Protect Your Hens From The Heat!

There’s been an early heat wave and I’ve already heard that several hens have died. Your chickens have warm feather coats. They don’t have long tongues like dogs to use to dissipate body heat. Chickens can’t wallow in mud like pigs. Shade helps, but they’re unlikely to cross a sun-burnt yard to get to a cool spot. It’s up to you to manage their environment to keep them healthy; below are ways to help your chickens to beat the heat.

Provide cool water in a shady spot outside. If the coop is stifling hot, they won’t go in to drink, so having a second waterer where they hang out in the shade is essential. If you don’t have shade, create some. We stretch a shade tarp (the link is just for info, not an endorsement) over Candy’s hutch. The chickens take advantage of it too.

If you have an extra plastic waterer, fill it half-way and put in the freezer. When solid, top off with water, screw on the base, and your hens will have cold drinks. Also, reduce or eliminate the amount of scratch grains that you feed your girls. Corn generates heat, which is good in the winter, but not in the summer. Instead of scratch, provide juicy melon rinds for treats.

When the temperature hits the 90s, shade isn’t enough. The chickens will stay cooler if they have loose, damp earth to stretch out in. If your yard is packed dirt, hose a portion in the shade down. Better yet, have a compost area in the shade. It’ll be moist and cool (the compost in my chicken run isn’t “hot”.) Candy appreciates the shady, cool dirt, too.

Keep your yard and coop raked and clean! Chicken manure gives off ammonia fumes and is caustic. You wouldn’t want to breathe that air on a hot day, so don’t make your chickens.

The coop itself can be a deathtrap. Too many new chicken keepers buy small coops that are advertised for urban backyards and “one to three chickens.” They’re basically covered nesting boxes. They have no air space and poor ventilation. They’re not designed for hot climates and for three chickens packed in at night. Here is one chicken in an ark. She’s broody. This is the only use for these coops.

Even big henhouses can have ventilation issues. My HenCam coop didn’t get the louvered eaves that I wanted, so I had a cupola added. Hot air streams up and out. On the worst days of the summer it’s ten degrees cooler in there than it used to be.

Still, without windows providing cross-ventilation, it gets oppressive in the coop, so on the worst of days I turn on a box fan.

Implementing all of my suggestions doesn’t guarantee that you won’t lose a hen to heat stroke, but it will greatly reduce the likelihood of it happening.

An added benefit is that you might find that under the shade tarp with the hens is the nicest place to be. Put a chair out there, have an iced lemonade and have a visit with the hens. After a morning moving compost (I put the final six loads into the asparagus bed, and had two more to spread under my roses!) and then raking and cleaning the chicken yard (I do follow my own advice) I think I’ll go out there right now.


  1. Great tips, Terry….Birds die more often in the heat than the cold. I have brutal summers here (triple digits are not uncommon) so I have misters that I have zip-tied along the fence in their yard and my wonderful man got me a timer so they kick on at 10:00 and go off at 4:00 so I do not have to leave work on my lunch hour to turn them on! The hens figured it out..they sit under them and roll around in the wet earth. It has saved my hens…I got a mister with 6 nozzles for about $14.00…cheap investment to save your birds.

    • It gets a good 15º hotter in your area than here. The misters are a great idea! I’ve heard of people in Texas – where they know about heat – do the same thing.

  2. Great ideas.
    I have used the shower setting on my garden hose nozzle and showered my hens during heat waves, heat can have accumulative effect on animals as well as humans.
    I get the stink eye from many of them, they don’t like it, but it’s for their own good. In my old set up I could “trap” them between the coop and the shed to prevent escape.
    I have not lost a hen yet but seem to lose at least one each summer during extreme heat periods and it’s usally a hen over the age of 4 or so.

    Stay cool all!!

  3. Thank you for the tips, Terry! My hens have a shaded spot on the other side of the coop but I just went and soaked it down with the hose and they are very excited! It also occurred to me after reading your post that one side of my coop is removeabe for cleaning and it would just make sense to take it off and let the air circulate on days like today! I was very lucky to get a coop that was advertised for 4 hens and is really big enough for 6! They are very comfortable inside! But fresh air is always nice!!!

  4. I won’t be surprised if this the time of year the more knowledgable hens who are free range or have access to their owner’s door will try to sneak in through a cat door so they can cool off. And acourse look for spilted food. I know I heard about a white Polish hen who liked to wade in in a three inch pool in the summer too. Can you leave a child’s pool out with maybe just an inch or two for them just to get their feet wet as well ?
    And I know you don’t like house chickens at all Terry, but silkies just seem so fragile. So if they have an area where the silkie can come out of the heat would that be okay ? Like staying in a large aquarim or crate when it get’s to be like a 100 to a 110 degrees outside.

    • *inside the house in an area during the hottest part of the day and evening.

      • Kit- there’s always exceptions and bringing your animals inside when they can’t cope with the heat is one of them! I know a rabbit breeder who takes her bunnies into the basement. Rabbits also die of heat stroke and so there are times when her outside animals come in. Some people have cool garages with concrete floor that also provide a safe place in a pinch.
        I’ve never known a hen to want to wade. That Polish is an exception (Polish do tend to be on the crazy side.) They do, though, love water coming out of a hose and drinking the running water. A hen in distress will be immobile and panting. Do what you have to do!

  5. I used to freeze one-gallon milk jugs and put those in the hutch for my bunnies. They lay up against them and it keeps their body temps down. I forgot how much bunnies cannot tolerate the heat!

    • That’s a good idea! Dummy-me would have NEVER thought of that :)

      • I read it in a magazine and I tell has saved many of my rabbits when I wasn’t able to get home from work to check on them!

  6. I am on my first flock, just 4 chickens. I was wondering how the summer would be and how to cool them off when it’s hot. This post helps me a lot. Thanks!

  7. Thanks, Terry — I almost lost Lil’White last summer to heat stroke. That’s why I built a bigger, better ventilated coop. Hoping your advice will save some chicken-lives!

  8. Great advice, Terry. We also hit triple digits at times during the summers. My hens are out free ranging all day so I often find them in the loose soil under the lilac bush or any number of other shaded areas. Right now they are lounging under my truck. I sometimes leave a hose running very slowly in a dog dish for them. They love to drink from it and also get their feet wet in the puddles. I have also used a mister, but the type that stands upright so I can move it around. With a new coop this year, I’m hoping the window I had installed will help, but I’m prepared to add more shade tarps as well. We have horses, mini donks, dogs and chickens. They all get our full attention when the temps start to climb. Good important posting, Terry!

  9. I know this is kinda of the subject, but do you have a closet-type-thing next to the coop? That’s cool whatever it is! :)

  10. I wish all potential chicken owners would read your site. I have a gardening business, I work on many properties. Many people have started veggie gardens and then get a few chickens. I have seen so many cramped distressed birds. It just breaks my heart. I have tried to educate people as best I can, but alas many people just don’t understand that chickens are smart and intelligent creatures. I have schemed to don a black cap and turtleneck, return in the night, and liberate their little souls. I still may someday…..
    Thank you for your shining example of superb husbandry!!!!

    • I am increasingly worried that the prevailing advice is that chickens need little space and care. I’ve seen photos of coops in the news that are touted as the new urban homesteading, but I see filthy, small spaces that will attract vermin and disease. There will be a backlash against backyard chicken keeping as this trend continues.