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How to Keep Hens Safe in a Heatwave

Don’t fool yourself into thinking just because domestic chickens are descended from red jungle fowl that they can cope well with heat. The truth is ex-battery hens are not all that hardy, especially if they are new out of the cage. Even some battery farmers turn on the sprinklers at 35 degrees. All chickens can succumb to heat stress and die in hot weather, but there are things you can do to help them when the mercury rises:

 

  1.  All chicken parents should keep an eye on the weather forecast, but if have newly adopted battery hens you need to be extra vigilant. Check the weather out online in advance and know what you will be dealing with over the next week. If any days over 30 degrees are predicted you may need to give your hens a helping hand to stay cool. If it is over 35 degrees you will definitely need to take action and over 40 degrees could mean taking bigger steps to ensure your hens live to enjoy the rest of their lives out of the cage.

  2. Look out for signs of heat stress in your hen such as lethargy, panting or holding her wings out away from her body. She is doing this to cool down, so it is a good idea to give her some help. You may also notice neon green poo if she is very stressed.

  3. Check on your hen’s very regularly on hot days; At least every half an hour if it is over 35 degrees. If you have work try to arrange to work from home or get a friend to check on the animals for you. If you cannot stay home on a very hot day bring the chickens inside in carriers before you leave for work and leave the air conditioning on for them.

  4. Make sure your hens have plenty of shade. Place their food and water in the shade so that they do not have to go out in the sun. If you do not have trees or shrubs use shade cloths to create large shady areas. Wetting the shade cloths will also help keep it cool.

  5. The trusty sprinkler/mister is literally a life saver for hens on a very hot day. Your hens may not like the water that much, but it is for their own good. I usually direct the sprinkler over the bush they like to sit under. That way the water drips down onto them and keeps them cool. Hens will try to cool down by dust bathing so hose down the areas of ground they dust bathe in and they will probably go and take a cooling dust bath in the puddles.

  6. A cool bath is also a good way for the hens to cool down. You can stand the hen in the sink (see photo of Sweetie above) and gently splash cool water on her feet and her comb and wattles (being careful not to get water in her nose or ears. You can also wet under their wings and body, but be aware if they go and lay in the sun afterwards this can actually make them hotter once the water heats up so this is best to do if you have brought the hens inside into the cool.  You can also use a hand held plant mister or a wet towel to cool them down. Be careful the water is not too cold or it can cause the hen to go into shock.

  7. Emergency Dunk. If your girl is already suffering from heat stress please bring her inside and dunk her in room temperature water (keeping her head and neck well out of the water) and then keep her inside in the cool with plenty of water available to drink. This could save her life.

  8. Plenty of fresh water is essential. Put bowls of water in the shade and check and refill it throughout the day. You can also put ice cubes in the water to help keep it cool.

  9. Put an ice cream tub of water in the freezer until you have an ice block. Put that outside with the hens and they can drink icy cold water from it as it melts. You can also add some of your chickens' favourite treats in the water to make popsicles.

  10. Air conditioning – On a really hot day you may need to bring your hens inside to keep them healthy. It is better for them to be in a carrier (with some straw, food and water) inside than to be dying of heat stress outside.

  11. Fans – Place a fan in your chicken’s coop to help keep it cool.

  12. Add nutritional supplements to water and food. Electrolytes and B vitamins are available from produce stores and will help your hens deal with the heat.

  13. Block off hot coops and nesting boxes. On hot days nesting boxes, sheds and coops are likely to get very hot. If you have a broody hen she will probably still try to sit in there all day and could easily die. Other girls may go in to lay their eggs. The time they spend in there is enough to kill them. If it is too hot block off nesting boxes or sheds and provide temporary nesting areas in the coolest part of the garden.

  14. Hose down the roof of the coop with cold water to bring the temperature down inside. Remember the coop may still be too hot at night so consider bringing the hens inside in carriers on very hot nights or adding more ventilation to the coop. If you have a moveable coop be sure to place it in the shade.

  15. Add heat reflectors to windows of coop. By adding a heat reflective material to your coop's windows you can keep the inside of the coop a lot cooler, just like when we place a heat reflective windscreen shade in our cars.

  16. Keep an eye on heavier hens. You will find that some chickens are more prone to heat stress than other. Broilers who we have rescued from the meat industry grow so big that they struggle as soon as the temperature reaches over 30 degrees. For your girls that are prone to heat stress take action early, bring them inside, give cooling baths and be extra vigilant.

  17. Avoid transporting chickens unless absolutely necessary.  If you need to transport chickens on very hot days then arrange to do so at night or the early morning when it will be cooler. Ideally reschedule for a cooler day. If you cannot avoid transporting the hens (e.g, in a medical emergency) be sure to use a well ventilated pet carrier. Never use boxes to transport. They are always unsafe, but on hot days they can be deadly. 

  18. Keep chickens and their environment clean. Flies love to breed in hot, messy environments. If they choose to lay eggs around your girl's messy bottom, this can result in deadly flystrike. If any of your girls have a messy bottom, give them a cool bath around that area to clean them up. Bear in mind ta messy bottom can also be a symptom of illness.  Ensure that coops and enclosures are as clean as possible to avoid insect infestations and to keep your girls comfy. 

  19. Watery, cool treats - Watermelon is a Summer favourite for hens and humans alike. Keep it in the fridge and then surprise your chickens with a cool and refreshing treat on a hot day.
     

I hope your hens and all your animals are able to cope with the heat. If you have any other tips on dealing with weather extremes please contact us so we can add them to this article.