People who have had chickens for years know that it’s high temperatures in the summer that you should worry about, not the cold. A chicken can die suddenly of heat stroke. You know that your hens are struggling when they are are panting. Egg laying productivity will go down or stop altogether.
But, that’s a normal response to heat. When your hens become listless and stop eating and drinking, they are in danger. But, don’t despair, good management can help them cope with heat. There are things you can do for your chickens so that you don’t have to bring them into your air-conditioned living room.
Cool, fresh water is the most important thing to provide your flock. If your waterer is in the sun, or across the yard and in the coop, they won’t get get enough to drink. Put a waterer in the shade where they hang out. If even then it’s so hot out that even that water is too warm to drink then chill it off with this trick: fill the waterer halfway, and put it in the freezer, then top it off before setting it out for the hens.
Providing juicy fruits and vegetables also keeps them hydrated. Watermelon and cucumbers are especially good,
as are frozen blocks of vegetables and fruits. Freezer burn? The chickens don’t care! When it gets up to the triple digits (rare here but it happens) I’ll dump a bin of ice cubes into the pen. The chickens will drink the water as it melts, and it cools the air near them.
Your chickens must have shade. My hens hang out in the compost pile, which is shaded by the barn and trees, and where the dirt is moist and cool. If you can’t site your coop in a shady spot, put a shade awning up. We have a large rectangle of shade fabric over the bunny’s hutch (rabbits are even more susceptible to heat stroke than chickens) that the chickens also like. We bought our shade tarp on-line.
Provide an area with dry, loose dirt where the hens can take dust baths. They’ll wallow down until they reach cool soil.
Your coop should be well-ventilated. A cupola that pulls hot air up and out can cool the building down by 15 degrees. If your coop didn’t come with one, you can buy a kit and install it. Windows that open help air flow. Even small coops should have windows and vents and headroom so that hot, moist air isn’t trapped near the roof where the chickens roost.
Even with the heat, the hens will need to go inside to lay their eggs. I’ve hung an old fan to make it bearable near the nesting boxes.
I know people who live in hotter climes than here, who provide misters for their chickens, and cool off their coops by spraying water on the roofs. I don’t have to do that where I live, but when it’s in the high 90s, I’ll hose down the dirt in the run, which brings some relief. Besides, the chickens are fascinated by running water and hoses!
Finally, if you live in areas that see long stretches of triple-digit summer days, consider getting heat-tolerant breeds. Leggy, trim chickens with mostly hard feathers, like Leghorns and Andalusians, are designed for hot weather. These are called Mediterranean breeds, and they don’t have the fluffy, heavy, soft feathers of heavier hens like Cochins and Orpingtons. They also have large, floppy combs that help to dissipate heat.
So, when it gets dangerously hot, keep an eye on your flock, keep them hydrated, provide shade and airy accomodations. Good advice for anyone, animals or human alike.