Summer is a time for fun, adventure and excitement – and summer flock care is important for both backyard chicken raisers and their flocks. To keep birds cool in the summertime, provide a chicken waterer with fresh, cool water for hydration, maintain chicken coop ventilation and feed a complete chicken feed to provide all 38 nutrients they need to stay strong.
As humans, our habits change in the summer. We adapt to stay comfortable. By providing our backyard chickens the tools they need, they can also adapt and enjoy the sunshine. The summertime essentials are similar for both humans and backyard flocks: stay hydrated, protect yourself from the heat and maintain a complete and balanced diet.
Many people don’t realize that birds are unable to sweat. To cool down, they open their beaks and pant or spread their wings away from their bodies. If these cooling strategies are not enough, birds are more likely to become lethargic and may stop eating feed, which can lead to subsequent health challenges and reduced egg production.
We want to avoid these signs of heat stress by preventing problems before they begin. With the right care, birds will maintain their routines of foraging, pecking, and chattering throughout the day.
Hydration is key: Provide the right chicken waterer
List of summer flock care tips with a chicken in the yard in the background; tips include how to keep chickens cool, what to feed chickens in the summer, and maintaining chicken body temperature. Staying hydrated in the summer is a clear choice for humans. As temperatures rise, a good rule for people to follow is to calculate half your body weight in pounds and drink the equivalent number of ounces of water.
For our backyard chickens, the practice should be similar: Clean, cool water is essential. Follow the general rule of providing 500 milliliters of freshwater per bird per day. This equates to one gallon for every seven adult birds.
Drinking water helps cool a chicken’s body temperature. In high temperatures, chickens will drink up to twice as much water as during temperate conditions. If birds do not have quality water, they are less likely to eat or lay eggs.
Here’s how to keep chickens cool through hydration:
- Provide extra waterers so each bird always has access.
- Place waterers in a shaded area to help keep the water cool and the coop dry.
- Offer fresh, cool water in the morning and evening.
- Freeze water in a storage container. Place the resulting ice in the chicken waterer in the morning to keep the water cool.
- Place marbles in waterers to prevent splashing.
- Wash waterers weekly with a mixture of 10 percent bleach and 90 percent water. Rinse thoroughly.
Chicken body temperature: Keep it in check
Think of your most recent day in the sun. You likely incorporated a few cooling practices to maintain an adequate body temperature and avoid heat stress.
A consistent body temperature is equally important for backyard flocks. Normal chicken body temperature is between 105-107 degrees Fahrenheit. If a bird’s body temperature climbs, it can cause a lasting strain. Create a cool and comfortable environment for the flock to enjoy.
Use these tips for keeping chickens cool and comfortable in warm weather:
- Provide shade by placing roofs on the run or shade cloths over the door. Add misters outside of the chicken coop that sprays onto the roof or shade cover for evaporative cooling.
- Create adequate airflow to maintain chicken coop ventilation. Open all windows and roof vents to allow hot air and ammonia to escape.
- Add a small fan for air circulation.
- Swap solid chicken coop doors with screen doors and keep lights off during the day. Reduce bedding to two inches or less to avoid heat being trapped.
- Provide a peat moss dust bath for backyard chickens to play in. If mites are a concern, switch to a mix of 90 percent peat moss, 10 percent diatomaceous earth.
- Avoid overcrowding by providing at least 4 square feet of indoor space and 5-10 square feet of outdoor space per bird.
What to feed chickens in the summer
It can be argued that fresh-from-the-garden fruits and vegetables, summertime snacks and potluck picnics are true summer highlights. But, no matter the treat, it’s important to maintain a balance.
Summer is the perfect time to spend in the backyard with the flock and give them a few indulgent snacks, but don’t forget the 90/10 rule: 90 percent complete feed and 10 percent treats or snacks. To help hens lay strong, feed a complete layer feed such as Purina® Layena®, Purina® Layena® Plus Omega-3 or Purina® Organic layer pellets or crumbles. These feeds all include the Oyster Strong® System, so all the calcium laying hens need each day is right in the bag – no need to supplement.
To help keep the flock’s diet in balance:
- Give fresh complete chicken feed in the morning and evening in a shaded area, offering treats only after the flock has finished its complete feed.
- Offer cold or frozen fruits and vegetables as a summertime treat.
- Provide special treats such as Purina® Flock Block® or Purina® Scratch Grains as a complement to a complete feed. Treats formulated specifically for birds can provide beneficial nutrients while keeping birds active.
- Offer oyster shell to help maintain calcium intake and eggshell quality when birds may be eating less due to heat.
- Provide at least six inches of feeder space per bird.
Summer heat tends to reduce feed intake, so the complete chicken feed should be the first dietary priority. When birds have a balanced diet, plenty of water and a cool, comfortable environment, they are better able to remain healthy and productive and enjoy a fun and peaceful backyard summer.
Summer Flock Care Content: Patrick Biggs, Ph.D.
Nutritionist, Companion Animal Technical Solutions