Hot Summer, Cool Chicks
Holly Callahan-Kasmala is a freelance writer and livestock historian. Chrisie DiCarlo is a retired veterinary technician and veterinary trauma nurse. Together, they have over 26 years of combined chicken care experience. They are the creators and cohosts of Coffee with the Chicken Ladies Podcast.
Summer is fast approaching and hot weather with it. This is the time of year that we get to enjoy garden fresh flowers and produce, but it also means protecting our flocks from overheating. This summer will mark our combined 28th year of chicken care in the hot and humid mid-atlantic. So, we’re going to share our top tips for tried and true ways to help keep your flock cool. Make sure you read to the end for our favorite summer snacks and treats.
The first and most important thing you want to provide for your flock is shade. A shady spot lets your chickens escape the hot sun. Direct sunlight can make temperatures feel as much as 10-15 degrees higher. Your flock’s water sources should also be kept in shade. All water containers, especially enclosed ones, will capture and hold heat from the sun. We keep extra ice on hand and liberally add ice to the chickens’ drinking water during the hottest days.
Trees are a great source of natural shade, but you can also provide human made shady spots. Hang sun shades made from sailcloth, canvas, even light colored natural fabrics that can help deflect the sun’s rays and create shadowy spots. Don’t forget to utilize the space beneath your chicken coops. Omlet coops that sit on stands create a great space for your chickens to go under for water and cool dirt.
Coops can get pretty hot during this time of year. Shade helps, but there are some other things you can do to bring down the temperature in your coops. We’re big advocates for careful use of fans with small grids (small enough that feet and beaks cannot fit in.) You can use either electric or battery powered, but our favorites are the battery powered fans. You can buy them with rechargeable batteries, and not have to worry about cords and power loss to the coops. We turn them on in the evenings and they help pull air through the coops. In our Eglu Cubes Chicken Coops, we simply zip tie a small battery powered fan to the inside of the back vent and let it create a cross breeze.
Ice packs, both store bought and homemade, are another great tool to utilize against heat stress. They’re very easy to make, simply wash and fill various sizes of plastic water or juice bottles with clean water and pop them into your freezer until they’re solid. You can use the frozen bottles in your run, or you can put one in a shallow pool or bowl and let your chickens wade in to cool off their feet. At night, a large bottle or ice pack can be wrapped up (to keep them clean) and placed into your coop. This is especially beneficial in Omlet coops – they’re so well insulated that an ice pack will substantially bring down the temperature in the coop. This is a life saver here in Maryland where it’s sometimes still 80F+ degrees when we’re closing up for the night.
With a normal body temperature of about 105F degrees, chickens really appreciate snacks and feed that are cooling and hydrating. The simplest thing that you can do is place some of their regular ration in a resealable bag and pop it into the refrigerator or freezer for a few hours. You can also go the extra mile – make a mash by adding water to your chicken’s feed, stirring in berries or other cut up fruit, and freezing it in a silicone mold. Your birds will love you for serving them this fancy treat. Recipe below!
There are several other foods that you can either buy or grow to treat yourself and your chickens, too. Melons of almost every type are about 90% water and contain lots of electrolytes as well as other nutrients. This is also some evidence that lycopene, an antioxidant found in watermelon, cantaloupe, and some other melons, can help reduce the risk of heat stress in poultry.
Chickens can eat almost every part of a melon. Everything from the seeds to most of the rind is edible. We like to cut chilled melon for ourselves, and leave a bit on the rind for the chickens. They love it!
Cucumber is also a wonderful, juicy summer treat for your poultry. You can cut it into pieces or feed it whole, with or without skin. If you do peel the cucumber, compost the pieces so that none of your flock get them stuck in their crop. Our chickens especially enjoy cucumber when it’s been chilled for a while.
You can make your flock a fruit salad for an afternoon snack. Line a small dish with some crisp, cool iceberg lettuce, and layer on some berries, cut up grapes (whole grapes can be a choking hazard,) diced apples and pears, and top with a few baby greens from your garden. You can also forage some young dandelion greens if you don’t have anything else nearby. Our exact recipe is below.
Heat stress is a very real danger for chickens and other poultry. With some planning, you can help your flock get through the worst of the summer weather. A combination of shade, cool water, ice, and some hydrating snacks can help keep the summer season fun for you and your birds.
Frozen Berry and Crumble Molds
2 cups of your flock’s regular crumble feed (pellets work but need to soak longer and may need more water)
2-3 cups of water or more, as needed
1 cored and cut up apple
1 cup of berries (we used a mix of whatever we have on hand)
In a medium sized bowl, mix the feed and water together and allow to sit for at least 5 minutes. You want the mash to be wet but not too sloppy.
Mix the fruit pieces into the mash and spoon it into silicone baking molds. You can use muffin tins or other molds but it’s easiest to get the finished product out of silicone.
Place molds in the freezer for about 30 minutes. When you’re ready to serve, pop the crumble out of your mold and serve on a plate or dish. Watch your happy chickens enjoy!
Iceberg Salad for the Birds
1 head of iceberg or other crisphead lettuce, washed
1 handful of grapes, cut into quarters
1 handful of berries, any kind
1 cup of melon pieces and/or leftover melon rind and seeds/strings
1 small handful of baby greens or sprouts
1 dollop of unsweetened yogurt (optional)
Find a chicken-safe platter or shallow bowl. Pull the lettuce into big pieces and line the dish with them. Place the melon pieces and any rind on top of the lettuce. Scatter the grapes and berries around the platter and top with the greens. If you want to gild the lily, you can dollop a small amount of unsweetened yogurt on top. Serve this treat to your flock on a hot afternoon and watch them dig in!
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