Chickens Health Issues

Heat Stress in Backyard Chickens

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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