Don't forget your chickens during this year's 4th of July or New Year's Eve fireworks displays. Dogs and cats aren't the only animals that experience extreme distress due to loud noises. While most chickens snooze right through the party, others may react with varying degrees of distress due to the loud noises, bright lights, and quick movements. The panic experienced by chickens can cause them to self-harm, and can also cause some symptoms such as changes in egg production, misformed eggs, aggression and other behavioral changes, and, in extreme cases, death. In addition to keeping them calm, it's important to set them up in an environment that's safe for them.
1. Secure the Coop
Chickens are easily startled by loud noises and quick movements, and their first reaction is to escape or hide. In a panic, they may try tucking themselves in small places, hopping or flying in an erratic pattern, or flying away entirely. Despite the noise, send the flock to bed at their normal time to maintain their routine. If possible, close the coop door to keep them from running or flying away. Be sure to double-check their space and cover or remove any sharp points or edges they may run into by accident. Close off tight spaces that may be attractive to frightened chickens looking for a hiding spot, but are tough to escape from.
2. Block out the Light
Cover the coop with a tarp or a blanket, or block windows with cardboard. Alternatively, add a night light to the coop for the night to eliminate flashes of lights in the dark. While changes in lighting can cause small spikes in stress, it's preferable to bright and sudden flashes of light.
3. Absorb the Sound
Close coop windows and doors to block as much sound as possible, but be sure to leave some ventilation. Adding materials to the coop to deaden the sound will also help. Think of extra bedding, hay bales, old pillows or blankets, or soundproofing foam. Some measures may be applied to the coop permanently that will help long term: caulking or sealing cracks, gaps, or holes in the coop, glazing the windows, or creating a sound barrier around the coop like a fence or a hedge. Remember to consider weather and ease of cleaning when selecting your insulating supplies.
4. Ambient Noise
Just as bright flashes of light are less frightening in light spaces than dark spaces, loud booms are less frightening in ambient noise than in silence. Put a radio in the coop, or use a Bluetooth speaker to add ambient noise such as AM/FM radio, white noise, brown noise, or other sleep sounds. It is said that chickens are soothed by classical music; however, any soothing music will dampen the sudden fireworks blasts and diminish the stress of the big booms.
Hanging fresh herbs, sprinkling dried herbs, or adding essential oils to the coop with soothing properties will assist with keeping your chickens calm during the fireworks antics. The herbs most known for calming chickens are lavender, chamomile, lemon balm, mint, marjoram, and thyme. These herbs are beneficial but are not a substitute for a balanced diet or proper veterinary care.
6. Diet Considerations
Calcium and Magnesium are crucial for maintaining calm nervous system functions during stress, but so are their companion nutrients, such as Vitamin D, which aids in Calcium absorption. Calcium is crucial for bone health in laying hens but also plays a key role in nerve function and muscle contraction, helping to avoid excitability and hyperactivity during periods of stress. Magnesium assists with regulating neurotransmitters, muscle contraction and relaxation, and heart rate. Chickens with balanced calcium and magnesium levels are more likely to stay calm during stress, like fireworks, as their bodies can better manage physiological stress.
Remember that although you may not recognize signs of distress, chickens can be quite stoic about stress and pain and may not display symptoms you recognize. Like fireworks, severe thunderstorms, gunshots, construction, loud music or concerts, yard equipment, alarms, and traffic noises can all be causes of stress in chickens. Sensitivity to your hens comfort may come with a small financial and timely cost, but will be rewarded with consistent egg production, predictable and calm behavior, and good health, so button up that coop, and go Celebrate America!