Keeping hot chickens cool


When the temperatures turn hot and the wind comes across the backfield like the air from a blast furnace, things turn a bit more challenging on the farm to keep the animals cool and happy.

Chickens are a lot like us. Their ideal weather temperature would be somewhere in the low 70s with sunny skies, access to shade and plenty of water and food.

Of course, we know this isn’t usually the case, especially with Indiana weather where the temperatures during an average day can be in the 40s at 5 a.m. and into the 90s by late afternoon.

Perhaps you’ve seen the birds at the county fair with frozen water bottles in their cages and fans blowing air at full force. Chickens don’t sweat like humans and cool themselves in much the same way a dog or cat does, by panting. The air blowing across the surface of the water bottle works much in the same way as an air conditioner to help lower the surrounding air temperature if even just a bit.

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Some birds will nestle in close to the frozen water bottle, but most don’t know what to do with the weird plastic thing and just stand as still as possible, oftentimes allowing their wings to droop and splay out to allow more air to circulate under the down coat that they are forever carrying around. It’s great in the cooler weather to be surrounded by so many feathers, but when it turns hot, there’s no escaping the heat.

Because my flock is spoiled, they get summertime treats, such as chilled watermelon, grapes, chilled pumpkin and occasionally heads of lettuce from The Brooklyn Pizza Co. that the restaurant no longer can serve to the public. The birds go crazy for these treats, and because they are consuming them, it lowers their body temperature just a bit and thus makes them more comfortable.

Some of you may say, “Well, what about a pool? Dogs like to get in a pool of water when it’s hot and so do ducks. Why not chickens?”

Have you ever heard the term “Madder than a wet hen?”

It’s actually true. If you want to make a chicken mad, just spray them with some water. I guarantee it won’t cool off the chicken and will just succeed in having her give you that Jurassic Park raptor gaze, which says, “If I could eat you right now, I would.”

I say it’s better to keep the peace and have happy chickens, so I’ll continue to shell out the few dollars here and there to make sure they are given ample opportunity for cooling off when the days turn blistering hot. After all, happy chickens lay many more eggs than those that are stressed by heat.

Stephanie Strothmann owns Purple Shamrock Farm LLC in rural Seymour. Read her blog at Send comments to [email protected].

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