Did you know that the effects of heat on chickens is cumulative and that a sudden increase in temperature is more dangerous than a gradual climb? Temperatures between 65-75F are optimal, anything higher starts to cause stress to their bodies. The added blood flow to their combs, wattles and skin reduces the flow to their vital organs.
Chickens combat the heat in part by panting. Their panting to keep cool increases their respiratory and heart rate, causes them to lose CO2 (carbon dioxide) at a much faster rate than normal which upsets the Ph balance in their bodies and can lead to Acidosis, a potentially fatal condition. This imbalance in the body produces symptoms including purplish combs, droopy wings, a disheveled appearance and a refusal to eat or drink. This eventually leads to coma or death.
Now, I'm not a vet or scientist and would never pretend to be, but I do read and research a lot. I think I subscribe to every chicken magazine published and own most of the well-known chicken care books. It's important to me to provide all our animals the best care I can and even our local vet doesn't treat chickens, so it's up to me to figure it out for the most part.
Acidosis has recently appeared on my radar because of the oppressive heat here in the South this summer and I wanted to make you all aware of it as well. Adding baking soda (in a 2% ratio) to your chickens' water can help prevent Acidosis.
Skip the ACV: I am a huge proponent of adding Apple Cider Vinegar to my chickens' water several times a week. The ACV has health benefits and also increases calcium absorption, which is especially important during the summer months when the hens' feed intake goes down and they aren't ingesting as much calcium as they normally do.
But the ACV also changes the chickens' Ph levels in their bodies and could possibly increase their chances of developing Acidosis. I suggest in the summer only adding ACV to your water once a week and try to add it on the cooler days if possible.
A far better water additive during times of extreme heat is the baking soda or, even better, electrolytes such as LifeLytes, plain pedialyte or Vitamins & Electrolytes to replace some of the minerals and nutrients lost.
Here is a simple Homemade Electrolyte Recipe that is easy to mix up in a pinch:
1 Cup Water
2 teaspoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
Use full strength on severely ailing chickens, otherwise mix into their drinking water as needed, a cup per gallon of water.
Replacing the electrolytes lost during times of oppressive heat could mean the difference between life and death to your chickens.
You can also add this electrolyte mix to water for your dogs, cats, horses and other animals. Even mix into a little fruit juice for yourself or your kids.