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We will be ready to get the girls the first or second week of the new year...
My concern is once they are in the back yard, how might I provide them with adequate shade as the summer heat approaches? Our yard was naked when we bought in July and we still have only added a fig tree in the back.
Our plan has been to build a tractor for them... Would a coop be a better idea?
I have stucco colored sunscreen over my cage (open sides for air ventilation) to keep out the direct sunlight. However, I let my chickens roam free in the yard (5' walled) with plenty of water dishes/pans so they can cool off and drink when needed. They tend to find the shady cool spots during the summer to compensate for the heat. Sometimes they even sit in the water pans to cool off!
Do not put them in a tractor if the tractor won't be in the shade, the chickens will not do well at all. As Steve has said, if you're going to put them in a coop, they need to have access to a large area and plenty of water dishes to stand in so they can find the coolest spots.
Unfortunately the fast-growing popularity of backyard chickens has resulted in a lot of dead chickens in Phoenix because people grossly overestimate the chickens' heat tolerance. My advice to you would be to put in some more bushes, trees, etc this spring and consider getting the chickens in the fall.
Rachel, would shade provided by the tractor be insufficient, then?
We will be adding a considerable amount of trees and bushes come February but do not want our future chickens to suffer.
Correct, the shade provided by the tractor alone would not be good enough if the tractor were placed in the sun. I'm sure people have done it and had chickens live, but it would be very rough on the chickens and I would suspect you might lose at least one.
I think that if you provide double shade and water pans to stand in and you are moving them around on the grass they might be OK.
By double shade I mean shade the tractor with a EZ up or something similar with some space between them. That way the sun isn't directly hitting the tractor.
Also, it's always cooler on grass, especially if it's watered regularly but I don't know if I would try this on dirt.
Basically, the heat is hard on the chickens no matter what you do and if you don't do enough they don't make it.
Sometimes they don't make it even if you do enough. I've lost 5 chickens to heat. One had all the shade, water, damp ground and grass and still didn't make it.
Another reason for adding trees/shrubs is to avoid birds of prey. My backyard is currently rather barren -- except for a nice patch next to my house for tropicals -- and the birds of prey like it that way (Kestrals (not going to bother reasonably grown chickens) and Red Tailed Hawks (mated pair plus one lonely guy whom I'm sure like chicken as much as I)). The only other protection is a large ash tree the rest is open season on doves and wrens. Any that stray from the protection of the trees git struck an 'et. And yes, I live in the city. I don't have chickens...yet.
It will get hot !! We started with chickens at our house last year and the chicks matured just before the heat. I tried to plan the shadiest spot to place a 'summer coop', and even though it was well shaded, I worried about the constant heat of the day. Imagine yourself under any shade at your location, every day, all summer, and that will be what your chickens will have to deal with.
Like Steve mentioned, eventually I just let the birds have run of the full yard and they found the coolest spot, which was against the backside of the chimmey attached to our house. The cold air from the inside was drafting out of the ash clean our hole and that's where they huddled in the heat of the day. There was a sheet of plywood leaned against the chimmey at that exact spot. I noticed that the birds followed the shade around our big back yard during the course of the day.
On the Tour de Coop this year, I saw one coop that had a small evap-cooler attached and that's what I will do this year, before the humidity rises. Over the top - maybe - but I hate to see the birds suffer needlessly.
Every day is an experiment.
The Hall Family
I learned my lesson about shade, we had a good solid roof over our coop and run, open air run but closed in coop, we also had water dishes out and they still died when the temperatures came down a little and we thought it was okay not to check the water dishes everyday. Chickens really need a LOT of shade and a micro climate out here, especially if you yard is naked.
On a side note I have a question that sort of goes with this thread so I wanted to ask it, if it is okay. If my chickens are in a run and coop, and I get irrigation (we want to start getting it since our lot had irrigation rights) will I need to protect the run and coop from getting flooded or will the chickens just enjoy it?
I have a large eucalyptus tree and several bushes that grow up through my run. The chicken wire covering of the run comes right up to the trunk of the tree, and the bushes have been pruned so that they form a canopy that has grown over the chicken wire. it is in my eastern side yard so it gets morning sun only. My coop is a converted wooden shed that has 3 sides that are made with chicken wire and so air travels through very well. I have covered the doors that get direct sun with bamboo window blinds, so that I can draw them up during the winter when my girls crave sunbathing and I can pull them down in the summer to keep the sun out.
During the afternoon in the summer, I spray the bushes and tree canopy with water as well as spraying the wall at the back of the run and wetting down the ground of the run. You can wet down burlap sacks and lay them over the run. evaporation will cool it down a few degrees. I have 2 automatic waterers and 1 wader that I ran a drip line to so that it fills every morning when the drippers come on. Even still I check the waterers everyday. I think long term a stationary coop can be developed into a better microclimate then a tractor can because you can use trees and landscaping to your advantage. Mine can't free range because our dog would love nothing more than to eat them, but they have a very large fenced run area, so they don't know the difference.
I havent tried this idea, but i might this summer: fill some 2 liter bottles or milk jugs with water and freeze and place them inside the coop out of direct sun. the chickens will stand on or near them and cool off. If you freeze several you can have enough to alternate so that they are never without them during the day. Hope some of these ideas help!
Michael, in addition to the importance of shade, a wading pool or large dish with about 3 inches of water in it is vital to helping them keep cool in the summer even with shade.