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The Omlet Blog

Chicken Keeping in the Summer

Cara Martin lives in Gwynedd with her flock of happy back garden hens as well as those kept at the family smallholding just up the road. The girls love nothing more than following the family around helping to turn over the veg beds and getting into mischief in compost piles. Follow Cara over at The Poultry Pages.

man in chicken run with chickens

When keeping back-garden poultry you soon become very aware of the seasons. In the winter many new poultry keepers worry about their flock getting too cold, although this is actually rarely a risk in the UK. A flock over-heating in the summer months is actually a far bigger concern. So, as the weather heats up it is important to help your flock keep cool.

It’s important to be able to identify the signs that your flock is overheating. The five main indicators of an overheated hen are:

  • Panting – when hot you will notice your hen’s beak open panting;
  • Feathers fluffed – you will see your hens hold their wings away from their bodies;
  • Decreased appetite – as they heat up they will eat less during the day;
  • Lethargic flock – an overheated hen is likely to be more lethargic and sleepy;
  • Pale combs – both wattle and comb will become pale on an overheated hen, especially over a prolonged heat-wave.

You may also notice a drop in egg numbers if the weather gets really hot. This can be through a combination of the heat and the decreased appetite, meaning less energy for production. I’ve kept chickens, ducks, and quail in the garden for nearly 20 years now and have picked up a few tips and tricks to keep the ladies cool and comfortable even on the hottest of days. 

 

Shade and Shelter

If your flock free ranges and they have access to areas with trees and bushes you’ll find that they naturally gravitate to these cooler shady areas when the weather heats up. Some back garden keepers though will keep their flock within more permanent runs due to space or local predators – for example we have a lot of foxes where we live.

If you do have a permanent run, or are constructing one, it is important to keep shade in mind as well as rain cover. When we built our most recent chicken run we made use of a strong wind and shade mesh to cover the sides and roof in order to create sheltered areas from the elements. On hotter days the flock will head into the shaded areas to dust bathe and perch. Omlet have chicken run shades for all the runs with the heavy duty covers providing good weather protection in the winter months too.

chicken run with chicken and chicken tree

Cold Water

It is crucial in the warmer months to keep the water clean, cool, and regularly topped up. Adding in an extra chicken drinker is also a good idea if you have a flock bigger than 4 hens. Keep the drinkers in shaded areas to avoid the water heating up and ideally change the water early afternoon to keep it cool and fresh throughout the day.

Dust Bathing 

A dust bath is how chickens keep themselves both clean and cool. You’ll notice when free ranging they will make their own dust baths, and on hotter days these are often under a tree for the shade too. In permanent runs a lot of keepers use woodchips as a base once the grass has been demolished by the flock. Although woodchips are great for them to scratch about in and to keep the run dry, they don’t prove as good for dust bathing.

In a movable run it may be the case that you would rather the flock not make dust baths all over the garden – especially if the run is rotated over a lawn for example. So, a movable dust bath is a great alternative to encourage them to use. I personally favour using a low level flexible tub for this.

With an enclosed run I find that building in a dust bath is really useful for the flock. In our current run we have used a 100ltr pot that has been dug to half depth into the ground. Before placing the pot into the hole we make sure to add drainage holes to the pot and put a layer of stones beneath it to help with drainage.

For both movable trugs and dug in pots I use a mixture of 70/30 soil/sand. The sand helps to keep the soil draining well if it gets wet and my flock seem to prefer this looser mix for dust bathing. On cooler days a movable trug can be put in a sunny spot, and on the hotter days move it into the shade for them to cool down. I also add a dusting of diatomaceous earth to the dust bath in the summer months as a great way to keep ahead of potential lice problems to which flocks are more susceptible to in warm weather.

dustbath and chicken dustbathing

Coop Care

Obviously we want to be keeping the chicken coop clean throughout the year, but on hot days it is a good idea to try and daily poop-scoop and clean. Droppings quickly become smelly in the heat, and a build up can also increase the heat within the coop; plus you’ll attract flies without regular cleaning too. If you ordinarily use a deep-litter method for your chicken house it is really important to switch to low bedding and regular cleaning during a heat-wave.

You need to make sure that any ventilation holes in the coop are unobstructed, keeping air flow through the coop at night. During the day I make sure our coop is fully opened up to help keep it cool. If you have an Eglu Chicken Coop or other plastic coop then giving the outside a good spray with the hose in the afternoon will also help drop down the internal coop temperature.

Mist the Air

Our girls love nothing more than when the sprinkler is on near to them in hot weather. Although I never mist the girls directly we do set it up near to their coop and run. The cooling effect of the cold water helps to reduce the ground temperature. 

Larger pure breeds, especially our Brahma girl, seem to suffer with the heat more than the smaller hybrid ladies. I find a couple of our girls, including our Brahma, like to go right under the sprinkler in the mid-afternoon heat – just make sure it is just gentle misting not a full flow though.

Obviously you know your flock best and by keeping an eye on them during hotter days it is usually easy to tell if they need more shade or water. If they seem to really struggle I’ve even been known to bring them into the house to cool down – we had a very cool basement years ago and an hour or two lounging about in our dog crate with some treats would soon have them cooled down and perked up! 

This entry was posted in Chickens


2 replies on “Chicken Keeping in the Summer”

Betty Baker says:

Very interesting Im going to put a watering can full of water over my two eglu s when its hot a good tip Thank you

Ian Page says:

Hi I am new to chicken keeping. Our lovely six birds, we think were taken by a badger, as it was seen on camera, but we have seen foxes in the garden too!!!
I am interested in your framed totally enclosed run can you please supply sizes and costs for me to consider? Thank you

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