Heat Stress and How to Help Your Chickens Avoid It

Esther, Jersey Giant hen, enjoying cool summer melon and lettuce.

Heat Stress and how to Help your Chickens

It’s that time of year for us here in the Mid-Atlantic, but we know that parts of the US south and west have already been dealing with terrible heat spells. We’re going to share some of the best ways to prepare and things to put in place to keep your chickens as comfortable as possible and help decrease your stress and worry.

Believe it or not, sustained temperatures starting at 80F and upward can be enough to induce heat stress in birds that are not acclimated to it. It’s very important to keep a close eye on your flock, but also prepare in advance for high heat spells. Sometimes a chicken that seems fine can be overcome by the heat, causing collapse and death very quickly.

We talk about strategies for helping your flock beat the summer heat on Episode 137 of our podcast.

A chicken who is experiencing heat stress will hold her wings out from her body in an attempt to cool herself. They may breathe with their mouths open, trying to relieve excess heat through panting. Chickens don’t have sweat glands, so they reply on panting and releasing heat through their combs and wattles, the bigger the better. A chicken whose comb and wattles have gone pale, whose body is heaving while she pants heavily, or who is staggering or looks about to collapse is in danger and needs to be cooled off right away. Get her into deep shade, dip her feet in cool water, and offer her cool drinking water with electrolytes. Move her indoors if necessary.

Studies have found that high temperatures can harm chickens in a variety of ways. They can cause them to lose electrolytes and/or become dehydrated. This can cause dangerous pH changes in their bodies – too acidic or too alkaline – that can ultimately lead to organ failure. Heat can also cause oxidative stress in the chicken’s body, where there are too many free radical cells and not enough antioxidants to get rid of them.

Any chicken can succumb to heat stress or stroke, but especially big-bodied, fluffy birds, and those with small combs and wattles. Bantams, Mediterranean birds, and birds with big combs and wattles fare better, but don’t assume it can’t happen to them too.

First, and most important is shade. Chickens must have shade and plenty of it. Keep feeders and drinkers in the shade too. A hot chicken won’t drink hot water. Shade also keeps dirt cool and gives your chickens a place to dig into and lie down.

You’ll want a constant supply of water in the shade for your flock to drink. You can add ice or frozen water bottles to it. You can dip the feet of hot birds into shallow pans of water to help cool them. Feet only. Do not get their feathers wet or dunk their whole body. This can steam them!

Electrolytes become crucial in hot weather. There are several excellent commercial formulations on the market, some of them very low cost. Our favorites are Strong Animals Chicken Essentials Flock Fixer (they also offer single use envelopes of electrolytes,) Rooster Booster Vitamins and Electrolytes, and Sav-A-Chick Electrolytes (single use envelopes that cost only a couple of dollars.) Follow instructions and do not overuse! They can save your bird, but they can also be harmful if used at too strong a dose or used too long. Also, don’t withhold regular feed!

You can also DIY your electrolytes. Lisa Steele has a great recipe. Adding natural sources of electrolytes and water, like watermelon and cantaloupe melons, is also a great idea. For snacks, switch to greens and finely chopped grapes or apples and cut out scratch grains.

We highly recommend using fans in coops. Air circulating will help cool the coop and will pull hot air away from the chickens. Without fans, their coops can become hot boxes. Ice packs work well in insulated plastic coops. Small window fans also work well, use bigger fans or multiple fans in bigger coops. Many of the small fans are available with rechargeable batteries. Keep the air moving!

We mentioned using ice packs to cool plastic coops, but you can also float ice or frozen bottles in water bowls and drinkers.

There are a couple of other things you can do to help your flock deal with hot weather. Neutralize bullying, even if it means taking out troublemakers and putting them into very cool and shady time-out spots. We also recommend that you put off non-essential health care or maintenance, and don’t let kids or dogs chase or bother the chickens.

If you must bring a chicken into AC, keep her there until temps have gone down for several days. You often hear the myth that chickens will die if they have coop heat that loses power. That isn’t true, but the opposite is true. Several studies have found that a cool chicken going suddenly into extreme heat cannot acclimate and may die from the effects of the high temperatures.


Lin, Hai, Eddy Decuypere, and Johan Buyse. “Acute heat stress induces oxidative stress in broiler chickens.” Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A: Molecular & Integrative Physiology 144.1 (2006): 11-17.

Saki, Ali Asghar, et al. “The effects of protein, amino acid, and dietary electrolyte balance on broiler chicken performance and blood parameters under heat stress.” Acta Scientiarum. Animal Sciences 38 (2016): 285-292.

Ait-Boulahsen, A., J. D. Garlich, and F. W. Edens. “Effect of fasting and acute heat stress on body temperature, blood acid-base and electrolyte status in chickens.” Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology–Part A: Physiology 94.4 (1989): 683-687.

Ahmad, T., and M. Sarwar. “Dietary electrolyte balance: implications in heat stressed broilers.” World’s Poultry Science Journal 62.4 (2006): 638-653.

Lin, Hai, Eddy Decuypere, and Johan Buyse. “Acute heat stress induces oxidative stress in broiler chickens.” Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A: Molecular & Integrative Physiology 144.1 (2006): 11-17.

Goel, Akshat. “Heat stress management in poultry.” Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition 105.6 (2021): 1136-1145.

%d bloggers like this: