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Animal Care: Summer Chook Care

Clockwise from top left: Allowing chickens to forage in an orchard gives them plenty of shade in summer; A rooster drinking from an automatic water trough; Permanent shade in the chook run allows for shelter from the sun and rain. Photos by Robyn Rosenfeldt

The most critical considerations when looking after your flock over the coming summer months are the provision of shade and cool water. It’s also a good idea to keep your chickens’ stress levels as low as possible and avoid handling them.

The Summer Hen House

The chicken house should mimic the forest as a safe and social resting place. Whether you have their coop (or tractor) placed in an orchard or a quiet corner of the backyard, in the height of summer special care of your flock is needed.

Chickens cannot sweat, so create good shade and a place for them to dust bathe. Dust helps them to cool and cleanse at the same time. Watch for signs of heat stress: walking around with their beaks open, holding their wings open away from their body, or lying on the ground with their wings open. Put up beach umbrellas for extra solid shade in the midday sun.

Water In Summer

Chickens won’t drink warm water, so keep water in the shade and add a frozen drink bottle to cool the water on extreme days. If water is readily available, hose down the leaves of shade trees to keep an area damp and cool underneath, or install a spray mister for use during the hottest part of the day.

Give Them Space

Chickens are affected by overcrowding, so allow plenty of room in their coop. Their social etiquette requires room for them to run around and to flap their wings. As a minimum, allow one square metre of perch space per four chooks, and at least two square metres per chook for their outside day run. This provides space for dust baths, escape routes, roosters crowing and a sunny spot to rest together.

Keep the roosting area well ventilated. Nesting materials should not be hollow stemmed, because they provide a mite habitat inside the stem. Pine needles, many native grasses, shredded paper or wood shavings are best.

What To Feed Your Chooks

Chickens will not eat much in the heat of the day because digestion heats them up, so make feed available at either end of the day. In the height of summer, they will love frozen food scraps and cold watermelon.

Chickens value a varied diet. Fresh green pick is essential. Grass clippings, sprouts, weeds and harvested leafy greens each day keep their digestive system healthy, their yolks yellow and, if you are eating them, gives their meat local flavours. Protein can include mealworms, meat scraps, garden worms and maggots. Keep logs and rocks in the day run where they can scratch for treats.

Chickens can draw calcium out of their bones to make eggs, so during laying season your girls need a calcium boost. Dry your egg shells over the week, pulverise in a blender and place in a feed container.

Flock And Coop Maintenance

On each full moon, service the flock and the coop. Scrape perches and nesting boxes clean, then scrub with a 10:1 water:vinegar solution. Replace nesting materials and add aromatic herbs like rosemary, lavender and oregano to repel mites. On the same night, sneak in and paint your chooks’ legs with cooking oil to smother any leg mites.

A supplement on the full moon will give them a boost of nutrients and probiotics for gut health and vitality. Add ingredients to their food such as apple cider vinegar, sulphur and garlic, which will exude from the skin to deter lice and mites, and prevent intestinal worms.

Keep An Eye On Your Flock

Take time to sit and watch your flock. Apart from being a calming and entertaining thing to do, you’ll notice flock dynamics and warning signs of health problems. So grab your cup of tea, sit down and take pleasure in your chooks.

Cheryl Nelson is a hen health specialist who produces a monthly chicken supplement and runs

Want to know more about backyard chickens?

We’ve got loads of great content about keeping backyard chickens. 

Issue #7 of Pip Magazine is our dedicated “chicken” issue, with articles on:

You can access these articles online here as part of our digital subscription offering. 

Also check out our article on designing chickens into the vegie garden from Issue #6 of Pip here.

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