Keeping your chickens healthy in summer means allowing them to enjoy warm sunny days without suffering from heat stress. This is of course in addition to normal husbandry, pest and predator protection.
Chickens reduce their body temperature by open-mouthed breathing. If, however this panting is prolonged it can actually result in more heat being produced than lost. This in turn leads to heat stress which can result in death. So, heat stress is definitely best avoided!
Signs of heat stress are excessive panting, loss of appetite, increased drinking and a fall in egg production. Birds will also stretch themselves out, akin to sunbathing whereas they are actually trying to increase their surface area to aid heat reduction.
To keep their body temperature down your flock will need an area of continual shade. Free range birds will find trees and shrubs to shelter under but those in fixed enclosures will need some help.
It is important that the birds have access to a constant supply of fresh water. In hot weather adding electrolytes to the water will help prevent dehydration.
Summer is also when red mite can be a real problem. These mites live in the hen-house, keeping hidden during the day. At night they emerge and climb onto the roosting birds to feed on their blood. Not only can this lead to acute anaemia but mites also spread disease. Don’t wait until you can actually see the mites on the birds. Instead regularly check cracks and crevasses in the hen house. There are plenty of products on the market for dealing with this nasty pest.
The longer days and hopefully good weather of summer will encourage free-range hens to wonder further afield then normal. Also, they may lay outside of the hen house so keep an eye out for stray eggs and try to find them before the crows. Laying eggs in strange places can be a sign of red mite in the hen-house.
Weather permitting summer is a great time to make necessary repairs to the house and or fencing
Your hens will appreciate fresh greens being added to their diet. Should you have a glut of tomatoes they are a definite chicken favourite!