“If I had to pick between letting my flock be hot or cold, I would pick cold because heat stress is much harder on birds than cold stress,” said Susan Watkins professor and Arkansas Poultry Federation Chair of Poultry Science at the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service and Center of Excellence for Poultry Science.
Adjustments for the summer warm up should include a way for birds to keep cool. “Since birds have a feather coat and must pant – similar to a dog – when they become hot, they are not nearly as efficient in cooling themselves as other farm animals that can sweat,” Watkins said. “Therefore it really is important to be ready for hot weather if you have backyard flocks.”
Birds will need an opportunity for entering shady areas if birds have outside access, said Dr. Dan Shaw, DVM, Veterinary Pathologist at the University of Missouri Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Lab. Air movement should be maximized in poultry houses and the birds should have easy access to clean, fresh water.
Feed and water routines can be adjusted to the heat by encouraging birds to eat during the coolest part of the day. The hotter it is the less feed birds will want to eat. So if you are trying to keep your hens producing eggs, it is critical to provide a good nutritious diet for keeping them productive.
“Don’t skimp on feed quality in the summer because every bite counts when birds aren’t highly interested in eating much,” Watkins said. “Shell quality of eggs can get worse during the summer so make sure hens have access to good, quality grit. This will help keep shell quality good.”
“Warm temperatures speed up the growth of microorganisms that produce biofilm (slime) in watering equipment,” Shaw said. “This may require more frequent monitoring and cleaning of the watering system. Heat and humidity can damage vitamins and nutrients in feed. It may be advisable to buy feed in small enough quantities that it is used up fairly quickly. Alternatively, feed should be stored in cool dry conditions.”
Other health concerns include respiratory infections. “When the ambient temperature warms excessively young and adult birds may start to pant,” Shaw said. “When they pant the air is inhaled through the mouth, bypassing the filtration mechanisms of the upper respiratory tract. This can make the birds more susceptible to respiratory infections with bacteria such as E. coli or fungi such as Aspergillus sp.”
Other concerns include pests and predators. Pests such as scaly or red mites are more prevalent during the summer.
“If you see birds with a dirty looking area around their vent – which is on their back side under their tail – or if their legs become swollen and scaly, it could be mites which should be treated. To determine if it is mites, catch the birds if you can and check to see if there are tiny, black moving spots present.”
To confirm the type of and treat mites and other pests, producers should check with their local veterinarian or poultry specialists for recommendations.