8 September 2009

Preparing chickens for hot weather

We bought two new chickens on the weekend. A buff Sussex named Quince and a Light Sussex named Quentin. My Australian friends will know who she is named for. ; - ) They have been hand reared on a rare breed chicken farm so they love being carried around and are very tame. They've settled in very well with the other girls and Martha, our buff Orphington, is looking after them. Martha is a big golden puff of a chook; she looks motherly and is gentle and slow. I'm sure they'll enjoying living here.

Exploring new terrain - Quince and Quentin.

We love our chooks. They are a constant source of entertainment for us. They help make our backyard the productive place we want it to be and they give us healthy eggs with golden yolks that taste much better than any egg you can buy in a supermarket. Even the expensive organic omega 3 eggs don't come close to a backyard egg. The difference is freshness. Domestic eggs are always superior because they don't go through the cycle of being collected, graded, transported and unpacked, to sit on a shelf for a period of time.

We live in the sub tropics, so we have a very short Spring and a long Summer. In the next week or so we'll start preparing the backyard for Summer. We want our chickens to be as comfortable as they can be during the hot months so there are a few things we can do now to provide that comfort.

The most important place in a hen's life is her coop. It needs to be protective from predators and the weather and safe enough for her to lay her eggs there. Hanno cleans out the coop on a regular basis but in the next week he'll check that everything is in order, he'll get rid of cobwebs and do a thorough clean out of the coop and the nesting boxes. We have 14 chickens and four nests. They always have a favourite nest but all four of the nests are being used now so that tells me they feel comfortable in all of them. Our coop has doors that can be closed. Sometimes when there is a severe storm forecast we will herd the chooks into the coop and close the door. Chooks have been known to die of fright during a thunderstorm, so we make sure they're confined to a place they know and feel safe in.

Mother Martha.

Out in the yard, there are plenty of shady places but we also put up little metal sheets that they can shelter under and stay dry when it rains. If you live in a hot climate, it's best to let the chooks find their own cool places. They will generally be where they can scratch into the dirt and make little hollows. They sit in these when it's hot and the soil cools them. When it's hot and you see the chooks have make these hollows, get the hose and wet the hollows, it helps the chooks cool down more. Our chooks have chosen the area under a clump of short palm trees as their favourite place on a hot day. There are plenty of those little scratched hollows there and we make sure to keep the area hosed down on hot days.

And some of the aunties wanting to see the new babies.

Another thing we'll do closer to the hot weather is to get some shallow water containers that the chooks can stand in. They will cool down by standing in the water. Make sure the water is in the shade and stays cool. If you have a really hot day, you could herd the chickens into the coop and put the sprinkler on the roof for a short time. Overall though, letting the chooks find their own cool spot and leaving them there all day will probably serve you best. Make sure you check on them during the hottest part of the day.

Make sure there are ALWAYS several containers of cool fresh water. All of them should be in the shade.

If the chooks suffer from heat stress they'll stop laying and if it's severe enough they won't lay for weeks, sometimes months. Heat stress is a big problem with chickens, it's best to avoid it rather than treat it. If you do have a heat stressed chook, dunk it under some cool water to cool it down. If she's been sitting in a dirt hollow, wet the area with a hose to cool things down a bit. If you have electricity in the hen house,and you can't let the chooks free range, put an electric fan out there on the worst hot days.

Chooks ask so little of us, just a bit of food, water and safety, and they return so much. Don't leave your preparations too late. When the hot weather sets in, you'll be better off sitting on the verandah with a cold ginger beer rather than rushing about trying to keep the chooks cool.



  1. I admire you. Chickens seem like too much work. I'm glad to see our heat leave and move to your part of the globe.

  2. Rhonda,
    I love looking at and hearing about your chickens! I want some,but am still talking my husband into it.Although I live in a small town,my lot is big enough to have a few chickens.And so far there is no ordinance against it.
    I can feel he is starting to weaken!!! LOL Darlene

  3. We have now 13 chickens after rehousing 2 roosters and theyare contained in two runs.
    Looking after them and the two runs is much less work than our Dog.
    They are such characters and are great little pets.
    Over last Summer our hen hatched 7 chicks in 43 and 45 degree heat!

  4. I wish for all chickens to be as loved and cared for as yours. Thank you for your teaching and good example for the proper care and treatment of living creatures. This is so very important. From, Linda

  5. Thanks for this post Rhonda. We love our chooks too, and last summer sadly we lost one. We have water restrictions and are not allowed to use the hose, but during the summer animal welfare comes first. Here in Melbourne the heat becomes quite unbearable and is very dry, so this year I am going to prepare as you suggest. I didnt know that about the hollows that is a great idea. Thanks once again, I like the names your girls have!

  6. Hi Rhonda. I do believe Ms Bryce would be flattered. :)

  7. Hi Rhonda
    Great post. As a fellow south east Qlder, I had not thought of preparing our chickens for the heat. They will certainly benefit from your foresight - thank you on behalf of Honey, Fudge and Dotty. I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of my 3 Sussex chickens - a Light, a Silver and a Coronation. They are so beautiful. Hope they find a carer like your Martha!
    Thanks again

  8. This is wonderful advice. My chickens have been hot all summer and I didn't know what to do to help them. I wasn't sure if the heat was even a problem for them because they seemed happy. I will start wetting down their little dug outs and leaving them water to wade in.

  9. I would love to have some chickens, but my husband is being very stubborn and says no. I could go ahead and get them since I will be the one taking care of them, but he is the one that will build their coop and fence so can't do it without him agreeing. It will be fall and then winter here soon, so maybe by Feb or March when the baby chicks become available, I will have him weakened. Not holding my breath though. My neighbor has indicated that she will not take care of them while we are gone, so that is one more obstacle I have to get past.

    Love hearing about yours and seeing their pictures. Good luck with the 2 new ones.


  10. This will be my first summer with the girls and I have to admit to being a bit concerned as it gets very hot here in summer. Sadly I can only let mine free range for a short time each day so they will be confined to their run (which fortunately has plenty of shade) - I'll definitely try the chook paddling pool idea.

  11. Your chickens are adorable. I miss having chickens and hope to get some more soon.


  12. We have so many tall trees our chickens are blessed with shade but we did install a'whirly-bird' fan for ventilation in the roof of our chicken coop... a tin shed which like the 'whirly-bird' was also recycled. It seems to work well in keeping the coop cool but we have caught a daring python squeezing between the blades! Our 'snake bin' (plastic rubbish bin with ventilation holes punched in the lid) is ready and waiting for all the summer carpet snake relocations... thank goodness for teenage sons!
    Have you ever heard of chickens scaling fences? We discovered their daring escape feat after countless searches for holes - they were not going under but over! Somehow my chooks have learned to climb the wire fence close to a post, they use their beak and claws. It is hilarious to watch the children say but I'm not impressed as they have destroyed my rhubarb patch! Any suggestions?

  13. Is Mother Martha a Buff Orpington? We had two of those "the color of a gold watch" long ago. I love chickens!

  14. Honestly Maybelline, chickens aren't much work if you do your research and preparation properly as Rhonda does. I tractor my chickens in autumn and spring (so no coop-cleaning, just feeding & watering) but in summer they free-range so they can find shade when they need it. Having them in a fixed run would be labour-intensive, I admit.

    Ann, you need to add a 'wobbly' fence of some kind to the top of your fencing -- chooks don't like standing on unstable things. But also consider whether they are bored.

  15. Rhonda,

    I do enjoy seing the photos of your chooks and reading about them. The new hand-raised girls will be great for cuddling.

    I'm sure Alice helps you keep an eye on them (please give her a pat from me). Hope lots of cherry tomato plants come up for Alice.

  16. Hi there Rhonday,
    as always, a good read today...interesting to know what others do for hot chooks!! I am in SA and have had some scorthing weather, but we hose down the dust baths holes, and spray the shed and run throughout the day as you suggested, so all in all, I think we have been doing the right thing..all my girls are off the lay at the moment, is it moulting season, or a reaction to the lengthy cold down here...??

  17. Lovely to hear about your beautiful chooks Rhonda, and thanks for sharing your chook keeping knowledge so generously. Chooks are the most wonderful pets - we love our two silkie chickens and look forward to exapanding our flock down the track to include two favorolles. Hope Quince and Quintin settle in well!

    Ally and Rich

  18. Rhonda -- We've been told by everyone who seems to know that it's difficult to introduce new chickens into an established brood, yet you seem to have done it effortlessly.

    We have eight birds (4 RI Reds, 4 Buff Orps), raised together since birth, but our coop and run have room for at least 20. This was going to be our 8-bird test flock, to see if we take to chickens and they to us, but we've lately considered adding more next spring.

    Since you seem to be the chook whisperer, I thought I'd ask whether you think that's a bad idea.

    (And I'm very much enjoying your blog ... our paths intersect at many points.)

  19. Hi Rhonda,

    I have previously posted on your blog on behalf of the RSPCA, and I hope it will be OK to do so again. I think our new campaign to protect the welfare of UK meat chickens may be of particular interest to you and many of your readers so I hope it is OK to contact you in a comment again.

    Right now the government is considering new EU legislation that may increase the number of chickens allowed in rearing sheds. More info is at http://bit.ly/quash.

    Thanks, and again, I hope it has been OK to contact you via your comments.

    Stefan, on behalf of the RSPCA

  20. I miss having chickies! We lived in hot, dry Austin, TX and kept chickens in our suburban back yard. My first day-olds were a Valentine's present!

    On those super hot days (110F=43c?), we'd put a five gallon bucket of ice out in the shade for them. They used to snuggle up next to it and on it. It was fun to watch!



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