Summer heat is far more detrimental to backyard chickens than winter’s cold. And while plenty of folks seem willing to place potentially dangerous, and in many cases unnecessary, heaters in their coop during the winter, many laugh at the idea of using air conditioning to cool the coop in the summer. While I don’t seriously recommend installing an air conditioner in your coop, keeping the inside of your coop at an acceptable temperature for your chickens during summer’s heat is important.
Keeping the temps cool inside the coop can be as simple as having good ventilation and placing it in a partially shaded area of your backyard, although you may want to avoid placing the coop directly under trees due to the risks of disease from wild birds nesting above. Also, areas that get full shade all the time may not dry out in a timely manner after heavy rainfall, leading to other potential issues.
If you live in an extremely hot part of the country, consider adding a small fan to help circulate the air in the coop, being sure to place it where it won’t blow air directly on the chickens, especially at night while they are on the roost.
Drinks all around
One of the most important things you can do this summer for your backyard flock is make sure they have a constant supply of fresh, cool drinking water. In most cases, once the water temperature approaches the chickens’ body temperature, they won’t drink it—which can be deadly for your flock. To keep your water supply cool, place the waterer or water system in a shady area.
Waterers placed in the sun will heat up quickly and can allow bacteria to grow. There are several water systems available for your backyard chickens—many are designed with hot summer months in mind. The Brite Tap waterer, for example, transforms any water cooler into a chicken waterer by simply replacing the spout. Ice placed in the cooler in the morning will keep the water cool for many hours. Another option, The Chicken Fountain, can be connected to a faucet near your coop, continually providing fresh clean water to your chickens.
If you choose a standard three-, five-, or seven-gallon plastic chicken waterer, you can freeze 20 ounce bottles of drinking water and drop them into the chicken waterer to help keep the water cool throughout the day.
Mix it up
During the hottest times of the summer, you might consider adding some electrolytes to your chickens’ water—there are many different brands to choose from. While I don’t recommend adding them all the time, adding the electrolytes for three days and then returning to plain water for three days is a good regimen.
The most difficult part about adding electrolytes is determining how much to add to the specific waterer or water system that you have. One package of electrolytes I purchased instructed me to mix the entire bag in 400 gallons of water. Needless to say, I did not have a container anywhere on my property that held 400 gallons of water, so I had to do a little basic math to figure out how to mix it.
Again, heat is far more detrimental to chickens than the cold ever will be, and it’s our responsibility as chicken owners to make sure our chickens have everything they need to stay healthy during the hot summer months including all-important, fresh, clean—and cool—water.
Know the signs
Chickens start to pant at around 83°F, but just because they are panting doesn’t necessarily mean they are overheated. Like dogs, chickens don’t have sweat glands, so they pant in order to maintain their body temperature. They also spend most of their time outside taking dust baths and scratching around for bugs.