Dealing with hot summer temperatures is inevitable for your layer operation, and being unprepared to handle it could result in poor layer production and increased mortality. So, what can you do to manage heat stress properly?
Understanding a few simple details is a great place to start. Since birds don’t have sweat glands and have complete feather coverage on their bodies their most comfortable climate is between 64ºF and 75ºF. When the temperature rises above 75ºF, they fail to keep their average internal body temperature around 106ºF. When their body temperature starts to increase, you will see panting, prostration, a drop in feed consumption, and even death.
There are four main areas you can focus on to make sure your birds are living in the most comfortable conditions. These areas are:
- Stress Management
Let’s take a look at some practical management details that will keep your production high during the summer heat.
You should provide three to four times the average daily amount of water during hot weather as compared to cold weather to ensure they always have cool, fresh water available. To bring down their body temperature chickens pant, which can quickly lead to dehydration. The water should be supplemented with 0.2% salt and electrolytes to help maintain the birds’ electrolyte balance and stimulate water consumption. Conduct flush-outs throughout the day to slow down any heating of standing water.
A layer hens’ feed intake drops typically during the hot summer months, so feed them with supplemented diets to help keep egg production high. In terms of fat calories, layers prefer high energy and low protein diets with balanced amino acids. Fat calories should be the key when supplementing feed for energy.
Keep in mind the following:
- Replace 10-15% of feed energy usually supplied by carbohydrates and proteins with 1-2% vegetable oil/fats.
- Increase the calcium intake and replace salt in the diet to help maintain eggshell quality.
- Supplement feed intake with natural additives such Nutri-Zyme. This blend of essential vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and amino acids, can positively affect digestive function in the gut and can help alleviate stress caused by heat.
- Early morning and midday feeding times work best and it helps to dim the lights while feeding to reduce heat load and physical activity. The birds will have a tendency to wet the feed with their saliva which can lead to caking and possible mold in the feeder creating more production losses. Utilizing Nutri-Zyme works well to decrease mold and caking in the feed by promoting the diverse microbial population which works to aerate the feed.
Housing design is obviously important but details can be overlooked. Ensuring the long axis of the poultry house is in an East-West direction, with a good roof overhang reduces the amount of direct sun and rain entering the house. Painting the shed roof with a reflective covering such as lime whitewash can reduce the house temperature by up to 35ºF.
Provide ridge vents at roof level to allow hot air to exit so that fresh air may enter the house through side openings. Use side curtains to protect birds from direct hot wind currents and use gunny bags. Those bags facing any oncoming winds can be kept wet, so birds feel a cool breeze, which can reduce the temperature up to 35ºF.
Attach sprinklers onto the roof on the outside of the house to bring down the house’s temperature when you turn them on during hot weather. Attach foggers at bird level inside the poultry shed to reduce the temperature. Be mindful of your fogger use. If not properly maintained, you will run into wet litter problems which will create another set of issues affecting the health of the bird. Birds grown in a high moisture environment do not perform to their highest potential. This can lead to negative welfare issues such as:
- Footpad dermatitis
- Scabby areas
- Breast blisters
If you tend to run into damp litter problems, check out this article discussing IndigoLT’s success in fighting wet litter issues. Utilizing IndigoLT in conjunction with Nutri-Zyme can create added benefits such as:
- Lower ammonia levels
- Reduced pathogens and disease
- Decreased insect pressure
- Dryer litter
- Less cake
- Higher nutrient value
- Improved overall bird health
Consider the additional stress that is placed on the birds when applying medicines and vaccines. Creating any bird movement or stress should be made during the cooler part of the day. When administering medicines, there should be plenty of cool, fresh water available, and quality fortified feed. Anticoccidial drugs should be used with caution and selectively because they can aggravate heat stress during hotter weather and can counteract the desired results .
Don’t forget to monitor the temperature. It can be done conveniently by hanging a minimum/maximum thermometer inside the poultry house to check temperature variations during the day.
In summary, when planning your summer management practices, be sure all aspects of production are considered. In truth, birds are not unlike us when it comes to the summer heat. They want continued fresh liquids, they want a cool environment with a breeze circulating and a healthy meal with as little movement in the heat of the day as possible. Keeping all of these important areas in mind can keep your birds performing at high levels throughout the summer months!