Even in Maine, this time of year many backyard poultry struggle with the high summer temperatures. Some birds are better suited to heat than others: chickens suffer in temperatures above 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Geese trace their heritage to slightly warmer climates and can tolerate hot temperatures better, but around 90 degrees they get uncomfortable as well. If a bird cannot cool off, just like people, they are at risk of heat stroke or even death.
You can tell if a bird is too hot because they will hold their beaks open and pant for air. When they are very uncomfortable they will also hold their wings off of their bodies and will be less willing to move around, sticking to shaded areas.
The first trick to keeping your birds cool in the hot summer months is making sure that they have plenty of access to fresh clean water to drink. You can place extra water dishes around your run or in shady places on your property if your chickens are free range. They’ll really appreciate the easy access. You can also put ice in the water to keep it cooler for longer. One important misconception to remember: chickens feathers are not waterproof like ducks and geese, and they lack the internal temperature control to tolerate swimming. Do not put your chicks in deep water! You can, however, provide a shallow pool for them to submerse their feet in, and this will go a long way to helping them cool off.
Geese have no such issues with submersion, and happily swim all day on warm days. This is the single most effective way to reduce heat stroke in water fowl: make sure they have an open area to swim or at least a large, deep wading pool.
In addition to water, chickens also love cold treats in hot weather. You can put special herbs, mealworms, and other tasty treats in an icecube tray with water and freeze them. Chickens will love pecking through to the chilly reward and it will help them regulate their body temperature. You can also give them cold slices of watermelon, a coop favorite.
Always make sure your chickens, geese, ducks, or any other poultry have plenty of shade on hot days. You’ll notice that they will rarely venture into the sun if it is very hot. While chickens can’t swim, they do love dust bathing and the cool dirt will provide relief for them. Loose soil and sand is ideal for dust bathing and should be provided in your run.
Also make sure that your coop and run have plenty of air flow. You can put a fan in the coop to facilitate this, and open any windows or doors you have during the day. Not only does this keep the coop cool, but it also reduces the odors associated with the chicken keeping.
If you have a hen clearly in distress, you can submerge her face, comb, and wattles in cool water for a few quick seconds and bring her body temperature down quickly and effectively.
Hopefully these tips will help your hen house stay cool during the summer. Keep an eye on your flock and provide them with plenty of water and shade, and they should enjoy the warm months.
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