Backyard chickens have always been popular in Ojai, but even more folks got small flocks during the pandemic. Some folks finally had time to build a coop and start the flock they had always wanted. Some were looking for a fun, family-friendly, outdoor hobby with the added benefit of fresh eggs. And some set up their henhouse as part of the simpler, small-town lifestyle they sought when they fled the city to join us in our little village.
Your hens give you fresh eggs, help keep the insect population down, provide manure to spread in your garden, till the soil, and offer hours of entertainment. In return, it is our responsibility to take care of them the best we can and to keep them healthy, well, and comfortable. Chickens cannot handle heat well, so one of the biggest challenges you may face as steward of your flock is keeping them safe and comfortable when the temperature is regularly in the 80s and 90s -- or over 100.
Some of the signs that your ladies may be too hot include reduced appetite, reduced egg production, standing or laying with their wings spread out, panting with their beaks open, and signs of general stress. If you do not take measures to keep your chickens cool, things can go bad quickly. You need to know these signs, and you need to be ready to act immediately when one of your hens is in distress.
To try to avoid getting to that point, here are nine ways you can help your chicken beat the heat this summer.
1. Provide shade.
First and foremost, your coop and run should be at least partially in the shade. If you did not build your coop under a tree, consider adding shade sails to provide plenty of shade for your girls.
2. Build a bigger run.
Crowding is not helpful when the temperature rises. Your hens need to be able to spread out and there needs to be plenty of airflow to help keep the run cooler. If your flock is a bit big for the run, build them a bigger one.
3. Bring them inside.
If you have the space, let your ladies ride out the heat in a dog crate or playpen in the house or some other climate-controlled structure on your property.
4. Improve ventilation.
Create a breeze by setting up a fan near the coop to keep the air moving. Be sure your fan and its cord are a safe distance from the chickens.
5. Make sure they always have cool water.
Cool water plays an important role in keeping chickens safe when it is hot. You can add ice cubes to their water to keep it cool longer, put a frozen water bottle in their waterer, or simply refill their waterer with cool water throughout the day.
6. Place frozen water bottles or jars of ice in their coop or run.
When I was younger, we filled mason jars with ice cubes to help keep chickens and rabbits cool on hot days. This is one way to provide cooling stations in their coop, but you can also just freeze water bottles or jugs and set them around the coop for them to stand or lay near.
7. Create puddles or get a pool.
Your girls might take advantage of a kiddie pool or a shallow pan with a couple of inches of cold water in the bottom. Some chickens are fine with wading to cool off, but others will want nothing to do with it. For those hens, you can make some puddles in their run (but don’t flood it) so that they have an option to walk in water and cool off.
8. Install misters.
A gentle mist of water can make a big difference in your hens’ comfort. One of my clients had their caretaker install a misting system similar to what you might see in line at an amusement park. This has been great and her hens love it. If you are not quite ready to install this type of mister, you can also use the mist setting on your hose nozzle or you can get a plastic mister that attaches to your hose. I found these at Home Depot for about $10 when I was looking for options to cool off some clients’ chickens during the first heatwave this year.
9. Give them frozen treats.
Just like humans, chickens love a cool treat on a hot day. Freeze chopped fruits and vegetables, such as watermelon, strawberries, peas, or corn, and keep them on hand to give your hens throughout the summer.
AimeeJo Davis-Varela is a freelance writer specializing in real estate, sustainable home improvement, eco-friendly landscaping, green living and travel writing. She is also the owner of Mind Your Manors, which provides second home management services.
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