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How Hens Keep Cool in the Heat

With temperatures soaring across England this week, it's important to know how hens keep cool in the heat. The RSPCA's laying hen expert, Kate Norman, explains why dust baths are a must for happy, healthy chickens.

Dust is a Must

It's not just about keeping cool, for hens, dust bathing is like a trip to the spa! While covering yourself in dust may not sound like the best way to keep clean and cool, for hens, getting down and dirty helps regulate body temperature. In fact, for many birds and mammals, dustbathing is the ideal solution in warmer weather.

Four Benefits of Dust Baths
Keep Cool
Keep Clean
Remove Parasites
By digging down into cooler soil hens can cool off by lowering their body temperature. Hens have oil glands on their back, which they spread over their feathers to make them waterproof. Having a dust bath ‘washes away’ the old oil as it sticks to the dust and then gets shaken off, so the fresh oil can then be spread over the feathers. Dust is also great for removing parasites from fur or feathers, which makes animals more comfortable and less stressed. Dustbathing has other benefits beyond keeping clean and cool, it also acts as a social hub for hens. Scientists have observed that when hens start in the dust, others often follow.
No Cages, Ever: RSPCA Assured

Hens need the freedom to dust bathe and express their natural behaviours. That's why the RSPCA Assured program prohibits cages for laying hens. Unfortunately, many egg-laying hens (approximately 28%) are still kept in close-confinement cages. Hens living in these conditions can't carry out important natural behaviours properly which leads to increased stress levels.

Cages for laying hens are not allowed on the RSPCA Assured farms. Every aspect of farmed animal welfare, from feed and water provision to environmental enrichment, healthcare, handling, sun protection and more is covered by the RSPCA’s higher welfare standards for farmed animals. Find out more about RSPCA Assured and the RSPCA welfare standards.

The Perfect Dust Bath

Dust baths are a vital part of the natural behaviour of hens and are essential for their wellbeing, especially in the heat. To help hens stay cool and happy, they need access to a dust bathing area in a well-ventilated and shaded spot.

What About Pigs?

That’s how hens like to keep cool in hot weather but what about pigs? Read our article on wallowing to see how pigs like to keep cool in hot weather.

About the author

Kate Norman

Kate is the RSPCA’s laying hen welfare expert.

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