The effect of heat stress on farmers and their businesses cannot be overemphasized. If not prevented or treated, poultry heat stress alone can cause a high mortality rate leading to a great loss.
Heat stress causes heat-related infections, reduced egg production, and reduced feeding activities which may result in lower body weight. Read more about this here. To prevent this, farmers need to be well-equipped with the knowledge of which preventive methods are most effective. This article therefore will highlight the most important measures to prevent and treat heat stress.
Signs and symptoms
It is very important that you are observant of the activities of your flocks in the coop.
- Elevated wings
- Reduced appetite
- Reduced activities
- Pale combs and wattles
These symptoms indicate high body temperature and this is where you should take action or check if any measures you ha put in place are working.
Poultry heat stress is a result of the high temperature of the chicken environment. Thus, prevention should involve lowering the temperature in the chicken surrounding as much as possible.
Introduction of fans in the chicken run
In most commercial poultry setups, it’s common to find preinstalled fans in the chicken coop. These fans are a preparation for the hot season as they help to keep the environment cool.
Small-scale farmers can also introduce fans just for the duration of the hot season. You can easily place them at strategic points in the coop to help lower temperatures.
Provide fresh water
As a way of preventing heat exhaustion, chickens drink more water and eat less food during the hot season. This is because food generates more heat during digestion, while water cools the body.
Therefore, it is important that the drinking water available is fresh and cool.
As a preventive measure, the design of a chicken run should allow a swift passage of air from outside into the coop and vice versa. Windows should be big enough and should not be made out of glass, but mesh wire to allow air passage.
In addition, roofing is another part to consider when building the coop. The roof should be as high as possible as this creates enough room for heat evaporation.
Avoid unnecessary stress
Extra stress when it’s hot may be another cause of heat stress among the flocks. In the hot season, chickens usually limit their movements as a way of maintaining cool body temperatures. Therefore, it is important that you don’t disturb them unnecessarily.
Measures to consider include:
- Limiting the number of people entering the coop, especially children to avoid chasing and handling the chickens anyhow.
- Keeping dogs, cats, and rats away from the chicken coop to avoid chasing and frightening the chickens.
- Keeping young and old chickens separate to avoid the young being chased around and pecking.
This has been a big problem with most small-scale farmers in Africa. In trying to make more profit, they try to stock more birds in a small coop. However, during the hot season, chickens require adequate space for air passage and less rubbing with other chickens as a way of reducing heat building up.
It is therefore important that you rear fewer chickens in a given coop. Approximately 0.5 m2 per chicken is recommended as the standard.
If well implemented, the preventive measures alone should ensure that your chickens are ok through the entire hot season. However, due to the difference in body types and breeds, some chickens may still experience heat stress despite all efforts. In this case, treatment measures can now be implemented.
What is the treatment for heat stress?
Heat stress is like a disease that needs well-prepared treatments before administration. This can mean the life or death of the bird.
Firstly, you need to identify the affected chicken by referring to the above-provided symptoms.
Once you discover that a bird is suffering from heat stress, isolate it from the other birds. Also, ensure that you place it in a much cooler environment.
Isolation helps release heat and reduce body temperature much more quickly. This in turn prevents the other birds from getting affected as heat is easily transferred.
The purpose of isolation is to observe the bird individually, expose it to a cooler environment and monitor its temperature. After a few hours, if the bird will no longer exhibits signs and symptoms of heat stress, you can reunite with the others.
Water is important during the hot season not only for chickens but also for humans. Whenever we feel hot, the first thing we do is drink cold water as it quickly cools our internal body temperature.
The same can be helpful to chickens when trying to reduce their body temperature, only here you may need to use some ice cubes or blocks and add them to the drinking water for the chicken.
Most times the drinkers in the coop would become hot due to the heat, especially the metallic drinkers. This may cause the water inside to heat up.
Supplying the drinkers with fresh and cool water can be a remedy to get rid of the already built-up internal body heat.
In an extreme case where the birds appear to be weak, ice water can be used for a quicker response.
Electrolytes are minerals in the body that regulates body temperature and other substances. Taking them is very helpful in reducing body temperature.
You can buy electrolytes from any local feed store in town or prepare them from home by mixing honey, baking powder, and salt. You can then administer this to a severely affected chicken.
Poultry heat stress is a major reason for the high mortality rate in poultry in Zambia. Many farmers mistake heat stress for diseases outbreak and may even quickly engage in buying antibiotics and vaccines for the flocks.
While this may be useful, it doesn’t rid of the main problem which is heat stress and therefore, adequate knowledge of heat stress and its preventive measures may well be the difference between high and low mortality rates in this business.