Heat stress is a major killer of chickens in Australia. Heavy birds suffer more than bantams; so Croad Langshans need extra care during hot weather. Males are more at risk than females.
Chickens are most happy between 10 and 20°C. They can adapt well to 25°C, but when the temperature climbs to 30°C or more they feel hot.
Above 35°C they are severely stressed and can die.
Temperatures above 40° and even above 45°, (as we have experienced here in recent years) become extremely challenging for birds and breeders alike. However, casualties can certainly be prevented with a little bit of extra care.
There are many options to help poultry during hot days. Cooling doesn't have to be electricity- or water-guzzling, nor expensive.
Here are just a few points:
- A chicken house should be a cool place. Sheet metal walls and roofs can reach well over 100°C when the sun shines on them, and will turn a house into an oven.
Some options include
- reflective foil under roofs and covering windows
- overhanging roofs
- double roofs
- thermal mass like water tanks as a wall, or earth berms
- shading with shade cloth, or even cooler, with plants
- evaporative cooling systems along the line of the old coolgardie safe, dripping water from an overhead bucket onto hessian or similar. Charcoal coolrooms (Evaporative cooling works well only in hot dry conditions).
- Shade: Shade under a well watered shrub or tree is cooler than the same amount of shade under shade cloth or under a roof.
To get the full benefit of plant evapo-transpiration the shrub or tree should be watered 2 or 3 days before a heat wave. This gives the water time to penetrate the soil and be taken up by the roots.
Vines work well as they can be cut back severely in autumn to give sun during winter.
- Food: Fruit and berries are much appreciated. So are layers' pellets made into a mash with a little cold water. It can go mouldy very fast though, so has to be made up frequently in small amounts.
Fatty food has been found to help.
Food and water are best offered where the chickens are, rather than in the usual place.
- Water: Has to be checked constantly. It is safest to offer several water containers in shady locations. Other creatures great and small are also after water and may take it from the chooks, tip it over or muddy it up.
The colder the water the more it helps chickens cool down.
In times of severe stress it will greatly help if electrolyte replacer is added to the water. Avian vitamins are also helpful, especially vitamin C, but electrolyte replacer is more important.
- Moist soil: Chickens love to shovel moist sand over themselves when it is hot. Wetting their sand bath several times during the day can help enormously as long as it is in the shade. Constant warm and moist conditions favour growth of coccidia, bacteria and other pathogens. Clean or sun-baked sand is essential.
- In dry heat misters (not sprayers!) can help to lower the temperature considerably, and they use very little water. Connected to a garden house they can easily be moved around to where the chickens are sitting under a shrub (Evaporative cooling works well only in hot dry conditions).
- In emergencies chickens can be cooled by standing them in perhaps 15cm of lukewarm water and gently wetting their feathers. The water should not be too cold.
-  NSW Hen Rescue : Good tips to help chickens during hot weather
-  www.heatstress.info : Physiology of heat stress in chickens and other animals.
-  POULTRY PRODUCTION IN HOT CLIMATES, Second Edition, Nuhad J. Daghir (Ed.) Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences, American University of Beirut, Lebanon, 2008.