When winter's on the horizon, many chicken owners I know ask the same question: how will I keep my chickens warm in cold weather?
Interestingly enough, though, most chickens can handle low temperatures quite well and usually don't need extra heat except in really extreme conditions.
Actually, the time chickens do have problems is right now, during the hottest months of the year. That built-in down coat's to blame. A covering of feathers makes getting rid of body heat much more difficult for chickens than for other animals with less covering.
If you find your hens panting with their beaks wide open, you can be sure they're getting hot.
Here are a few ways to ensure your backyard birds are cool as cucumbers.
No, I'm not really suggesting you install an AC unit in your coop! But you should make sure your coop has adequate ventilation.
Windows covered in a wire mesh small enough to keep out nocturnal predators are a good way to ensure airflow. By positioning your coop in a way that takes advantage of breezes in your area, you'll be adding some natural air conditioning.
Also, if you have the space and an electrical source, you can try a fan. Just make sure your coop is kept as clean as possible to keep dust to a minimum.
It should go without saying that your chickens need some source of shade. If there aren't trees near your run, rig up a tarp or other covering above the ground.
High Quality H2O
Because, just like you, chickens are thirstier than usual during the summer, it's extremely important for your birds to have plenty of water.
Beware of the things that can grow in water dispensers, and make sure you clean them out thoroughly at least a couple of times a week.
I find myself checking and replenishing supplies much more often when it's hot out, and I'm always gratified to see my birds come running when I've replaced old water with water that's new, fresh and cold.
Less Traditional Tactics
If you've implemented all these basic measures but still want to take additional steps to ease the stress of torrid days, here are a few more ideas.
The first is what I call "Chicken Gatorade," which is an electrolyte mix specially formulated to help exhausted birds recover. I'll do this for chickens I'm taking to shows, for example. All you have to do is follow the directions on the package. (Don't add more mix than is suggested!)
Next, if you're headed to the fair, you might try freezing small plastic water bottles and putting them in your birds' cages. I've seen chickens drape their bodies over icy bottles in county fair poultry barns!
Finally, in the same way we humans all enjoy a piece of cold watermelon or cantaloupe on a hot summer day, chickens also enjoy pecking at the leftovers and rind of a juicy treat.
Above all, keep a closer eye on your chickens these next few months. A little extra attention will go along way towards making sure everyone endures summer in fine feather!