Herbs for Heat

Herbs for Heat

Keep your birds cool and avoid heat stress.

By Heather Levin. Here in Tennessee, summer starts in early May
and often doesn’t end until November. It’s not just hot here. It’s like living in someone’s mouth… with high temperatures and high humidity the norm much of the year. Keeping my flock cool during our endless summers sometimes feels like a full-time job.

Many chicken keepers don’t realize that chickens have a harder time staying cool than they do staying warm. A chicken’s body temperature ranges from 105 to 107 degrees Fahrenheit, and roosters tend to have a slightly higher body temperature than hens.
Once the temperature gets to 85 degrees F, chickens change their behavior to stay cool. You’ll see this behavioral change when they lift their wings away from their body, limit their activity to shady areas, eat less, and pant more.

Heat Stress Risks

Exposure to prolonged bouts of hot temperatures, especially when humidity
is thrown into the mix, can cause heat stress in chickens. Broilers are particularly at risk of heat stress due to their high metabolism.

Heat stress can lead to a drop in egg production. It can also damage organs
and affect the cardiovascular system. Over time, heat stress can affect the
immune system, putting birds at greater risk for bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections. Thankfully, there are plenty of herbs and natural strategies we can use to help keep our birds cool during the summer.

Naturally Cooling Herbs

A 2016 study in Iranian Journal of Applied Animal Science found that
broilers given dried peppermint powder during times of heat stress had a lower body temperature than the control group.

I grow a lot of peppermint on our homestead for this very reason. One of
the best ways to give your chickens the benefits of peppermint is to put it fresh in their water each day. The peppermint gives the water a refreshing taste, and your chickens will drink more when it’s in there.

There are several other cooling herbs you can put in your chicken’s
water each day, including lemon balm, borage, and Holy Basil (tulsi). You can also make a tea using these herbs and, once cooled completely, can offer it to your chickens in place of water.

Lemon Verbena, Vitamin C, and Tumeric

A 2016 study in The Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition found that adding lemon verbena and vitamin C powder to chicken feed suppressed the negative effects of heat stress.

Lemon verbena is a delightful herb to grow at home, and it makes a delicious tea for you or your birds. You can mix fresh or dried lemon
verbena in with your chicken’s feed, or put fresh lemon verbena in their daily water. The Poultry DVM recommends giving 200 mg to 500 mg of powdered vitamin C daily to laying hens experiencing heat stress.

A 2015 study in Tropical Animal Health and Production found that dried turmeric helped improve stress tolerance and immune response in
heat-stressed chickens. Another study, published in 2021 in Veterinary and
Animal Science
, found that turmeric not only prevented and reduced stress
but also reduced inflammation and stimulated growth performance in
broiler chickens.

You can harness the anti-inflammatory goodness of turmeric by sprinkling 250 mg per bird into feed or water, especially on hot summer days.

Keep in mind that during hot weather, most chickens eat less and drink more. This is why supplementing herbs and vitamins in water, rather than mixed into feed, can help ensure your chickens will consume enough to experience the benefits.

Frozen fruit treats are a great source of vitamins, cool fluid, and will entertain your flock. Photo by Heather Levin,

Plenty of Cool Water

Chickens that don’t have access to fresh water will die quickly in the heat.
So, make sure your birds always have plenty of fresh, clean water to drink. Keep in mind that water evaporates quickly in hot weather, and your
chickens will drink more, so check water levels throughout the day.

During the summer months, I put out several extra 5-gallon buckets modified with poultry nipples for my flock, just to make sure they don’t run
out. I keep these in shady areas, where the chickens naturally like to rest,
so they don’t have to walk far to get water.

If you’re already putting fresh peppermint into your chicken’s water, throw in some ice or a frozen water bottle. Drinking chilled peppermint water will help lower your chicken’s body temperature and encourage them to stay hydrated.

Consider Late Feeding

Digesting food raises body temperature, so feeding your birds later in the day can help them stay cooler. During summer, I typically feed my free-range flock around 5:00 p.m.

If you want to give treats during the day, choose hydrating, healthy foods like fresh watermelon, cucumber, or grapes. You might also consider switching hens to starter feed, which has a higher protein content, and providing free choice oyster shells to meet their calcium needs. Because many chickens eat less in the heat, switching to a starter feed can help ensure they get the protein they need even when they eat less.

Popsicles for Poultry

Think of how refreshing it is to savor a bowl of ice cream on a hot summer day. Well, your chickens feel the same way when you give them healthy frozen treats like frozen bananas, grapes, blueberries, sweet peas, and other mixed vegetables. It helps keep them cool, and it’s a refreshing snack on a sweltering day.

Another option is to take fresh fruit and veggies and pour them into a Bundt pan. Fill the Bundt pan with water and freeze it. When it’s completely frozen, set the whole thing outside for your chickens to peck at.
You can also pour low-sodium canned vegetables into muffin tins and
freeze for an easy treat.

A Little Shade of Their Own

If your chickens are confined to a run during the day, make sure they have somewhere shady to stand no matter what time of day it is. And, make sure that the size of the shady area is large enough to accommodate your entire flock.

You can add shade to your run with tarps, curtains, a tin roof, a shade sail,
or trimmed tree branches. You can also create shade by planting trees, tall grasses, or bushes along the outside of the run. No matter what strategies you decide to use to keep your chickens cool, they will appreciate it. After all, your chickens are wearing a down coat on the hottest summer day, so
ensuring they have cool water to drink, frozen treats, and plenty of shade will definitely make a difference!

HEATHER LEVIN is a homesteader, chicken wrangler of 30+ chickens, and the founder of The Greenest Acre and Chicken Health Academy, a pioneering online learning academy that teaches natural and emergency chicken care strategies. Get weekly chicken care tips via her website: The
Greenest Acre.

• Backyard Poultry Medicine and Surgery, Second Edition (personal
copy), (pg. 47, on chicken body temperature)
• “Efficiency of Peppermint Powder on Performance” S. Arab Ameri,
F. Samadi, Iranian Journal of Applied Animal Science,6:4, Dec 2016,
pgs 943-950. https://ijas.rasht.iau.ir/article_526645.html
• “Effect of Lemon Verbena power on performance and immunity
of heat-stressed broilers.” F. Rafiee, M. Mazhari, Journal of Animal
Physiology and Animal Nutrition, 100:5, Oct 2016, pgs 807-812.
• “Alleviation of chronic heat stress in broilers by supplementation
of betaine and tumeric”, Hossein Akhavan-Salamat, Tropical Animal
Health and Production, 48, 2016, pgs 181-188. https://link.springer.
• “Effects of dietary turmeric in broiler chickens”, Meysam Khodadadi,
Veterinary Animal Science, 14, Dec 2021. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.

Originally published in the June/July 2023 issue of Backyard Poultry magazine, and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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