Dangerous Heat

I was in Brooklyn, NY yesterday, dropping my son off at a summer program. The forecast was for 100 degree temperatures. It was slow going, moving him into a dorm. The air had a physical presence – like an unseen character in a sci-fi movie. I had parked in the sun near a grassy common. After lunch, I said my goodbyes and turned on the car. It’s outside thermometer (which is always accurate) read 108 degrees. I had to pour water on the steering wheel to make it cool enough to touch. I headed out of the city, watching the temperature gauge, thinking it’d go down now that the car wasn’t baking on pavement. I got on the Bronx-Queens Expressway. Overheated vehicles were in the breakdown lane, their owners squinting in the sun, waiting for help. My car’s outside thermometer read 109 (Fahrenheit, that’s 42.7 C.) I did not want to be in one of those stalled cars. It’s never relaxing driving out of NYC, but this time it was scary. Far out of the city, in Connecticut, the thermometer remained in the triple digits. I knew things were bad when I saw ten tractor trailers, pulled off and parked in shade on the side of I-84. I kept going. I texted my husband from the rest stops. How are the animals? Steve was home and doing all the right things. Everyone was fine- but it required effort and attention.

People often ask me about how chickens handle the cold here in New England. I always respond, it’s not freezing temps you have to worry about, but the heat. Chickens don’t die from snow, but they do die of heat stroke. However, they can handle high heat if you manage their housing right.

The HenCam coop doesn’t have cross-ventilation, so I’ve put in a box fan, facing the nesting boxes. Here’s Lulu, cooling her bottom in the fan’s breeze.

Coops should be sited so that some of the run is in the shade. Chickens will scratch out a depression in the dirt to lie in to stay cool. Of course, they need water. If the chickens are hunkered down in the shade, they won’t want to cross a hot, sunny dirt patch to get to water.  So, have a source of cool water nearby. One trick is to fill half the waterer, freeze it, and then top off with water before setting out. Or, simply fill with ice cubes and water.

If your coop is in the sun, you might want to hose it off. I know poultry people in Texas who keep a mister in the run during the hottest days of the summer. Evaporation lowers the air temperature, and the water keeps the dirt damp and cool.

Give your chickens plenty of leafy greens. Reduce the amount of scratch corn – which raises body temperature (good in the winter, bad in the heat.)

Heat-stressed chickens pant, and I think they have panicked looks in their eyes. If your hen goes limp, quickly get it somewhere cool. Immerse her in a tub of cool water. She might just survive. But, your best bet is preventative, by making sure there’s drinking water and damp dirt in the shade.

Rabbits suffer heat stroke, too. They’ll die suddenly, before you have a chance to help. When I saw the forecast for humid weather in the high-90’s, I set up a rabbit hutch indoors, and brought her in on Monday morning. Candy misses hopping around outside, but I think she’s enjoying the change of scenery. Candy will be back outside when this dangerous heatwave is over, which should be by Friday.

Meanwhile, the air conditioner in my son’s dorm room broke, but he’ll have to deal with that on his own.


  1. Terry you are so right. I can’t ever remember losing a chicken in the winter to the cold in my 40+ years of having poultry around. I have lost one older hen (around 7) already this year and I suspect the heat, just dead in the run. She may have had under lying issues that the heat complicated but she seemed fine the day before I found her.
    All your recommendations are excellent ones and I practice most, especially the fan in the coop to keep the air moving. I have mine in a window and during the day I turn it in the window so it blows on the nest boxes and at night I turn it around so it blows out to draw out the heat and bring in the “cooler” air into the other window.
    Many times in such high heat I simply put the garden hose nozzle on the shower setting and “make it rain” on my hens. They hate it but it sure cools them off. I have to close the chicken pop door so the don’t run in on me and they ususally all huddle in one corner until their shower is complete.

    • I lost a hen this week due to the heat…and we did lots of the above things you mentioned and she still couldn’t take it. Thanks for the extra tips – we have a better idea of what to look for. I do have a question about when to put the new chicks in with the old ones…we have them separated into two runs now and they are 14 weeks old and are on grower feed.

      • I’m sorry to hear about the death of your hen. Do you think there was there anything about her that was different that made her succumb while the others survived? I wouldn’t combine them until they’re all on the same feed. I’ve got a FAQ about how to introduce new chickens that might answer some other questions.

        • Thanks – I will look it over…yes one of the smaller ones got into the other run..and they didn’t take it very well…pecking order and all…we are new to this whole thing…so far it has been so much fun – other than the mean rooster and the death of “Buffy”

  2. How are the goats taking the heat? I didn’t see them on the cam. (Are they in the house with you too?) ;-)

    • Oh, no, not in the house! (though I’m sure it would make for a very funny youtube video!) They seem to be perfectly fine. Their stall has a cool concrete floor and lots of ventilation.

  3. Yes, the heat can be brutal on the chickens. Last night my husband and I cut some branches to put in the run so they have an additional place to run for shade. I also freeze a cool whip container of water and put it in their waterer to keep the water nice and cool.

  4. Loved the goats being brushed. Thinking of the heat you’re experiencing there, it’s a bit extreme – we have only 20C here in UK. Did you know you have a chicken sunbathing right now?? Hope she’s OK.

    I found your website last winter and regularly take a peak at the goings on at Little Pond Farm. It’s such a treat to follow. Thank you.

    • I believe the sunbathing hen is a Polish. No sense whatsoever! The temp has dropped 10 degrees – but still brutally humid.

  5. Terry, I just have to laugh at your all your Polish comments. It’s so true. My Wrongway (Polish hen) finally died about two months ago, she was past 10 years old. She got her name by flying smack dap into a big oak tree once, I mean square, like you’d see in a cartoon. A red tail made a swoop on my hens when they were free ranging, all the hens saw it coming and made a mad dash for cover. Not Wrongway, she waited about 30 seconds (an eternity when a hawk is sitting in the tree) then decided all the squwaking indicated a threat, took flight, the “wrongway” of course and nailed that tree. I’ll never forget it as long as I live. I laughed after I knew she wasn’t hurt.
    I still have Whichway. She always lays late in the evening and when I go to collect eggs I check under her. Well, she screams BLOODY MURDER and does so for several minutes. It’s the scream of a chicken that has been caught by a predator, if you have ever heard it you know what I mean. One night I collected eggs and Whichway screamed as she usually does. Well when I got to the house the phone was ringing and it was my neighbor. She wanted to tell me she thought something was after my chickens because she heard one making a horrible noise. Now this neighbors property line is at least 200 feet from the coop….she’s loud.

  6. Don’t know if your monitoring or not but it looks like you have a chicken out. Appears to be on the wrong side of the fence.