Emergencies/Illness Health Issues Physiology

Dealing With Heat Stress

I’ve had several Standard Poodles: Simon loved to sleep by the wood stove getting as close as he could; Lola, on the other hand, seems to suffer from the heat. I try to keep her hair clipped in the summer so she doesn’t get too hot. If she does, she pants copiously and that’s because dogs don’t sweat. They regulate their temperature through their ears and feet and by panting.

Lola can jump in her kiddie pool or go for a swim to cool down, but most chickens don’t like water. The main way they cool their bodies is by panting, enabling the moisture in their lungs to evaporate and dissipate heat. This practice can be time-consuming and requires more energy than sweating. Eventually, without relief from the heat, birds will often tire with heat exhaustion.

High temperatures, especially when combined with high relative humidity and low air speed cause heat stress. Other factors that increase birds’ vulnerability include: older birds; heavy breeds; broilers; genetics; feather cover; heat intolerance; drinking water temperature and availability.

Symptoms:

  • Laboured breathing
  • Pale comb/wattles
  • Lifting wings away from body
  • Lethargy
  • Reduced growth rates in chicks
  • Impacts on egg production (e.g. fewer eggs; smaller eggs; thinner shells; pullets lay later and lay fewer eggs)
  • Loss of appetite: At 28ºC, feed intake decreases by 12%. For every degree above 32ºC feed intake is reduced by 5%.
  • Increase in water intake by 4% for every 0.5ºC above 21ºC.
  • Health impacts: Metabolic (serious acid-base balance disorders, ascites), digestive (diarrhea), skeletal (bone problems due to metabolic imbalance) and respiratory disorders.
  • Rise in stress-related behaviours, like pecking and cannibalism.
  • Reduced fertility is reduced, due to less mating, poorer semen quality and female infertility.
  • Seizures/convulsions
  • Death

Prevention

  • Ensure your flock always has access to clean, cool water. They can easily get dehydrated in hot weather.
  • Provide protection from the sun (i.e. covered areas and trees for shade, misters).
  • Avoid overcrowding. Chickens have a body temperature of 107°F and produce lots of heat when kept in close proximity.
  • Adequate ventilation: opening windows, roof vents and fans.
  • Paint your coop a light colour and use a metal roof that deflects the heat.
  • Feed during the cooler times of the day. Digestion generates heat and birds are less likely to eat when it is hot.
  • Avoid high protein foods and the use of apple cider vinegar in hot weather as both increase metabolism. ACV given when it’s above 30c/86f increases the risk of contracting acidosis.
  • Avoid stress.

Treatment

Heat stress can deplete a chicken’s electrolytes – minerals found in blood, urine, tissues, and other bodily fluids that help balance the amount of water in the body.

Treatments through drinking water are more effective than through feed because during hot periods birds eat less but don’t reduce their water intake. You can purchase water-soluble electrolyte powder, or make your own, that can be given to help restore lost electrolytes. They also increase your bird’s water intake, which is another benefit when trying to help them cool off.

 You can freeze electrolytes in ice cube trays and add them to their drinking water, when needed, as further way to cool them down.

Credit Featured Image: Karnotech

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