Baby chicks come in a wide variety of colors and sizes. Trying to figure out what breed is best for you can seem a little overwhelming but fear not; from small to large, weird to beautiful, hot to cold, and egg to meat, there is a chicken out there for everyone!
When choosing a breed of chicken, one of the first things to consider is your environment. Generally speaking, most chickens tolerate cold weather pretty well but if you live in a warm, humid climate, you may find keeping your chickens cool in the summer to be quite a challenge. Aside from providing shade and water for them, certain breed characteristics make some kinds of chicken more heat-tolerant than others.
How Chickens Keep Cool
One of the more obvious traits of heat-tolerant chicken breeds is the presence of large combs and wattles. Chicken combs and wattles have a high concentration of tiny capillaries (blood vessels) whose job is to circulate blood and dissipate body heat. The larger the combs and wattles, the more surface area there is to eliminate heat and keep the chicken cool.
Additionally, chickens with less body mass have an easier time keeping cool due to the fact that a higher surface area to body weight ratio means those bodies eliminate heat more efficiently. Smaller-bodied birds like the White Leghorn or Minorca, which also have tall, floppy combs, will better handle the heat of summer than perhaps a larger bird with a tiny pea comb.
Five Popular Heat-Tolerant Backyard Breeds
- Orpington – popular across the southern U.S., Orpingtons come in several different colors and are among some of the most friendly warm-weather birds you can raise. These are gentle, brown egg-layers, good for families with children.
- Rhode Island Red – RIR is a dual-purpose bird developed in the northeastern U.S. that is adaptable to wide climate swings. Rhode Island Red is a fairly prolific brown egg-layer that is found in backyard flocks all over the country.
- Plymouth Rock – An American heritage breed that tolerates both hot and cold weather, the Plymouth Rock is a solid dual-purpose bird that reliably lays lots of brown eggs, but also does well as a roasting chicken.
- Easter Egger – colorful variety and colored egg production are what draws people to these friendly little all-weather chickens.
- White Leghorn – the White Leghorn is a popular production egg-layer that does well under extreme conditions, like hot or cold weather.
Choose Your Best Chicken
So now you’ve chosen the chickens you’ll be sharing your Summer of Love with, it’s time to figure out what you can do to help them deal with that strong summer sun. Many of these are commons sense, and very similar to what we humans to keep cool in the summer. Here’s our beginning list:
- Provide shade: shade cloth, tarps, shade trees, or other shelters
- Ventilation: fans, cross-breezes, open-sided coops
- Hydration: plenty of fresh drinking water, shallow pans of water for chickens to stand in, mister or sprinkler, ice in their water
- Diet: no need for corn, sunflower seeds, or other high-fat foods you might give them in the winter to keep warm; supplement with hydrating fruits and veg like melons and cucumbers
- Bedding: reconsider deep-litter in the summer, make sure bedding doesn’t prevent ventilation
Help Your Chickens Keep Their Cool
If you are planning to add chickens to your backyard or homestead, start out right by choosing the breeds that will do best in your climate. If you already happen to have breeds that aren’t quite suited to the heat where you live, consider phasing out that breed and replacing them with one that is a better fit for your conditions and needs. No one wants to have heat-stressed birds that do not thrive.
If you live in a northern climate and need chicken breeds that are cold hardy, you’ll find a list of our favorite cold-hardy breeds in the next article. There are some breeds that do well in both hot and cold climates and those are indicated in the list above!
Do you live in a hot and humid climate? Which chicken breed is your favorite for eggs, dual-purpose, or meat? Leave us a comment!