Heat Stress in Backyard Chickens

June 20, 2012
Panting Sunshine

Today is the first day of Summer. The temperatures on Cape Cod did not disappoint. This afternoon as the humidity soared the thermometer read 93 degrees in the shade, all the girls were panting wearing their lovely feathered coats. Even Tilly gave up being broody for the day! It was just too darn hot.

Chickens do not do well in heat. Sometimes, it can be downright dangerous. Chickens regulate their body temperature through their wattles and combs. As they do not sweat, you will, on hot days, see them panting. Their beaks are open and their rate of breathing is increased. You might even catch a glimpse of them walking around with their wings held away from their bodies. All these things are normal phenomenon-ways chickens cool themselves. If not carefully monitored, chickens can become stressed in the heat. They can even perish if their needs are not met. So keeping this in mind, there are a few steps that you can take.
Be sure that the have access to cool fresh water. Don’t hesitate to refill the waterers a few times a day. Feel free to add some ice cubes. It will stay cooler longer. Chickens will drink up to two cups per day when it is hot. Remember, their bodies are 50% water and their eggs are 65% water. You might even think about providing your flock with an extra waterer or two.

It is normal for hens not to lay as many eggs on scorching hot days. Sometimes they stop laying altogether until their is a break in the weather. Their bodies are stressed.

Chickens’ appetites will also decrease as well. They may not eat as much food as usual. This is the time when I bring them treats from the kitchen a few times per day. I like to bring them goodies to serve whole, as they will stay cooler longer- cucumbers, tomatoes, halved watermelon and the like.

Provide shade, good ventilation and do not disturb your resting chicken, even walking can increase their heart rate and demands placed on their bodies.

Gail Damerow in her book, The Chicken Health Handbook, describes heat stressed birds as drinking large amounts of water, having difficulty breathing and overall weakness. If you notice a member of your flock stressed from the heat, move the chicken to a shady area and place it into cool (not cold) water. These measures will help to cool the chicken’s core temperature. Be sure to provide plenty of rest and water for your affected flock member. It very well could take a few days to recover.

Today, I reintroduced for the summer one of my girls’s favorite treats. I call it the Spa treatment. I take a shallow disposable pan, fill it with ice water and then sprinkle in some fresh herbs. The fresh herb make this absolutely irresistible. The girls enjoy standing in it. Drinking from it and sampling cool refreshing treats. I know that it is a welcomed guest in the run on hot days like this.


You can read more about beating the heat here.

Damerow, Gail. The chicken health handbook. Pownal, Vt.: Storey Communications, 1994. Print.

Photo Credits:  Tilly’s Nest


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32 thoughts on “Heat Stress in Backyard Chickens”

  1. All super good reminders. I picked up an inexpensive fan to use just last night. My run is solid fence boards on the side where we get our cooling afternoon breezes. I'm hoping this helps get the air moving around and I know they like standing in front of a fan and letting it hit their fluffy backsides. Hmmm, could be a good photo op.

  2. It is heating up here and I am worried for my chickens when we head out on vacation. I hired a neighbor girl to come for an hour during the heat of the day to give them ice for the waterers and to wet down their run and give them frozen treats. I hope it will be enough. My daughter is chicken sitting but does not get home from work until 4:00pm. Thanks for the info. I think I will have a pan of water in the run too for ice and cooling down.

  3. Thanks for the tips on heat. Mine are exhibiting all that you mentioned – the normal ones not the distress ones. I love the idea of the herbs in ice water. Will try that tomorrow!

  4. I gave the girls ice cold yogurt and they loved it. Of course, lots of ice cold water. Never had a chicken pant from heat but mine free range most of the day and in this heat they can be found under one of the many trees or in their dirt bath. Funny though, they ate all of my mint! Need to get some more! Thanks for all your great advice! Terri

  5. great info! I will try the shallow pool with herbs tomorrow. I have been using a mister, but they are not at all interested. They love semi-frozen melons! And I've made 'ice blocks' to put in their water.

    • Thanks Gina! Ooooohhh…love the semi-frozen melon idea! Great suggestion. I hope your girls stay cool! Sounds like you are a wonderful chicken Momma.

  6. Thanks again for a great post. I love the idea of the spa bath for my Pearl & Millie; I can put in some mint leaves. How old do you think they should be before I put a pan of water in their run – I've read about chickies dying in just a small amount of water, but not sure when they might know better. I have been freezing 2-liter Coke bottles and placing them in their small run beneath the coop. We are in the process of making a nice long run with lots of shade and a few spruce trees, so that will help a lot. We got some netting to put on the top so that the girls will stay safe. They love it when I bring them watermelon 🙂

    • I do love the 2 liter Coke bottle idea. I did that last summer when the temps got into the 100s for a few days. How hot are you down in the South today? How awesome about enlarging the run! Your girls are so spoiled and I know they love you for it!

    • Thanks Marie! What I would not do for a little rain to break the humidity and cool down the earth. I love it when that happens and you can smell the earth and see the steam rising from the ground! I'll try to send the sunshine your way!

  7. Love your posts… I check in every day! I had a question… I purchased the Extended Alexandria coop from Green Chicken Coops based on your recommendation, and while I love it, I'm getting worried that the little coop is going to be extremely hot during the next few months. This is my first summer with my girls, and I was wondering if you've had trouble keeping the temps down inside the coop itself, and if you do anything special to make it more bearable. I have it in full shade, but here in SC, it gets pretty toasty. Thanks! ~ Ryan

    • Hi Ryan! You are right! The little coops can get very hot. Be sure to keep the vent open above the nesting boxes even in the evenings. Did you happen to have the windows put in the front doors? I remove the plexiglass from those too. In the daytime, on the hottest of days, I do keep an oscillating fan outside the coop and run to help move the air. Shade is good and you could even provide a mister for your flock too. Also, you might want to put a makeshift box with shavings outside for the girls to lay their eggs in. That way they stay out of the coop. Tilly and Fifi both are in the coop today. Hot as can be outside. I just keep taking them out when I can. I hope these answers help. Thanks for being such an awesome fan!

  8. Thanks for this information as I've been wondering what to watch for and what to do if my birds seemed stressed by the heat. Even though temps have been in the upper 90s, so far the girls are remaining comfortable in their shaded coop and run. I think I managed to pick a good location for them.

  9. Thank you so much for this information. Yes it has been so hot and humid here in Virginia. I have extra waterers and refill 2 to 3 times a day with fresh cold water from our well. Also have been doing the cuke, tomato and watermelon goodies along with the yogurt. Gosh, these girls are spoiled rotten, aren't they?? I had to do bumblefoot surgery on one of the girls yesterday and I was a wreck. It went well, removed the kernel and she is confined to the brooder for the next few days or so.

  10. Good info! Thank you! I'd only add this: ever have a watermelon that wasn't exactly as sweet and tasty as you were hoping it would be? That's a perfect melon to slice up and give to the chickies on a hot day. They'll get hydrated, have something "fun" to do for awhile, and dispose of the melon without wasting it all in one step. 🙂

  11. What kind of herbs do you put in your chicken's water? I'm just wondering if there are any that I shouldn't give them and what types are their favorite?


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Sharing an inspired life from the New England seaside. Chickens, Bees, Gardens, Art and Yummy Goodness.