Thursday our heat index was 108*! The "heat index" is what the temperature feels like if you combine the actual temperature and the humidity. Its like a steam bath out there. And if you think its bad for you - well, your barnyard is getting the worst of it. This extreme heat can be deadly, especially for poultry. So what can you do? The best advice is to give your critters the tools they need and then just let them deal with it.
Extreme hot weather care is pretty much the opposite of extreme cold weather care that we talked about here.
Here is how we handle the heat:
1. Get everyone up and out - EARLY - and get them in a breeze.
2. Water, water, water.
3. Provide "cool spots."
4. Keep the doors open as long as you can.
Our birds mostly free range and they have a lot of chickening around to do. Normally I try and wait until 8am to let the loudest of our birds (the guineas and the geese) out of their buildings. But sorry, neighbors, the dogs and I are out there at first light getting everyone up and outside. This lets your flocks take advantage of the coolest part of the day to forage around. They are pretty lively until the sun gets stronger - then they tend to just hide out in the shade in the heat.
Luckily we have a lot of pine trees which provide a lot of shade. And either by design or just plain luck, there are a lot of leafy trees around our hen house - so our building is as shaded as it can be. Conversely in the winter this works also - without the leaves the hen house gets a lot of sun. See? Passive solar totally works!
If your hen house or run isn't shaded - make some. Set up tables, tarps or whatever you can find so your birds can get some relief. If the heat really starts cranking then consider hosing off the hen house roof. This will cool it a bit. And make sure you have as much ventilation as possible thru your building. We run a fan constantly - even if most of the birds are outside. You can even make a swamp cooler by putting a cold bucket of water in front of the fan (but make sure the fan is secure - for heavens sakes don't cause an electrical problem and burn down your hen house on the hottest day!).
Your birds will pant in the heat - its OK as long as they don't have other signs of heat stress.
I also hose down a portion of the grass in the hen yard. The hens will initially run from you if you have a hose... but they'll come back around. I also spray down the tree branches in the hen yard so they continue to drip for a while.
I make the goats get up and get out of the goat house. They have a bit of a breeze outside and it feels cooler to me. I also take them around to their water buckets. But you know how that goes, sometimes you can lead a goat to water but.. you know, mostly they just stand there and look at you like you are out of your mind.
Generally goats dont like to be wet even if its hot, so I don't advocate hosing them down unless they appear to be in distress. Mostly you want to keep them as calm as possible during the heat. No running or chasing - so be extra sure that your gates are closed and your latches are locked - a hot day is not the time for a stray dog (or your dog!) to be chasing the livestock. Some folks run big fans in their goat barns. But ours isn't really set up for that which is another reason why I take the goats outside.
On the hottest days I fill and refill everyone's water buckets about 4 times, in addition to normal chores. Since the hens like to chase things that move I like to run the buckets over with water. This creates a little stream and the hens come running to see what's going on. Of course if I just put some water in a bucket in the yard they'd probably just ignore it - so playing this "running water" game kinda works.
It took about 12 seconds to muddy the fresh water in their pool - they love it!
The geese and the ducks all have access to either a kiddie pool or a big tub with water. And water buckets set up around their yards. And I run the water on their grass as well. The runner ducks had the best day of their whole ducky lives playing in the pool. Between all the water, the pool, and the shade they were cool as cucumbers and twice as happy.
I try to set up "cool spots" around each of the yards. Sometimes its running the sprinkler, or just wetting down the grass, or making a "swamp cooler." You can even put out jugs of frozen water either in front of a fan or just around the yard - your birds will come and sit by them to cool off. Frozen veggies or fruit are good treats on a hot day.
On hot days we are in no hurry to get anyone inside and bedded down for the night. As the sun sets they all tend to take advantage of the cool and are more active. We wait until the last possible second to get the last straggler in and locked up for the nite. The risk with this is the same with the early morning release... many predators hunt at dawn and dusk (which is why we usually get everyone in an hour before sunset). But desperate times call for desperate measures. And we tend to wander outside with the dogs anyway so we keep a close eye out. Even on hot nites we close up all our doors. We run the fans, hose down the houses, and close the doors just as its really getting dark.
Then there are the pigz. We intentionally run our pigz in the deepest part of The Impenetrable Forest. Truth be told, they probably have it the best out of all our barnyard people. They have deep shade, a huge wallow, and yours truly going down there 2 or 3 times a day to hose them off. Yep. I'm a personal hog sprinkler. Actually they love it. I call them round (pig pig pig!) and they come running, happy as can be...then stand there soakin' up the lovin' as I hose them off.
Some old timers caution about hosing off your hogs - but as long as you don't shock them with too-cold-water you should be fine. And I know you followed my advice about putting them as far away as possible from the house. So you should have a good, long hose to run a lot of water out of before it gets too cold.
Remember that pigz don't cool themselves like we do - so be sure they have access to either a kiddie pool (honestly I cant see how this could work but some folks do it) or a wallow which is really just a big mud pit. They will create their own, given the chance. But all you really need to do is run the hose in one spot for a while and they will find it.
What if one of your barnyard buddies gets over heated? Resist the temptation to bring them inside into the air conditioning. But get them to the coolest spot you have - say a garage, in the darkest shade, or in wet grass. Give plenty of water. If things look grim, hose them down - or wipe them down with wet towels. Some people say to give gatorade, pedialyte, or flavored drinks to encourage them to drink. See if you can get a fan going on them or into a breeze. Sometimes despite best efforts you can have a loss. These things happen and sometimes there isn't anything you can do. Take special notice of older hens, younger chicks, or anyone else that's vulnerable.
And don't forget yourself! Keep hydrated, don't forget to eat regularly, wear a hat, and for heaven's sakes come in if you show any of the heat-related illness signs. I like to take water outside with me so I don't have to tromp all the way back to the house - and its easier than going between the hot hot hot outside to the cool air conditioned house (we keep our ac at 76* but it felts like a meat locker on the hottest days).
Last - look up. Don't forget to keep a weather eye on the sky! "Pop up" storms are common with this kind of heat. One minute its sunny skies - the next you're running from lightening strikes with a chicken under each arm. Afternoons are typically when these storms form up - the other day one came on so quickly I barely got everyone run inside before the torrential rain and 40mph wind gusts started.
So now is everyone ready for another hot day in the heat dome? Whatcha think - anyone else have hot weather tips?