June 10, 2023

Extension Notebook: Managing your poultry flock during hot weather

As the weather warms up this spring, it is important to prepare now for upcoming warm and hot weather. Poultry of all types are very susceptible to warm summertime temperatures and they have a difficult time coping with this hot weather. Heat stress complications in poultry tends to happen when the temperature gets to 85 degrees Farenheit and above.

Poultry can’t sweat to cool themselves like other animals. In order for birds to cool themselves, they need to pant. This action is exhibited by seeing them breathing very rapidly with their mouths open and taking in air which in turn helps them to maintain normal body temperature during periods of high temperatures. Basically, when birds pant they increase the flow of air through the trachea. Since the trachea is lined with moist secretions, the warm hot air passes by the moist linings of the trachea which tends to cool the incoming air, which allows them to dissipate body heat. This has an effect of keeping their body temperature from rising too much.

Another coping mechanism that birds do when it is hot, there is an increase in blood flow to their combs and wattles. This blood flow allows for the cooling of the head region. Hot summertime temperatures causes laying hens to decrease egg production and the eggs they do lay have thin shells, which can be easily cracked. In addition to hot temperatures affecting production and well-being, birds drink more water and thus have a tendency of producing wet droppings. Poultry respond to high temperatures by dissipating body heat from their wattles, shanks, and any unfeathered portions on their body.

During periods of hot weather, a bird’s normal behavior also changes. They reduce the amount of feed they eat, to limit the effect of energy consumption on maintaining body heat. Thus, this reduction in feed intake reduces the calcium needed for laying hens to produce strong egg shells and other nutrients needed to maintain good egg production and growth for meat birds.

In order to prepare for summer temperatures, it is very important to provide good ventilation inside the poultry house. If the birds are allowed to go outside, it is also a good thing to provide shade so they can get out of the warm and hot sunshine. Adequate water that is shaded is important, also. The purpose of a good ventilation system in the building is to cool the birds by increasing air flow around them. In addition to this, shade from a tree near the building can also help. It is important to keep a reliable, clean, cool source of water for the birds. For laying hens, it is important to provide adequate ventilation and air circulation near the nest boxes. The importance of proper hot weather management should not be overlooked.

Ken W. Koelkebeck is professor emeritus, Department of Animal Sciences, University of Illinois.