Much of North America is dealing with unprecedented heat waves the last couple of weeks. I’m bracing for what is predicted to be a scorching week with temperatures reaching 39C/102F. I live on a small island in the Pacific Northwest where, fortunately, our weather is mitigated by forests and ocean breezes. The human population can deal with dehydration and heat stress by going indoors to fans and air conditioners, drinking plenty of water and avoiding physical activity. Chickens aren’t always so lucky.
It’s important to factor weather impacts in your coop design so your flock doesn’t get overheated. My birds are housed within a 30’x40’ fenced enclosure with several fruit trees and covered areas for shade. They have access to fresh water and their coop has four opening windows.
Chickens are better suited to dealing with colder temperatures than with hot ones, which can lead to heat stress and death. One of the most simple, but critical components of a good chicken first aid kit are electrolytes, which can be used to support your entire flock, or to treat an isolated bird in a sick bay. Electrolytes help the body cope with dehydration by replacing particular minerals required by cells and organs to function.
Electrolytes are chemicals that separate, when dissolved in fluids, into electrically charged particles (ions) vital for the function of nerves and muscles. Positively charged electrolytes are sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Negatively charged electrolytes include chloride, phosphate, sulfate, and bicarbonate.
Function Of Electrolytes:
- Regulate fluid levels in blood plasma and the body
- Keep the blood pH level (acid/alkaline) balanced
- Transmit nerve signals from heart, muscle and nerve cells to other cells
- Help blood to clot and the formation of new tissue
- Regulation of acid-base balance by maintaining the blood pH in a range of 7.35-7.45
- Facilitate enzyme reactions
The most important electrolytes are sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphate.
- Chloride: works closely with sodium
- Sodium: causes water to move inside cells
- Potassium: works with sodium to maintain water balance and acid-base; works with calcium to regulate muscle and nerve activity
- Calcium: helps regulate cell function, heart rate, and blood clotting
- Magnesium: important for enzyme reactions
- Phosphate: helps build/repair bones; stores energy; contracts muscles; and enables nerve function
Causes of Imbalance:
- Heat stress and hyperventilation (panting) due to high temperatures and high humidity
- Fluid loss due to persistent diarrhea (e.g. pasty butt, coccidiosis)
- Decreased water and food intake
- Higher-than-normal blood pH
When To Use:
Natural Sources of Electrolytes
- Unsweetened coconut water
- Bananas (potassium), watermelon, strawberries, oranges
There are a number of commercial products that you can keep on hand, including Hydro Hen, Sav-A-Chick and Rooster Booster. Pedialyte and Gatorade can be used in a pinch, but they also contain ingredients that aren’t good for chickens (i.e. too much sugar, colouring and flavouring).
I got a can of unsweetened coconut water to sample when I was writing this. I often use coconut milk in cooking and was expecting a drink with that recognizable flavour. Unfortunately it tasted more like grass-clippings water. Good news is my chickens loved it.
Electrolytes are easy to make at home with items you already have in your pantry.
- 1 cup water
- 2 tsp. white sugar
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 1/8 tsp. baking soda
- Mix well until all ingredients are dissolved
- Administer to chicks by dipping their beaks in solution or from a spoon
- Give as only source of drinking water for birds in distress, otherwise provide an additional source of fresh water
- Freeze in ice cube trays and add to your flock’s water
- Offer only as needed, 4-6 hrs/day, up to 5 days maximum
Credits: Engormix (Sudipto Haldar); HealthLine; Roswell Park Cancer Centre. Featured Photo: Raising Chickens As Pets