This week’s heat wave has passed, but it’s not even July yet. I’m sure there will be more heat to come, so I thought I’d share some ideas with you about how to keep your chickens cool in the summertime. Like many other living things, chickens don’t like extreme heat. What I have found comforting in my attempts to keep my chickens safe in both the cold and the heat is that lots of places have hotter summers and colder winters than where I live, and people manage to keep their chickens alive through it. That’s not an excuse to slack, but it does keep me from completely freaking out with worry. I need that from time to time.
The big thing you obviously need to do is make sure the chickens have fresh water at all times during the heat. This is actually something you should be doing anyway, so it’s an easy step. I’m away at work all day, so I fill up the water first thing in the morning when I let them out. In the summer, I just fill up the water container with the hose, and then usually manage to spill it all over myself. Newly awake, I then try again, and usually do better on the second attempt. I also like to put some apple cider vinegar in the water. It’s good for the chickens, and it also helps to keep crud from growing inside there. When it gets warm, that’s a thing that likes to happen. You should still clean it out every once in a while, though. Vinegar is an amazing thing, but it can only do so much. Sorry vinegar, but it’s true.
Frozen vegetables are another item people like to give their birds in the heat. I’ve read about people putting frozen broccoli in a suet feeder and letting them peck at it all day. That’s akin to another popular one, which is to freeze a cabbage and hang it where they can peck at it. I just toss the frozen stuff in the run, and let them go at it. I like to keep it casual. You don’t have to freeze the stuff, either. Even refrigerated watermelon will do the trick. Is there anyone who doesn’t like watermelon? I haven’t met them, and frankly, I don’t want to. This is one reason I like chickens. They’re on the watermelon tip.
Since I’m not around a lot of the day to keep presenting the chickens with various cooling off items, it’s important that they have a lot of shade. In my general luck with building the coop, I picked a good spot. They get nice morning sun, but by afternoon, they get shaded by some trees. They also have space under the coop where they can go if they need shade at any time. That seems to be their favorite spot. I often find them just sitting there in the dirt. This freaked me out at first, but now that I know they haven’t all lost the use of their legs, I’m o.k. with it. They hang out in the dirt and also take dust baths there. I had considered hosing down the run before I left for the day, but since they use dust baths to cool off, I didn’t want to take that away from them.
Technology can also play a big role in the cooling of chickens. Some people just hook up box fans near their coops and let them rip. Ours is too far from electricity to pull this off. I’d have to run an extension cord, and that brings issues of its own, not the least of which is what to do if one of the thunderstorms that tends to accompany heat waves hits. Now I’ve got wet electricity all over the yard. If I had power out there, I’d give it a try, but for now, maybe not unless I’m home. Fans are totally the low end of the spectrum here too. I’ve read about people investing in “misters,” and they’re not talking about the little spritz bottles. They’re talking about devices like the ones supermarkets use to keep their produce damp. I guess it’s like running under the sprinkler for chickens. It’s neat, but expensive, and there’s a saying about wet hens that makes me think twice about this. When I see the cost involved, I only have to think once.
What always appeals to me about keeping chickens is the wide array of ingenuity that you see when you’re looking for a solution to a problem. Keeping chickens cool in the heat is no exception. You can keep it low tech like me, or go all out, if money is no object. My feelings usually veer towards thinking that the more complicated something is, the more headaches it can potentially cause. I will do my best to keep them safe and happy with the more rudimentary end of the heat busting spectrum. I guess you can call me a paleo-chicken guy. But don’t, or I’ll hit you over the head with my caveman club.