Friday, September 7, 2012

Chickens Suffering Heat Prostration, What Can You Do?

Someone emailed me the other day about their little flock of chickens panting hard and basically looking miserable . . . they were at a loss, as they were supplying fresh water regularly. They understood that they could easily lose their pets to heat prostation. I'm repeating the info I gave them here in case it may be helpful.

For some areas, the heat may already be taming down; here in the Pacific Northwest where summer started late, it's up in the 80's during the peak hours (if you live where it's over a hundred, you're probably just shaking your head . . . but to us this is hot).

You probably already know that chickens don't sweat. Panting is how they cool themselves, while holding their wings out a little. If you see them panting fast, you'll want to act quickly using the steps below. Fresh water is a basic need, but there are a few other things you can do to save lives, too. The most important part of their body for cooling them is the skin under the wings.

  • Bring a bucket of water and a soft rag out to the chicken yard. Pick up one bird at a time and lift one of its wings at a time . . . inspect the skin under the wing to make sure it's clean and normal looking. Bathe that area with the cool water and let the wet cloth stay on the skin for a minute or two. Repeat on each side, three or four times.
  • Do this to each bird to alleviate their collective suffering, then, if they're continuing to pant heavily, you can actually dip each of them into the water, starting with their bottom half. Spread the water over them, leaving their heads out.
  • Bring a fan outside and hold each birds' wings out for a bit in front of it so they can enjoy the cooling effect. Sometimes I give my chickens some Gatorade to restore their balance of electrolytes.
  • Make sure your coop is well ventilated. Sometimes you may want to spray it with water (the roof, anyway) to further cool it off. Your chickens will be more comfortable out in their run, as long as it's safe from predators. Make sure they have some shade, too, even if you have to improvise by hanging blankets from tree-to-tree, using panels of plywood, or whatever you're able to come up with to provide them a space without sun glaring directly upon them.
Don't feed your flock during mid-day when it's hot. They won't feel like eating much then, anyway. Make sure they have an early morning feeding, then feed again late in the evening. Get rid of leftovers that have had time to mold. If you have some cold melons, or yogurt, though, (freeze some for them as a snack when it's hottest - they love that) and doubles as a cooling-off aid.

Hope this helps!

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