June 2015
Farm & Field

Avoid Heat Stress in Your Backyard Flock

 
  Panting and the spreading of wings like this are symptoms of heat stress in chickens. This bird is actively trying to cool itself.

Heat stress is one of the leading causes of chicken deaths and can be a huge issue for backyard flock owners, especially new owners. It is important to recognize the symptoms of heat stress and take action quickly to keep your chickens healthy and happy.

Because birds cannot sweat, they have a difficult time keeping themselves cool. Birds instead rely on panting. Increased panting in laying hens causes an imbalance in blood pH that in turn decreases blood calcium and bicarbonate levels resulting in thin-shelled eggs. Additionally, a majority of egg content is water, so laying hens need to be kept well-hydrated. Heat stress can cause layers to stop laying altogether. Heat stress also results in reduced feed intake, weight loss and sometimes even death.

Signs of heat stress in birds

- Gasping and panting

- Spreading wings

- Lethargy

- Extremely pale combs and wattles

- Reduced egg size, weight and shell quality

- Decreased appetite

TIPS FOR COMBATING HEAT STRESS:

- Provide clean, cool water at all times. Birds can drink up to five times the water that they would under temperate conditions. Also, make sure there are enough watering stations so all birds have free access to water, regardless of their position in the pecking order.

- Be sure to give birds access to shade. Position chicken tractors and coops accordingly. Provide temporary shade if necessary.

- Don’t overcrowd birds. Reduce the number of birds kept in an individual house or area. By reducing the number of birds, you will reduce the amount of body heat produced.If practical, install a fan or mister, especially during times of highest heat and humidity.

- Avoid excessive activity during the hottest part of the day. Do not collect eggs or otherwise disturb them during this time.

- Feed early in the morning during the coolest part of the day. The act of digestion produces heat.

- Provide refrigerated or frozen fruits and vegetables as a refreshing treat to help them reduce internal body temps.

- Supplement electrolytes to make up for losses from panting, increased urine output and reduced feed intake. You can add electrolytes to their drinking water. Another source of electrolytes is the SWEETLIX Farm Flock Supplement Block.

 

- Weight loss

- Lowered resistance to disease

- Increased cannibalism

- Increased mortality

Keeping birds comfortable is essential for maintaining healthy, productive birds and preventing excessive mortality in your flock. Keep in mind your biggest, most productive birds are often at greatest risk for heat stress. The normal body temperature of a bird is 106 degrees. If internal body temperature reaches 113-117 degrees, death from heart failure is a danger. Birds are most comfortable in temperatures of 50-68 degrees and are most productive in this temperature range. Birds can do well up to temperatures around 80 degrees, but, above this, heat stress symptoms can begin to appear, especially if weather conditions change rapidly. Proper ventilation in your coop is especially critical during high heat and humidity. Consult with your local cooperative Extension agent or research online to find the proper fan size for your square footage and bird stocking rate. Realize the temperature in your coop or penned area may be different than ambient temperature due to bird density, radiant heat, etc., so be sure to take temperature readings at bird level. For the most part, use common sense steps in keeping birds hydrated and cool.

The SWEETLIX Farm Flock Supplement Block is a highly concentrated supplement that will help deliver essential electrolytes to birds in addition to missing protein and energy due to decreased overall feed intake. The SWEETLIX Farm Flock Supplement Block also delivers minerals and vitamins needed by birds to help combat the negative effects caused by stress on immunity and production. Because these convenient blocks are available 24/7, birds can access them at night during cooler periods when eating is more comfortable. Also the distraction of pecking at the individual whole grains in the block can help keep birds occupied and lessen the incidence of cannibalism and aggressive pecking caused by stress.

In summary, heat stress is a very real danger for backyard chickens and other poultry, especially during sudden heat waves. Be vigilant for the signs of heat stress and follow proper management techniques to help birds maintain their body temperature and minimize stress. SWEETLIX Farm Flock Supplement Blocks can be a part of your overall management plan to keep birds fortified nutritionally and keeping them occupied so as to not turn on each other in stressful periods. For more information, visit your local Quality Co-op or www.sweetlix.com.

Jackie Nix is an animal nutritionist with Ridley Block Operations (www.sweetlix.com). You can contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 1-800-325-1486 for questions or to learn more about SWEETLIX mineral and protein supplements for cattle, goats, horses, sheep and wildlife. References available upon request.