by Crystal Sands
As our planet warms, our summers in many parts of the country are becoming more intense. I read just this week about thousands of cows dying during the terrible heatwave in Kansas. During the heat of a summer, many new chicken owners worry about how to care for their flocks, and rightly so. Extreme heat is hard on everyone, including chickens.
In northern areas with long cold winters, our chickens get used to cooler temps, so when the temps really rise in the summer, it is really tough on our flock. Of course, temps over 90 degrees can be difficult for any chicken, and recent heat waves where people are seeing days and weeks of temperatures near or over 100 degrees will really take a toll.
I have seen many people lose older chickens during these extreme heat waves, and we lost one of our older girls in an extreme heat wave three years ago, even though we were doing all the right things. Sometimes, the heat is just too much, but there are things you can do to help keep your flock healthy, safe, and more comfortable during extreme summer heat.
1. Provide fresh cool water every single day and keep the water in the shade. When the temps are high for an extended period of time, adding electrolytes to the water will help. Just remember that water is life, so make sure the water is fresh and clean every day.
2. Watermelon is also life—at least my flock thinks so. Providing cool, juicy treats like watermelon, grapes, or berries can help your flock cool down and lift their spirits as well, which really does help. We always keep watermelon on hand during the summer for those hot days when the hens just need a pick-me-up. You can also freeze chunks of watermelon and other berries in muffin tins and provide some cool, healthy treats that way.
4. Make sure your flock has access to shade from the sun and that there is good air circulation wherever they are. Our chickens are fortunate in that they get to essentially free-range within a fenced area of about ¾ of an acre. We have lots of trees on our property, which provide good shade.
If your flock is in a run, make sure there is good ventilation. If possible, consider running an extension cord and putting a fan on your chickens to help create a breeze on the worst days. If your flock is not in a run and you do not have trees for shade, consider using fabric to make a shady place for everyone.
5. Finally, watch out for flies. In the summer, fly strike is always a concern. It’s important to keep your coop clean to cut back on the number of flies, but, sometimes, even with a clean coop, the flies will just be bad. Fly traps can work, but we have had good luck with simple fly tape. It’s sticky, so you have to hang it high enough that your chickens can’t fly into it. We have found the perfect spot in our coop where the hens can’t reach it. Unfortunately, my head can, so that’s not fun. Still, keeping the flies under control makes the occasional hair in the sticky tape worth it.