If you live anywhere near central California, you know that summers can be extremely hot. We’ve been in triple digits for weeks at a time. This is not only hard on us, but it can be very hard on our animals. Here at Sunbird Farms (the “Sunbird” name wasn’t an accident), we have a wide variety of poultry, some well-adapted to warm climates, others that struggle in the unrelenting heat. Unfortunately we’ve had are share of casualties, losing birds to over-heating. This year we have been very fortunate and have not lost any birds even though we are experiencing record highs (108+) with little relief in sight. Here’s a list of things we’ve been doing to ease the strain on our birds. Hopefully it can help you too:
- Water: It probably goes without saying, but fresh, cool water is essential. We change water daily. The combination of sun and heat can cause all sorts of growth in your watering containers. Clean them out, fill them with fresh water, and even add frozen water bottles to keep your water cool. Your chickens will thank you.
- Shade: Another simple solution. The best shade comes from trees. They provide protection from the sun, a cooling effect on the air and soil, and make excellent retreats for chickens. We move all the birds we can under trees. The temperature in our orchard is typically 5+ degrees cooler than the surrounding air. If you don’t have access to enough trees, try building a portable shade structure. We have built something that looks like a giant t.v. tray. It folds for storage, and has a 4’x4′ plastic roof that sits about 3′ off the ground. We added a few cross members for roosting and place our waterers underneath as well. Its our “t.v. tree.”
- Water: Yes, we’re going back to water. In addition to providing clean drinking water, we soak the areas under the trees and shade structures early in the day before the temperature rises too high. As the water soaks in, it creates cool places for the chickens to scratch and bathe. The key is to do this in the cool of the day; you don’t want “steamed chicken.” Most soil is much cooler than the surrounding air. At 16″ of depth, the soil in our orchard is about 70 degrees on a 105 degree day. The moisture helps the chickens access this cooler temp.
- Circulation: All of our portable pens have tons of air circulation. When you combine this circulation with shade and moist soil, you get a “cool breeze” effect from any wind. It makes a real difference. If you don’t have any wind, and you don’t have chickens in several locations, a fan can help provide the breeze necessary.
- Water: Ok, we know we’re getting carried away, but this is another great use for water. Each night we freeze gallon-sized juice bottles full of water. At the hottest part of the day, we place these frozen bottles in the area where our chickens are resting. Within minutes all the birds will be huddled around this frozen mass, providing extra cooling to make it through peak temps.
Best of luck in this season of heat. We hope these tips are helpful. Stay cool!