It’s wonderful weather, hot and sunny. Not the weather we’re used to here where summer is often a cool, wet disappointment. Much as we might enjoy this as we sit on the patio under a sunshade sipping a cold drink for our hens it can be a problem.
Hot weather can actually be more of a problem for chickens than cold weather. In the winter their feathers keep them warm – think feather duvets – but they still have those feather duvets on when it’s hot.
So a few tips to make sure the hens are happy, healthy and keep cool in hot weather.
Plenty of Water
First of all make sure they have enough water at all times. Hens, particularly laying hens, need quite a lot of water. In the winter a hen will probably drink 200 ml of water per bird per day. In hot weather this may well go up to 400 ml or even more a day.
Make it part of your care routine to check their water every time you go to the run. I top up the water last thing at night and again when I collect the eggs in the morning. If the drinker is empty then get an extra drinker so they always have a supply. They’re not expensive and you can put the spare away when the winter comes and weather cools.
Feed Some Greens
Naturally hens will eat quite a few greens as well as grains, seeds and bugs. In hot weather I like to give them extra greens since most of a leaf is water. Basically an extra drink.
From the garden they get bolted lettuce, brassicas that we’re not going to eat and when harvesting a cauliflower or calabrese, they get the plant hung up in the run. This gives them great fun pecking away at it. The more it swings around, the more they like it.
If they’re out on the grass they’ll be eating the leaf tips and some weeds like dandelions go down particularly well. Sometimes we pick up reduced salads and greens from the supermarkets. We’ve had iceberg lettuce for 10p and large bags of kale for 8p. A nice treat for the ladies for just a few pennies.
Just like us, chickens will seek shade when the sun is strong. Our secure run is well shaded in the summer by some trees but when the midday sun is coming straight down they take refuge under the raised coop.
Out in the large run, which isn’t secure against foxes, they’ve got some bushes to take refuge under. They tend to gather in the shade when they’re out there. If there’s no bushes or tall plants to shade them in the garden, make some shade for them.
It may seem funny putting up a parasol for the chickens but they’ll thank you for it. One chap I know with a commercial flock made sun shelters for his birds by propping old pallets together like tents. He did have a few problems with some of the hens laying in them though.
Check the Coop
In cold weather chickens will naturally huddle together at night to keep warm but in hot weather they need space. If you have crowded in too many hens for your coop then consider buying a larger coop.
Does the coop have plenty of ventilation? An easy way to check is to see what the temperature is in there first thing. Beware of hens pecking at the thermometer though! With wooden coops you can add extra ventilation. Use a hole saw to make some extra vents, cover with mesh to keep out flies and rodents. In the winter you can pop a plate over. Be creative.
Remember chickens sleep very soundly and are quite vulnerable when fast asleep. If you are sure they are safe leave the pop-hole open but the last thing you want is something like a rat or a fox getting in there.
An automatic door opener is a real boon when the days are long. At midsummer when sunrise is around 5 am and sunset near 10 pm the birds will only be in the coop for 7 hours.
Hygiene is Important
When the weather is hot, hygiene becomes more important. If the coop smells bad to you then it certainly will to the hens. Hens are particularly sensitive to ammonia which is given off by their droppings as they decompose. A smelly coop will attract flies as well, not pleasant.
Fleas, lice and the dreaded red mites are all more active and breed faster in hot weather. Check the birds and the coop frequently, taking appropriate measures as necessary.