While we all enjoy the lazy days of summer, your chickens probably find it very stressful. Chickens thrive in moderate temperatures, so they don’t like it when it’s too hot or too cold. Just like snow, ice and endless days of cold weather can cause frostbite, frozen feet and respiratory issues, the heat of summer and soaring temperatures can make chickens lethargic and dehydrated and, in some cases, cause death.
If you live in an area that sees lots of heat and humidity during the summer, you can help your flock beat the heat. It’s easy. You just need to cool down your chickens by building a DIY chicken coop swamp cooler. It can help drop the heat in the coop significantly, and that can mean healthier happier birds.
Hot Weather Affects a Flock
If you’ve ever watched a flock of chickens lay out on the grass sun tanning, you might be fooled into thinking they’re hardy animals. While some breeds are hardier than others, most chickens are very susceptible to heat stress. Once temperatures rise above 77 degree F or you experience a heat wave, a cycle can begin where the chicken simply can’t cool off.
The first issue is dehydration. Once dehydrated, the chickens may be lethargic, lose their appetites and stop laying eggs. In some cases, their internal organs may begin shutting down or they pant so excessively that they develop an illness or respiratory issues.
Signs Of Heat Stress
For the most part, chickens spend warm weather days taking dust baths, pecking the ground for snacks and just lying in the sun. When those behaviors change to include some of the following, you’re almost guaranteed that your flock members are experiencing some form of heat stress.
Drooping or Lifted Wings
A chicken that is overheating will hold its wings away from its body to keep it cooler. Some chickens will also let their wings drop so they seem to drag on the ground when they walk.
A chicken that is trying to cool off may pant in the same way a dog does. The chicken’s mouth will be open when they pant.
An overheated chicken is a tired chicken. They may lay down in the shade or in the coop and be much less active.
Loss of Appetite
Heat stress in chickens may mean they aren’t as hungry. They may eat less than they normally do or you may notice they struggle with swallowing.
Change in Bowel Habits
Heat stress in chickens can lead to diarrhea.
In some cases, heat stress can cause eggs to be deformed or stop egg production altogether.
A chicken-coop swamp-cooler can be part of your summer plan to keep your chickens cool. Along with shade trees, ice-cold water and a clean coop, a DIY swamp cooler can drop the temperature a few degrees so it’s bearable for your chickens.
A swamp cooler, aka an evaporative cooler, is a cooling device that uses evaporating water to cool the air. You can buy swamp coolers with different features, but making a basic chicken coop swamp cooler is easy, too.
It works by drawing hot air into a bucket. At the bottom of the bucket is a small water pump that pushes cold water through a tube. The tube has holes so the water drips onto a layer of foam that’s wrapped around the inside of the bucket.
As the hot air passes through the wet foam, it evaporates and is absorbed, so the air inside the bucket is cooler than the air outside. The cooled air is then circulated out of the bucket using a fan.
A chicken coop swamp cooler is inexpensive to make, and in most cases, it should cost you less than $50 for materials. You may already have everything you need to make one at home or in your yard. They are a great option for a chicken coop because they use less energy than an air conditioner, and a swamp cooler is safe to have in the coop because it’s only made up of a small fan and water pump.
This type of swamp cooler will work best for chicken coops in dry climates, but you may not find it as effective for cooling your chickens in humid climates as excess moisture in the air can interfere with cooling.
Now that you’re ready to DIY a chicken coop swamp cooler, here is a quick guide on how to build one. First, you need to gather your materials. To build a chicken coop swamp cooler you’ll need the following.
- 5-gallon pail with a lid from your local feed-supply shop
- small submersible pump (4 watts, 90 gallons per hour works well)
- plastic tubing to fit around the rim of the bucket
- swamp cooler pad, sponge, or large piece of foam
- piece of window screen
- small fan to fit in the lid
- utility knife
- coring drill bits to cut holes
- push pin or small drill bit to drill holes in tube
- ruler or measuring tape
- glue gun
- power source to plug into
Step 1: Put Holes in the Bucket
A swamp cooler needs several holes to draw hot air in, so your first step is to cut holes in the bucket. I cut holes in the middle of the bucket as I wanted the room to keep enough water and ice in the bottom so I wouldn’t have to refill too often.
You’ll need to cut several holes around the entire bucket. I used a coring bit to cut them out, but you can also use a utility knife.
Step 2: Install Pump & Power
You’ll want to cut small holes right under the rim of the bucket so you can thread your fan and water pump cords through. With small holes, your cords won’t interfere with the bucket lid.
Step 3: Cut Foam & Screen To Fit
I didn’t have a swamp pad so I used a large piece of foam for the pad the water will drip onto. I measured the circumference of the bucket and cut the screen material and the foam pad to fit. I glued the screen over the holes and then glued the pad over it.
I then added the screen as it will prevent the chickens from reaching in to peck at the foam. Both the screen and the foam pad were measured to sit right above the water line.
Step 4: Attach Fan
Choose a small fan that’s the best size for the center of the lid of the water bucket. Cut the hole for the fan with a utility knife and attach it to the lid with duct tape or zip ties.
Step 5: Add Holes & Place Pump
Using a push pin or tiny drill bit, create drip holes in the plastic tubing. The tubing will drip water onto the foam to keep it saturated. Attach your plastic tubing to your water pump and place it inside the bucket.
You’ll need enough tubing to extend from the bottom to the top, circling it around the bucket. You can glue the tubing to the top of the bucket, being careful to avoid the areas where you added drip holes.
Step 6: Fill with Water & Ice
Add enough water so your pump is fully submerged. You can add a combination of water and ice to keep the water inside cold. When it’s running be sure to check the bucket frequently so the pump doesn’t run while dry.
Step 7: Find a Safe Spot
If your swamp cooler is on the coop floor, your chickens may jump on it or peck at it. Secure it so it can’t be knocked over. Also, don’t place it directly under the roosts or it could become damaged from chicken manure.
Step 8: Cool the Coop!
Once your chicken coop swamp cooler is ready, plug it into power. The pump will circulate water from the bottom of the container, push it through the tubing, and it will drip onto the foam.
Hot air will enter the bucket through the holes and cool air will blow out of the container and into the chicken coop. I also splash water onto the foam so it’s already wet before the water begins dripping.
Chickens aren’t as affected by the weather as we are, but heat stress is one of the reasons why people lose entire flocks in the summer. By the time you begin to see signs of heat stress, it may already be too late.
An action plan to beat the heat in your chicken coop helps keep your chickens happy and healthy, and a DIY swamp cooler is an easy way to drop the temperature in the coop while you all ride out the next heat wave.
A chicken coop swamp cooler can drop the temperature in a chicken coop by several degrees. To maximize the usefulness of your swamp cooler, follow these tips.
Build the right size cooler.
A small swamp cooler won’t be very effective in a large coop. If you have a very large coop you may want to DIY a few swamp coolers and place them in different areas.
Always add water.
On a very hot day, a swamp cooler will quickly run through its water supply. You’ll want to check the cooler frequently and add water and ice to ensure it stays operational.
Clean your cooler frequently.
Materials like foam can grow mold if not cleaned frequently. You’ll want to rinse out the cooler at least once a week and make sure you use fresh water that’s free of bacteria and contaminants.
Add another fan to your coop.
Having a fan placed near the swamp cooler can direct airflow in the coop. If possible, you should also have other types of ventilation including an open window or door so fresh air can enter the coop.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2023 issue of Chickens magazine.