Summertime will naturally bring at least some very hot days and a fluctuation in temperature can take its toll on birds, writes Janice Houghton-Wallace. Extremely hot, humid days can result in heat stress and this can have a damaging effect on welfare and egg production.


Although the air temperature itself will be an obvious guide as to whether the birds may be suffering, their behaviour will also help to give an indication. Chickens do appreciate the sun and will sunbathe for short spells, laying sideways on the ground with a wing stretched out to soak up the rays. Apart from the birds simply enjoying the warmth, sunshine is important because along with ultra-violet light it helps the process of providing vitamin D in the body, which permits the proper development of bones. However, strong sunshine and a high temperature accompanied by high humidity can distress birds.

Panting is the first sign of trying to cope with heat. Birds lack sweat glands so the only methods of cooling the body that they have is to rapidly respire with open beaks, along with holding their wings loosely at their sides so that air may pass through.

Usually chickens will go under shade where the temperature can be several degrees cooler. If there is none, then erect an old sheet or even a patio parasol, anything to make a corner in which the sun is not allowed to beat down. Greenery is very cooling and if birds can lurk amongst tall plants, this will produce a mini climate. The shade from a leafy canopy and shrubs with a spreading habit provides the best environment and the foliage will also help to cool the air if there is even the hint of a slight breeze about.

Reduced egg production must be expected when the temperature soars. This will be partly due to energy being diverted in an attempt to keep the bird’s body cool but also, because it will probably not be eating as much as normal. To overcome this, feed them early in the morning before it gets really hot, followed by the grain feed when it cools in late afternoon. Any moisture containing food given as supplementary titbits will be very acceptable during hot sultry weather. Fruit, such as apples and plums will help the intake of water, as will green vegetables, sweet corn and water melon.


Poultry drink more in summer, so drinkers must be large enough to supply their needs until you can fill them again and place them in shade. In warm weather water can go stale very quickly and algae and bacteria will rapidly grow so drinkers should be cleaned daily and if it is very hot, the water should be changed twice daily. The domestic fowl is acutely sensitive to the temperature of water. Acceptability decreases as the temperature of the water increases above the ambient. Fowl will discriminate when there is a temperature difference of only 5 degrees F., rejecting the higher temperature. Chickens will suffer from acute thirst rather than drink water 10degrees F. above their body temperature. At the other extreme, the chicken will readily accept water down to freezing temperatures. Therefore, when filling any utensils from a tap, let the water run for a while until the fresh, cold water is flowing.


No matter what type of poultry housing you have every effort should be made to keep it as cool as possible so it is comfortable for the birds when they are shut in for the night. The temperature will rise quicker in smaller poultry houses as heat radiates from the roof more readily. Whatever the size of house increase the circulation of air and shade it if possible. In early evening, hose down the roof and sides of the house which will help reduce the temperature inside.

If birds get heat stress during the day, make sure they are in shade and use a sprayer to eject a mist over the heads and backs of the chickens. Repeat this if the temperature remains high. Only use a perfectly clean sprayer though, not one that has been used for insecticide.


By the time it reaches mid-summer with long hot days, inevitably hens will begin to go broody. If you leave them in housing with other birds they tend to not only sit on their own eggs but will gather any others laid around them and brood those as well. The danger here is that if this is not dealt with a broody can be sitting for so long that any original eggs can hatch out under eggs that still have several days to go and the chicks can be suffocated and die. That is why it is best to isolate a broody completely.

Sometimes, a chicken will lay her egg in a secret nest that she has found and likes, visiting it each day until she feels she has a large enough clutch to begin incubation. Then one evening, when it comes to shutting them up for the night, she will be missing and unless you know that one is still out, by morning the fox will have found her.


During hot weather protection from predators is vital, so don’t be tempted to leave the birds out overnight to enjoy the cool. It may seem kinder not to shut birds up on a hot night but it is far better than risk losing them to the fox, even if you have the benefit of electric fencing.

Finally, if you are buying chickens during the summer months make sure the transporting boxes have sufficient ventilation. Never leave boxed birds in a hot car and never place them in the boot of a car as this lacks ventilation. Place them on the back seat of your vehicle, open the windows slightly so that some air can circulate and provide them with drink as soon as they are in their new home.


This article was written exclusively for Smallholder magazine. For more expertise in poultry from Janice Houghton-Wallace, subscribe to the monthly magazine by calling 01778 392011 or emailing It is also available from newsagents.