Help your Backyard Chickens Beat the Summer Heat


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 55-75 are optimal, anything higher starts to cause stress to chickens' bodies. And humidity levels above 75% make things even harder on them. The added blood flow to their combs, wattles and skin as your chickens attempt to cool off reduces the flow to their vital organs.  

Doing all you can to help your chickens stay cool in the summer isn't a matter of 'spoiling' them, it can be a matter of life or death. Chickens have a hard time cooling off, so everything you can do to help them is beneficial.


Chickens have a far easier time keeping warm in the cold weather by fluffing up their feathers and trapping the air warmed by their bodies, than they do cooling their bodies.

Using their Bodies to Cool Off

Chickens don't sweat. Instead they will hold their wings away from their bodies to allow air to flow under their wings.   They will also pant.  Their panting to keep cool increases their respiratory and heart rate and can lead to Acidosis, a potentially fatal condition.

Their combs and wattles act as radiators and allow heat to escape their bodies, as do their feet. The larger-combed breeds, such as Andalusians or Black-Faced White Spanish, are more heat-tolerant than other breeds.



Lighter-colored chickens also tolerate heat better than the dark breeds whose feathers absorb the sunlight.


But all breeds will be pretty uncomfortable in extreme heat - and chickens can actually die of heat stroke, so it is important to keep them as cool as possible.

Cold Water

Eggs are mostly water, so the process of laying an egg absorbs much of the water a chicken drinks. Fresh, clean water accessible to all your hens is first and foremost in importance.

I have switched to using large rubber tubs and also shallow dishes as waterers in the summer instead of the traditional waterers. Not only are they easy to clean and refill, but it's very easy to add a block of ice to keep the water colder longer.

Chickens will overheat before they will drink warm water, so be sure to check their water often and replenish with cold water as needed.


Shade

Plenty of shade is mandatory in the run area or where ever your chickens spend their days.  There are several large pine trees in our run, as well as shrubs and small bushes that I have planted to provide nice shady areas. If you don't have bushes or shrubs in or around your rub, adding a tarp or shade cloth over part of the run is a good idea.  I prefer shade cloth like this one to a tarp because it still lets air through.



If you don't have natural vegetation, a small dog house or other covered structure will work just as well. Our coop is raised off the ground and the chickens love to seek respite from the sun underneath in the summer.

Water to Stand In

Our chickens love to stand in shallow dishes or pools of water and get their feet wet when its hot. It provides instant cooling for them. Our chickens will stand right in the water tubs (maybe they see the ducks doing it and copy them?). But if yours balk at the idea, try placing a stone or brick in the tub for them to stand on. The brick will absorb the cold water and stay chilled to cool hot feet.



On really hot days, I will sometimes dunk each chicken's feet and legs in a pail of water or in the ducks' pool. Just their feet and legs - you don't want to dunk their entire body. Wet feathers render them incapable of fluffing them up to allow the air to flow through. You might end up with a lot of angry, but cooler, hens !

Be sure to put out more water tubs than normal when it's hot so more hens can drink at once. It is so important that each member of the flock gets their share of cool water so they don't dehydrate. I have a minimum of four large tubs and two shallow dishes full in the run at all times for my flock of 16 hens and 13 ducks.

Note about Nipple Waterers: If you use the nipple-style waterers, I highly recommend putting out tubs of water in addition, at least on really hot days. While the nipple waterers do keep the water clean, which is important, they also don't allow the birds to dunk their heads. Dunking their heads in the water and cooling their wattles and combs immediately lowers their body temperature.  I had no idea they did this, but in the summer our hens stand around in the tubs, periodically dunking their heads. They do know what's best and as long as you provide them the means, they will know how to cool themselves off.

Also: Nipple waterers should never be used as the sole water source (winter or summer) when you raise ducks according to this study on the Metzer Farms blog:

 http://metzerfarms.blogspot.com/2011/03/do-ducks-prefer-showers-or-baths.html)

Electrolytes

Vitamins & Electrolytes or plain Pedialyte added to their water in extreme heat can also help the chickens cope better in the heat.  Baking soda in a 2% ratio can also be added.


Or you can make up your own Homemade Electrolytes.

Apple cider vinegar added to the water can help with calcium absorption. Soft-shelled eggs can be common in times of high heat due to reduced feed intake and the ACV can help alleviate that. But limit the ACV to just a few times a week since it increases ph levels, which can lead to acidosis.

Open Air Nesting Boxes

Since the coop gets really hot in the middle of the day, the girls avoided laying in the nesting boxes last summer. I was finding eggs under bushes, behind things, anywhere they could find that was cooler.  Propping the nesting box top open helped to circulate air a bit, as did frozen water bottles in the nests, but they still didn't want to sit in the coop to lay their eggs... so I set up some open-air baskets and boxes outside in the lean-to I used for storage -  and that was a big hit.  The chickens laid almost exclusively outdoors in the baskets and boxes for the rest of the summer.  



Skip the Scratch

Chickens eat a lot less in the summer than they do in the winter, so be sure that they are being fed a good quality layer feed.  Scratch grains should never be given during the hot months, siince digesting the grains actually warms up a chicken's body, making scratch a wonderful wintertime treat. In the summer, not so much.

In extreme heat, lighting the coop and feeding the chickens overnight is also an option to allow them to eat during the period of coolest temperatures.  Just rig up a regular light fixture, or even a construction light on an extension cord and provide feed and plenty of fresh water in the coop.


Chilled and Frozen Treats

Frozen watermelon is a great treat that hydrates as well as cools the chickens, as are frozen strawberries, blueberries, cucumber slices, bananas (try rolling the banana in honey and chopped nuts and then freezing), peas and corn kernels.


I also freeze blueberries, strawberry tops, watermelon, peas and other fruits and vegetables plus fresh mint in ice cube trays, or these small freezer containers, with a string frozen in the middle. Then I hang the frozen cubes in the run for the chickens.  Mint has cooling properties and will help reduce the chickens' body temperature, so adding crushed fresh mint leaves to ice water helps too.  Click HERE for more on making your own Frozen Ice Pops.


DIY Air Conditioning

A big problem in the summer when the temperatures hover around 100 degrees for several days is cooling down the coop at night.  Last summer, our coop was often still in the 90s inside at dark, and the girls hated to go inside, so I decided to rig up some 'redneck' air conditioning for them. 

I froze water in gallon water and milk jugs, hung them from the roosts and then set up an oscillating fan outside the coop.  It was amazing how much that cooled the air inside the coop to make for more comfortable sleeping.   I also laid some jugs on the floor of the coop so the chickens could perch on or next to them.


WARNING ABOUT MISTERS !!!  

Some people hook up misters in the run that provide a continuous mist of water. Please take care using misters and be sure you are using them correctly. The misters can often do more harm than good, making the air moist and potentially causing respiratory problems in your flock.

If your chicken are getting wet, that hampers them from regulating their own body temperature and they can literally overheat if they can't fluff their feathers away from their bodies. I can't recommend using them at all in humid climates where added moisture in the air can be detrimental. Pools of standing water caused by the misters will also attract flies and mosquitoes which bring a whole new set of problems.

Misters when used correctly can lower the air temperature, but use caution if you decide to install a misting system.
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It's really important to keep your chickens cool this summer. Anything you can think of to help them stay cool may not only save their lives, but will result in consistent egg production through the summer and will definitely be appreciated by your chickens.

Shade, clean cool water, and frozen treats are a great start towards beating the heat.

If you do have a hen that seems to be suffering heat exhaustion or dehydration, get her somewhere cool and soak her feet and legs in a tub of cool water to bring her body temperature down.  Give her cool water to drink and some electrolytes, plain Pedialyte or even Gatorade in a pinch for added nutrients to replace what she has lost.  Rooster Booster makes a great commercial poultry electrolyte that you can purchase from amazon.com.

Classic signs of heat exhaustion are panting, holding the wings out, a very pale comb and wattles and eyes closed, maybe even lying down.

For tips on keeping your ducks cool this summer, click HERE.


I would love for you to join me here...

©2014 by Fresh Eggs Daily, Inc. All rights reserved.

60 comments:

  1. Timely advice! The other day is reached 84 degrees (in Maine? What?! LOL) and the hens were panting despite the shade. We made sure they had access to plenty of cool water and shade, but wondered what else we could do. I did notice that they stood in the "puddles" from the hose though. ;) I'll try giving them a shallow "pool" in warm days to soak those feet!

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    1. I know crazy weather. That's why I figured I needed to post this sooner than later. I had originally scheduled it for later in April....

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  2. Thank you for this post. We will need all the help we can get when we finally get our chickens.
    Hubby grew up with them, but I don't think it was as hot in the 60s.
    Appreciate you sharing your knowledge with us!

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  3. LindaG...can you email me your mailing address to:fresheggsdaily@gmail.com ? I would love to send you a chicken decal. You have been SO supportive of the blog from the start and I always enjoy your comments. Thanks for being a fan and GET THOSE CHICKENS ALREADY !

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    1. How can I get a chicken decal. I am a hugh fan of your blog.

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    2. How can I get a chicken decal. I am a hugh fan of your blog.

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    3. Love the chicken decal! How do we get one? (Since my kids are grown - do we need a decal of hubby in his overalls (shorts in summer) mom (me) 4 chickens, 2 goats and a dog? )

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  4. My list keeps growing with all the helpful ideas you give to us from your trial and errors. I will have a very happy flock of chicks when I get mine the beginning of May. Thanks! I am tired of reading...I want the real thing.

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  5. Sounds like your chickens live in heaven.

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    1. I try to keep all our animals happy, but honestly the heat is the biggest obstacle for them in the summer. Heat stroke can actually be fatal. They were panting this afternoon - already and its only March...it's going to be a very long summer.

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    2. It was really hot today up here too. The poor new roo is still in his pen (although he made it into the barn)---and it was hot in there, although it is well ventilated and I kept him out of the sun coming through the doors. The girls kept visiting---but then would disappear to hang out in the horse run in---lots of new dirt holes in there after today! I was wondering how I was going to get them through many more months of this heat. I especially like the outside egg basket idea. :)

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  6. I love the bread pan ice cube idea and will be stealing it for my girls!

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    1. The mini loaf pan cubes last alot longer than regular ice cubes. You can even freeze things inside them like kernels of corn, peas or blueberries.

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    2. Last year I used frozen water bottles and put the small ones in the water dishes and layed the larger ones out in the coop and under the orange tree where they tend to hang out in the summer. This year I think I will try the bread pans so I can freeze things inside. Great advice!

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    3. My mom used to use empty frozen juice cans to freeze water in for my dad's water jug (he was a farmer) as they were the perfect size to fit down the opening in a water jug and lasted longer as they were so big. Same thing would work for the girls - empty yogurt containers would work, too...

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  7. Can't wait to get my girls. It will be my first time owning chickens so I will be visiting this blog quite often :) thanks for all the great tips!

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    1. You are welcome. I wish I had a similar resource when I started out ;0)

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  8. Phew! I feel cooler already!! Oh...wait! This was advice for chickens!! Just kidding.

    Don't forget about putting chickens in the pool to cool off Lisa. They swim pretty well (when supervised only) and that works GREAT to bring their body temps down. :)

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  9. i have the large plastic waterers. I freeze small bottles of water and put it inside the top of the water resevor. It keeps the water cool a good part of the day and it's easy to change out. And a larger frozen bottle (like Lisa did) with a fan blowing on it! The girls do snuggle right up to the bottle! (after they have successfully pecked the lable off LOL)
    Keeping cool, Aud

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  10. I haven't got my girls, YET, but this will come in very handy when I do. It gets really hot here in central Illinois even in the spring. Thanks!

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  11. I am so glad you posted this. This past Tuesday we lost our beloved rooster, Napoleon to heat stress. Our hearts are broken. I hope your advice will prevent someone else from losing a member (or members) of their flock.

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    1. I am so sorry Kandy. I know alot of people think I spoil my chickens, and I guess I do...but when it comes to heat - its about savings their lives and really important to do anything you can to keep them cool. Its so hard here in the South. When people complain how hard it is to keep their chickens warm in the winter, they have NO idea that keeping them cool is not only harder BUT more important.

      I do hope that my posts help save lives. And again, I'm so sorry about your roo.

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    2. That's almost like what I tell my hubby. I would almost have preferred somewhere colder, because you can always put more on to get warm; but there is only so much you can take off to get cool.

      And of course unless they molt, chickens can't do that at all.

      So much great information here! :o)

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  12. I have a nozzle for my hose that mists. Last year I left it on for a few hours during the day for the hummingbirds & butterflies. I wonder if my new chickens will like it as well? I could hang it in the tree right by their run, although they will free ranging this summer

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    1. Yes misters are a great idea. Our ducks manage to keep part of the run pretty wet so I don't use one in our run, but if you can easily hook one up, by all means, go for it !

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    2. Be careful with the misters during humid days. I used a mister all summer long including our monsoon season which is where I went wrong. I lost one of my girls to a respiratory disease because of all the moistness. Now I only use the misters when it is dry.

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    3. Good point. I don't personally use a mister - its really humid here so I stick to frozen ice blocks, shade and cool water.

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  13. Thank you for posting this - we just started with chickens and I can tell already we have far too much sun and heat in our run. We'll have to plant some trees and bushes and build some sort of a lean-to so they have a place to escape the hot sun. It was totally bizarre to see them flop over in the 'dead chicken' cooling stretch position. I thought I either had a crop of boneless chickens, or I did something wrong ;) Your blogs have been so helpful - I don't find near as many tips elsewhere. thanks!

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    1. Oh thank you so much ! Yes the heat is really a killer. Shrubs and bushes, or even a piece of plywood to block the sun, or a tarp help.

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    2. Last fall we planted a plum tree and three bushes so that the girls would have more shade. This summer they still aren't big enough to provide shade but next summer they should and hopefully they will have plums to eat too.

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    3. This is our first year having chickens and we had no shade in the run. It's a good thing my husband is a truck driver. He brought home a few of those tarps (old ones) that they cover up loads with. They shade but let water and wind through. I had to cut them, because they had holes and tears, but we covered our run with them and it's working out great. Just an idea, maybe a trucking company in the area would be willing to donate an old tarp that would just go in the trash anyway.

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  14. Unfortunately this post came too late for my sweet little Harriet today. The temperature hit the 90's with high humidity. I didn't realize they could get heatstroke until I saw her acting lethargic and realized something was wrong. I tried to cool her down by sitting her in a little dish of cool water but unfrotunately it didn't help fast enough. She was in the shade the whole time and we even brought her in the house. There had been plenty of water and shade. I will be freezing water tonight for the other 2 to keep cool. Thank you for this helpful information. Hopefully it will save my other 2 girls from the same fate.

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  15. Hi,
    I am a new reader with my first flock, they are teenagers, but each day I walk away with a new idea or helpful tip from reading your blog & fb page.

    I made the Orange peel white vinegar concoction today, following the step by step directions, and I just LOVE LOVE your salad bar idea.

    So anyhoo, I was telling my mom about it, and showed her your blog, and now my mom loves it. Especially the frozen ice pop ideas. So after dinner I went right to work on it. I have just finished hulling a pallet of strawberries, with already the idea of giving them to my girls tomorrow, and turned them into ice cubes instead.

    We dont have any fresh mint at our house, but I know a gal that regularly posts on the free produce/herbs site, about having cuttings available for others, so I am going to jump on the next post from her for her fresh mint.

    Right now we have June gloom here 1 mile from the beach here in southern California. But pretty soon here it will be hot (mid-high 80's) rarely does it get over 90's we are so close to the beach with the ocean breeze blowing to keep everything cool.

    But either way, I'm sure my girls will enjoy all the cool treats I am planning on serving them.

    Well, goodnight for now.

    Allison in SoCal.

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    1. Hi Allison. I am so glad you like my posts ! And thanks for sharing with your mother. I hope you both have signed up to follow the blog so you don't miss anything. The search bar is also helpful if you are interested in reading about a certain topic.

      When you get the mint, set some aside in a glass of water on your kitchen windowsill and it will sprout roots for you then you can grow your own patch. I use it for all sorts of things.

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  16. Thank for this! Our hens are not quite 3 months old, and it's supposed to be in the mid 90s here today! They have never experienced real heat before, and I was really worried.

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  17. I have wild mint growing around the chicken yard which they can access through the fence but they never touch it. Is all mint okay or if they are not eating it should I avoid putting this in their water?

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  18. Great advice about heat! I have linked to it on my blog (http://brighamcitychickens.blogspot.com). I've also added you as a button on my sidebar! Thanks for the good info!

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    1. Wonderful thank you ! I will check out your blog.

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    2. Really nice blog ! I just shared the link on FED. Thank you for the share on your end.

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  19. Great minds think alike! Spent hours thinking on how to cool the chicken house during the hot afternoons 95-100 as the crew would rather be inside than out even tho I have provided damp spots in shade for them. Am freezing gal. jugs w/handles of water which I will suspend from the rafters on a chain by the handles w/a fan blowing on the jugs. I give cool water several times a day & insert frozen plastic bottles of water into the waterers. I sprinkle the water left in the containers around the yard and hen house prior to re-filling. w/cold water. Found a hen lying in a strange position on the just sprinkled straw & went to pick her up to dunk her but she was just spread out to cool herself on the damp dirt floor.

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  20. And people thought I was nuts when I put all our butcher chickens in the dogs' kiddie pool. They (the chickens) voluntarily stayed in for quite a while--just bobbing around and chilling. Here's an article that actually confirms what I've done by instinct over the past few years!!!

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  21. Thanks so much for this post! We have been soooo hot and dry! Good thing we made our huge run mostly under huge trees. But we still have one problem.....hawks. we seem to be over run with them this year. I have lost too many hens this year and they were mostly my young hens. Just 6 mos old! I have 2 owl decoys in the run but still losing hens. Any info would be sooo welcome!

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  22. The hawks will just keep coming back. A covered run is really the only way to keep your flock safe from aerial predators.

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  23. These are some great tips for keeping my girls cool in the summer...most of this I never thought of. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. :)

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  24. Neat blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere?
    A theme like yours with a few simple tweeks would really make
    my blog shine. Please let me know where you got
    your theme. Kudos
    My page - borkum riff

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  25. Thank you so much for this article. When I was a child, my parents raised chickens in a mild climate in Washington State. I'm in Utah and planning on raising chickens starting this year! We have extremes in weather. Extreme hot and extreme cold. I chose breeds that did well in the extreme cold, but worry about the heat. These are fantastic ideas! You have pampered chickens. I am planning on doing the same.

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    1. Oh good! I grew up in New England and we never had to worry about the heat with our chickens..but in the South, its a different story. Also generations ago, people only raised the breeds that were available locally, whereas now its possible to order any breed at all, even if they aren't meant for your climate. Every summer we hear stories of fans losing hens to the heat, so everything you can do to help them is great.

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  26. Lisa~ I have a small run/coop for my 6 Hens. Today in Chesapeake, VA it was 89 degrees (May 15/2013), but we had a nice breeze. Tomorrow I plan to put my deck table and umbrella just outside the coop to provide extra shade for my girls until we can build a bigger shaded area, since my backyard has NO trees.

    We also have a kiddie pool and we will add cold water and ice cubes for them. I use a bucket too for daily cold water I refresh it as it warms up.

    Great idea to freeze the treats and make ice blocks with treats inside. I will try that too. Love your blog!!!!

    Hugs~Peg Graham

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  27. Oh and Hubby is going to install a box fan in the side door for hot days/nights when we see they'll need extra cooling...and I guess we can hang frozen bottle from their ceiling that dangle in front of the fan to help cool it better???

    Hugs~Peg

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  28. Thank you for the great info. We lost a chicken last summer and will put these ideas into practice this year. jlblvn@gmail.com

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  29. Thank you for the great info. We lost a chicken last summer and will put these ideas into practice this year. jlblvn@gmail.com

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  30. Earlier today I saw directions on suspending a water-filled baggie with pennies inside it to deter flies in the henhouse. Now I can't find it!!!!! Please help, for I am no spring chicken! It also stated that the flies thought it was a ( ? ) , a natural predator to them. I neeeeeed that bit of info to impress my little grandson with this endeavor. Thank you so. ^_^ ~Pat

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    1. Hi. I've tried that and didn't find it to work, but give it a try. All you do is fill a baggie with water and add a few pennies. Than hang it somewhere you have flies. Supposedly the bag turning in the sun and the reflection in the water makes them think there's a predator? Not sure. Hope that helps!

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  31. I can’t help not to be amazed by this creative invention of yours. A fan and a frozen gallon water are indeed a cool combination! I can only imagine how comfortable the chickens are when they have that stuff in their coop. I’m pretty sure, they will lay many eggs. - http://arizonaaccurate.com/

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  32. Will the hawks try to bust through the fencing? We have hawks and have hens now. They are about 4 months old now.

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  33. Really interesting and useful. Thanks

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  34. BEST TO JUST EAT THOSE THAT ARE NOT GOOD ..... THEN IF DARWIN IS RIGHT they will evolve to handle it
    oh wait they already can handle it .... god created chickens so don't worry about it the weak ones die

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  35. Would like to know if the heat causes harm to the eggs for consumption if left out to long.

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