paid this much attention to temperature before I got chickens.  If truth be told, I did worry about the hens when the daytime high was only  -14C during the 3rd week in January. I’d also be lying if I didn’t confess that I woke up a few times to check the coop temperature on my wireless weather station on the nights when it dipped down to -20C.  For what it’s worth, here’s what I have discovered:

*NOTE: Coop is insulated with 2″ styrofoam and heated with a 100 watt lightbulb from 6am-7pm.

1)  On the coldest of days, the coop temperature dipped down to 2C.  This kept the eggs and drinker from freezing.

2)  On the coldest night (-20C) the coop temperature dipped down to -3C.  Relative humidity ranged between 55%-65%.

Winter Strategies

Before winter,I read a lot of hype about frostbite being caused by inadequate ventilation combined with high humidity.  It was really what prompted me to buy the wireless weather station for the coop since it provided actual relative humidity readings.  I’m glad I bought this product because it confirmed that I AM managing humidity in my coop by implementing the following steps.

A)  EVERY MORNING pick up as much poop as you can in the coop before you take off for work!

B)  Replace all pine shavings in the coop once every week.

C)  Close coop door once the hens go into the coop at dusk.  My timer is set so that the light stays on for 1 more hour after I close the door.  By doing this, the coop temperature increased another few degrees within the hour.  This, combined with the residual heat that each hen gave off ( I have read that it is 10 watts per hen) generally kept my coop temps. between -3C to +2C throughout the night.

Coop door closed & a handful of scratch.

Coop door closed & a handful of scratch.

D)  A handful of scratch is given when I close the door to the coop.  Scratch is high in calories and fat and generates more heat than layer feed when it is digested.  That’s why it should be given at night and first thing in the morning during the winter.  It also helps to satisfy the hens’ need to scratch and peck, since free ranging is limited during this season.

My hens continue to lay EVERY day!  Occasionally, Honda takes a day off, but for the most part, we get 3 eggs/day from our girls.  I thought that confinement might be an issue because free ranging is limited, but I do not see any signs of bullying or pecking.  I attribute this to the size of the run and satisfying their need to forage by providing leafy vegetables and scratch each day.

Snackin'

Snackin’

On occasion, they do get out to free range, but Swiffer and Rosie are not too interested if there is snow on the ground.  I now understand why we sometimes call people “chicken”!

"You go first!"

“You go first!”