How do you keep chicks cool when the heat index is 108ºF in the shade?
Earlier this week it was too cold to go swimming, and today the weather reports included warnings not to go outside in the afternoon sun — that’s Minnesota for you! Today was like walking into a bread proofing box: hot, moist, close. You sort of felt like your skin might start rising from your body just by stepping outside. But I can assure you, nobody was baking bread.
I was worried about the girls all day. Keeping chickens cool is actually harder than keeping them warm. They don’t have sweat glands and are surrounded by a billowy coat of downy feathers. When you see chickens start to pant like dogs you know they’re hot and desperately trying to cool off.
Luckily we have a lot of shade in our yard and they never ventured out of it. They spent most of their time under big-leafed plants and when they had to move they waddled slowly, never ran. If your chickens are in a sunny area you must immediately construct some type of shade using poles and canvas for an awning, or you run the risk of heat stress or death in this type of summer heat.
Water is all important and I kept changing the water making sure the hose ran cold before I refilled their bowls. I also placed several bowls in the shade where they hung out so they didn’t have to go into the warmer run where their main water bowl sits. The chicken expert Gail Damerow suggests adding electrolytes to their water to replace the electrolytes in their body. Check with your local chicken supplier if you’re interested. Ice cubes are another great idea and I’ll be filling their bowls with frozen cubes tomorrow as I head off to work. A nice mist of cool water is also appreciated, although mine were frightened as I tried to spray them and so kept running. If I lived in this type of climate as those of you in the South do, I’d hook up a type of cool mister that they could run under if they so desired. I might try to hook up something tomorrow before I leave, we’ll see.
Finally, I kept serving my girls cool treats throughout the day. Chickens lose their appetite as we all do from excessive heat so tempt them with fun treats that will help them eat. I thought of ice cream, but didn’t think that would be great for their diet so stuck with cold plain yogurt. They love yogurt and eagerly lapped up the yogurt I gave to them midday. I also gave them fruit, cold from the fridge. Watermelon and apples are favorites and they seemed to appreciate the cool delights.
My favorite meal during a heatwave like this is Gazpacho, the chilled Spanish soup of chopped vegetables in a tomato broth. It’s satisfying and oh so cooling. Tonight I decided to share some with the girls. They were so cute, they absolutely loved it! They eagerly lapped it up, grabbing at the vegetables and slurping the yogurt I garnished it with
You might want to try it yourself tomorrow and don’t forget to share some with your own chickens.
4 cups chopped tomatoes
2 cups water
1 cup peeled chopped cucumber
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
3/4 cup tomato juice
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 serrano chile, deveined and seeds removed, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs such as basil, tarragon and chives
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/8 teaspoon crushed saffron threads
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 medium garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Combine all the soup ingredients in a large bowl. Pulse half of the soup in a blender until finely chopped; combine with the remaining soup. Whisk together sauce ingredients. Chill until cold. Serve soup with the sauce.
4 (1 3/4 cup) servings