Summer Hydration: Keep Your Hens Hydrated

With summer approaching its important to not only think about how we stay cool but also how we can make our chickens as comfortable as possible. While it might not be hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk (concrete gets hot but you’ll need some help from a magnifying glass or a mirror if you really want to fry an egg on the sidewalk) summer heat and humidity can be a real issue for your chicken’s welfare and health. Sometimes we have to re-remind ourselves of a basic nutritional fact: chickens like most animals can go weeks without food but only a few days (depending on the ambient temperature) without water. 

Even in less extreme cases, heat can mess with your chickens diet. For example, chickens that are hot will not eat their normal ration. Consequently, they will not get their normal ration and allotment of Calcium and Phosphorous which are essential for egg production. In addition, poor appetite can contribute to depressed growth and poor mineralization of bone resulting in bone disorders in both young and old birds. These type of metabolic “domino effects” are common and demonstrate the importance of how heat can cause seemingly unrelated problems in nutrition for example.

Keep your hens cool this summer with Hydro-Hen. Hydro-Hen contains probiotics, electrolytes, and acidifiers to provide hydration and gut health when your birds need it most.

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What is good quality water for chickens?

Water is a nutrient. In fact, many nutritionists would argue that water is the most important nutrient in our bodies.  No other substance is as widely involved in the make-up and physiology of the body.  In fact water makes up approximately 60-70% of all the tissues in the body.  The importance of having the proper amounts of water is so important that when you are only one-percent dehydrated your body tells you that you need water via your thirst response. 

While we all know that water is made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom there are several other minerals and salts that are dissolved in water including potassium chloride which is essential for normal physioloigical function.  This is one reason we should never drink distilled water regularly since distilled water is only H20 and does not contain salts such as sodium chloride.

 Many things can be in water that are undesirable including heavy metals, nitrates, bacteria, fungi and parasites.  Therefore, it is important to make sure you “know” what is in your water.  If you use municipal water that work has already been done for you by law assuming that water is used by 25 or more different residences.   However, if your water comes from a well or is surface water from a pond that work has not been done and it is recommended that you periodically have your water tested by a state certified laboratory.  In addition, ponds are habitat for different wildlife including waterfowl.  Waterfowl are known carriers of several diseases including Salmonella, Pasteurella and Avian Influenza.  If you see high loads of wildlife in the body of water that you are using as a source of water for your chickens you should probably find a different source of water for your chickens.


Why is water so important for chickens during summer?

Having access to clean cool water 100% of the time is essential for your birds overall health. This is especially true during the dog days’ of summer. Water intake increases by 2-3x during the summer months. One way to help our chickens stay cool is to supply them with cold water. Ingestion of cold water serves as a heat sink in the digestive track thereby lowering core body temp. Keeping the water cold can be as simple as putting ice cubes in the water daily. The benefits are numerous and pay dividends with respect to egg production as described above.


What are the best 'waterers' for chickens?

There are different types of waterers: plates, water bowl, water trough (linear or channel type), pipeline with nipples, drinkers, deep water pan with guard grill etc.  In general you can break all the types down to automatic versus manual fill. While the automatic are much more convenient, because of the importance of water, waterers’ even automatic ones should be checked daily.  For example the nipple watering system can freeze up or alternatively leak and cause many of the problems described below.

Think about where to place the waterers.  For example don’t place them under your roosts to avoid fecal contamination.  In addition, regardless of what watering system you choose the rims should be narrow enough to discourage perching on the system.  Clean your watering system often (at least 3-4x a week in order to inhibit bacterial and fungal growth).  Make sure you scrub all surfaces that come in contact with water and remove any litter or other material that is on or in the watering device.  Cleaning is the prerequisite of disinfection because the presence of organic matter reduces the action of the disinfectant.  Disinfection should be done every 6 months although if you have a nipple system with hoses you should flush out the nipples and hoses at least once a month.  There are several disinfectants you can use including bleach which should be made by adding 4 ounces of bleach to 1 gallon of water.   It is important to rinse the equipment thoroughly in order to remove any residues. 

Regardless of what watering system you use it is important to make sure that waterers and piping are not leaking.  Moisture content of poultry litter over 35% is considered bad and may lead to dermatitis of the foot pads, inflammation of the feather follicles (folliculitis) and proliferation of toxic fungi.  In addition oocysts of Eimeria (coccidia) require moisture levels in excess of 25% to mature and wet litter is often associated with outbreaks of coccidiosis. Necrotic enteritis (i.e. Clostridium perfringens) occurs frequently in houses with areas of wet litter due to the high level of the Clostridium bacteria that proliferate in the vegetative (i.e. infectious) form as opposed to the inert bacterial spore form.  In addition, the bacterial flora of damp litter favors the production of ammonia.  If levels exceed 50 ppm, keratitis (erosion of the cornea of the eye) and respiratory stress will occur. The ammonia production is not only a problem for your chickens but can also be an occupational hazard for you. Therefore, as part of your normal daily walk through check around the waterers for evidence of leaking and spillage remove the wet litter and fix the problem as soon as possible.  In extreme heat you can use water misters to keep the birds cooler but make sure the litter is not getting to moist to avoid the problems listed above.

Unlike feed where you want all the birds to have access to feed at the same time, you can have less space for waterers.  In general you want about 2 inches of space per bird around the waterer.  In the summer because of increased consumption it may be beneficial to have up to 50% more space.  From a husbandry and behavior perspective this can help reduce the overall stress of the flock.  

Brooding: chicks should get fresh water and an 8% sugar solution for the first 15 hours after the chicks are placed in the brooder.


Why is Humidity So Dangerous to Chickens?

Just a short note about humidity… It’s not just heat that can kill chickens but the combination of heat and humidity. The more humid it is the harder it is for you and your chickens to cool off. Because fogger systems add water to the air and therefore increase the humidity make sure you use a system that creates drops of water that periodically land on the bird and run they system periodically (maybe 20 min per hr). You basically want the swimming pool effect where you get cool water on the chicken’s body and then have good ventilation to facilitate evaporative cooling. If the misters are just increasing the humidity by making more water evaporate this is obviously counterproductive.


In summary, be aware of heat and humidity and plan accordingly. If you do the basics well such as providing clean cool water, and well-ventilated shade your birds can get through a heat wave.

Dr. Pitesky

Maurice Pitesky is an associate professor of cooperative extension at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine with an appointment in poultry health and food safety epidemiology.  Dr. Pitesky earned his BS in biology from UCLA, and his DVM and MPVM from UC Davis. Pitesky is also boarded in Preventative Veterinary Medicine (DACVPM).


Pitesky’s research interests are focused in four major areas:

1) Using “traditional” epidemiological techniques and cartography to understand how avian diseases move in time and space. 

2) Disease modeling of avian diseases

3) Understand the role of social media in promotion of best practices associated with backyard poultry and

4) Gaining a better understanding of small-scale poultry production with respect to environmental sustainability, poultry heath, and food safety.


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