Heat stress in chickens is one of the major factors in illness, death and egg production failures. Chickens can cope very well in temperatures just over zero degrees centigrade, however, adding chickens to heat is a whole new ball game.
Why is a bit of heat a problem?
- Chickens are covered in their own feather duvet
- Their natural temperature is 41 degrees C
- They cannot sweat to cool down
Heat stress can result in collapse, lack of eggs, stress related moult, neurological issues, organ failure, and death. It can happen suddenly which leaves you the keeper wondering why on earth it has happened.
Symptoms of heat stress
The danger period happens once the temperature rises to above 22 degrees C and above. It is worse on days when there is no wind. If you spot any of the symptoms below then you need to act VERY quickly
- The birds will start to seek out shade.
- They will start to hold their wings away from their bodies if they are too hot to lose heat
- Chickens will start to pant.
- Slow panting at first, followed by quick panting and throat fluttering as the risk increases.
- Chickens may start to show neurological symptoms such as throwing their heads back or circling
- They could go off their legs all of a sudden
- Egg production will reduce or cease entirely
- You may see an abnormal amount of feather loss in chickens, usually around the neck or crop area.
Fast panting sets off a dangerous chain reaction. It changes the chemical composition in the body and respiratory system which in turn puts pressure on organs such as the brain and kidneys. Heat stress is cumulative, which means the problems build up over time, getting ever serious.
The Solution to heat stress in chickens
Electrolytes are extremely important to supplement in the water when the temperature gets over 22C which assists the birds with replacing lost vital salts. A poultry supplement such as “Solulyte” which is designed to combat heat stress is essential. It is wise to have this on standby for the summer. I have linked to a website, but there are many suppliers who do the same product with varying sizes etc. Supplementing with Solulyte will save the life and health of your chickens during prolonged heatwave situations. Alternatively you can Google a recipe for poultry electrolytes for a home-made fix. You may need to keep the bird cool and encourage them to drink by dipping their beak. Neurological or collapse symptoms will mean they are confused and may become unresponsive, so they need assistance to drink.
Homemade Electrolyte Recipe for chickens
- 4.5 Litres of water (1 gallon)
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- 1 teaspoon of baking soda/bicarbonate of soda
- 1 teaspoon of salt (sea salt preferably)
- Splash of orange juice (optional for vitamin C or crush a vitamin C tablet)
Mix together and then serve to your chickens.
Don’t use this if there is no danger of heat stress. Chickens will pant when they are heat stressed. YOUR BIRDS SHOULD NOT HAVE SALT OR SUGAR IN THEIR WATER UNDER NORMAL CONDITIONS.