Summer has arrived in Southern Africa and the temperatures are soaring. This can lead to high levels of discomfort, not only for humans, but also for animals and poultry in particular. When temperatures are too high, poultry can suffer from a condition called heat stress.
This can cause fatalities, reduced growth, and poor egg quality. Every farmer, especially emerging and small-scale farmers, should know how to identify, prevent, and treat heat stress.
Farmers should closely monitor their poultry for any signs that might indicate heat stress. These include:
• Heavy breathing / difficult breathing
• Pale combs / wattles
• Lifting wings away from body
Prevention is always better than cure. Most of the risks of heat stress can be prevented when planning to build the chicken coup. By paying special attention to certain aspects in and around the chicken coup you can ensure that your chickens will remain cool and calm throughout the summer.
Build your chicken coup in a place where there will be shade during the day, especially in the afternoon when temperatures reach their peak. If you cannot use buildings or trees to provide shade, you should consider building a shade net structure to keep the coup out of direct sunlight.
Chicken coups should be well ventilated in summer and well insulated in winter. This presents a challenge. Farmers usually build screens on the sides of the coups that can be closed at night or during colder conditions and opened during the day. This will ensure that there is enough movement in the air to keep the chickens cool and comfortable.
It is vital to not overcrowd the chicken coup. Chickens, like humans, give off body heat and just as you can become hot and irritable in an overcrowded place, so can the chickens. According to an American forum, the recommended space per chicken is 4 square feet, or in local terms, you can keep three chickens for every square metre in the chicken coup.
The availability of clean, cool drinking water throughout the day is vital to prevent heat stress. Farmers that have access to sufficient water can also install misting systems in the coups to keep the chickens cool. Just be careful not to make the chickens and the bedding too wet, as this can have a negative impact on the health of the birds.
Should you find that some of the chickens are showing symptoms of heat stress, the best way to treat this is by supplementing their intake of electrolytes. When the chickens overheat, their bodies lose electrolytes and dehydration sets in. A good tip is to mix electrolyte additives that are usually sold in a soluble powder with water and to freeze this mixture in ice cube trays. These ice cubes can then be added to the chicken’s drinking water to serve a dual purpose: It will provide extra electrolytes and keep the chickens’ drinking water cooler.
It always pays to be proactive. Keep an eye on the weather forecast and add the electrolytes to the drinking water when you know it is going to be a hot day. Another helpful tip is to feed the chickens during cooler times of the day. Digestion creates body heat, so it would be best to feed the chickens early in the morning or late in the afternoons.
Keep the chickens safe and calm during hot periods. Do not let children or other animals like dogs chase them. This will add to their stress and generate more body heat, which can cause them to die.