Chickens are funny birds and one thing that you may not know about them is that many people claim they should never get wet. Now, it’s not quite that simple but if you are keeping chickens or intend to keep them you should know everything you can about chickens and water because it is important to their long-term wellbeing and if chickens can get wet.
Chickens can, of course, get wet but there are times when it’s dangerous to their health for them to get wet or to stay wet. Chicken feathers are not waterproof but they are water-resistant so they will help shed water.
So, we’ll examine when chickens shouldn’t get wet, why it’s bad for them and what to do about it to either stop them from getting wet or if they get wet when they shouldn’t.
Does It Hurt Chickens To Get Wet?
OK, it ought to be obvious, but chickens don’t dissolve in the rain and of course, they can get wet without any particular injury coming to them. It would be hard for any living creature to deal with life if coming into contact with water made life dangerous for them.
In fact, for much of the year – chickens are OK with getting wet and you may find that when it rains, instead of running off to hide, they gaily prance around your garden pulling up worms and wolfing them down, instead. Chickens are super practical birds and will make hay (or worm pie at least) while the sun shines.
Chickens are covered in a big layer of feathers and while these feathers aren’t waterproof as they are with say, ducks, they are more than good enough at keeping some of the moisture away from the chickens body when it rains.
If a chicken thinks that it’s raining so much that it’s going to make it miserable – it will rush off to find shelter for itself. If you’ve left them access to the coop – they’ll probably head in there or hide out under a ledge or plant somewhere until things quieten down.
This doesn’t mean, however, that your chickens always need to get wet and, in fact, cold is the real enemy of your chickens more than water. When the temperature drops below about 62 degrees Fahrenheit – this is “cold” for a chicken. This is when you shouldn’t allow them to go out in the rain.
Also, you shouldn’t let young chickens (their feathers haven’t developed, yet), sick chickens (because it will make them worse) or silkies (that have feathers that completely fail to keep water off) out in the rain, either.
What Happens If Chickens Get Cold And Wet?
It’s not guaranteed but your chickens may get sick if they get cold and wet and there are some particular disease that they’re likely to pick up in wet conditions and there are some good reasons for this.
Fungal diseases aren’t that common in chickens but nor are they rare and rather like human beings, there are several kinds of hostile fungus that can grow on chickens. There also fungi that can grow in a chicken’s environment that can release toxic spores that can cause serious problems for your chickens.
Chickens are famous for having delicate respiratory systems and any little thing can irritate them – mold spores are particularly prone to do this. If you notice mold growing in or around the coop, you need to treat it as quickly as possible. If you catch it early, this should be easy using an off-the-shelf anti-fungal agent and following the instructions on the packaging.
Remember to keep your birds away while you do any decontamination work and give the place a thorough rinse out first, anti-fungal chemicals are probably not all that healthy for your chickens too.
Bacterial And Parasitic Infections
There’s no doubt that bacteria love to “swarm and multiply in a drop of water” (thanks to Jeff Wayne’s interpretation of the War of the Worlds for that line) and when it rains – there’s always plenty of water to go around.
The most common condition that chickens face in terms of parasitic infection in damp conditions is coccidia which causes coccidiosis. This condition can be deadly, and it will quickly infect your whole flock if it’s not treated immediately.
Warning signs include dirty looking chickens, weak, lethargic, pale skin and/or combs, loss of appetite and either yellow foamy or bloody droppings. You need to get some amprolium (the brand name is Corid) to treat this and you add powder or liquid to the bird’s water supply to deal with it.
Then there are the two banes of a chicken owner’s existence – mites and lice. They become more active when it rains because chickens can’t take dust baths easily in damp conditions and they use these baths to scrape their skin clean of the parasites.
Worse, they all tend to huddle together in the roost for warmth in the cold and this lets mites and lice easily jump from bird to bird. We’ve got a piece here on how to treat mites and lice with Sevin Dust which is the most common insecticide that’s safe to use on chickens.
Almost all parasites love being around in moist, damp, wet conditions and many of them really appreciate the chance to breed like crazy in your chicken’s poop. So, when it’s rainy season, you really need to make sure that the coop is kept as clean as possible.
It can also help to ensure that the coop has adequate ventilation and windows to allow sunlight in as these can help keep parasites and fungus at bay.
What’s That Smell In The Coop Following The Rain?
Without being facetious – that smell is the smell of a wet chicken coop. Actually, more precisely it’s almost certainly the mold that’s been growing in your wet chicken coop. Mold demands just two things before it decides to spread itself all over something and they are: food and water.
If you give mold those things, it will start to thrive. The coop is full of potential food sources for mold – the materials that you built it out of, the bedding that your chickens sleep in, the poop that they leave behind, etc.
You may also find that mold has a particular thing for paint work. This is probably because most paint has a linseed oil base and this is very nourishing to mold. If you want to avoid having to constantly treat the paintwork in the coop for mold – switch your paints for something completely synthetic, problem solved, nothing can live in that kind of paint.
To keep this problem to a minimum, once the rain clears – you ought to get into the coop and remove the bedding and replace it with fresh bedding. This is really important as it’s so easy for mold to set in in this and your chickens will be spending time directly in and around it, making it very easy for them to inhale any spores that are released and to fall ill.
Any litter should also be emptied and removed as the rest of the smell? That’s the odor of rotting poop and the bacteria and parasites colonizing it. Not very appetizing is it?
What About Puddles? Are They A Problem In The Chicken Run?
Puddles in and of themselves are not a major issue for chickens but if the run becomes completely sodden and muddy then there may be problems for your chickens. For three main reasons:
- A wet run means no dust baths which is an invitation for lice and mites to do their thing. If you can you should provide a temporary dust bath, ideally somewhere that it won’t get rained on – you just need a decent sized cat litter tray filled to about 2 inches with sand on the bottom and diatomaceous earth on the top.
- Puddles are, from a chicken’s perspective a drinking glass and thus they love to quaff fresh water from them. The issue here is that the water probably isn’t fresh and living in those puddles are bacteria, fungi, and parasites of varying descriptions. As you can imagine this can lead to sickness.
- Chickens are going to romp about in the mud and once they’ve done that, they’re going to wander back into their coop and put their wet and muddy feet in the bedding, neatly transferring any parasites, etc. that have come along for the ride.
Now, you can’t prevent the rain (unless, of course, you are a Norse God or Goddess, which you probably aren’t) but you can help to prevent puddles building up in the run. When you build it, try and build it on a gentle slope that allows the run to drain properly and build it high enough so that it doesn’t flood.
You can also ensure that it’s not over-shady by trimming back any shrubbery that might be leaving the ground to stay damp and unpleasant rather than drying out in the sun.
How To Prevent Chickens From Getting Wet?
You don’t need to do very much to keep your chickens from getting uncomfortably wet. Just make sure there are enough places to shelter in the run if a storm starts fiercely and otherwise, that your flock can get in and out of the coop whenever they want.
Chickens may not be the brightest animals but they’re not stupid either and if they find that it’s too wet for them, they will immediately take shelter if it’s available.
What To Do If Chickens Get Wet?
Most of the time, if a chicken gets wet you can just leave it to dry out by itself. This is exactly how chickens dry out in the wild. However, if it’s particularly cold and your chicken is particularly wet then you can always give them a bit of a helping hand in the drying department.
Firstly, get a clean towel and gently pat dry your chicken, you may need to restrain them if they find the process uncomfortable or awkward, don’t be rough but do be firm. This is an easy procedure that won’t do them any harm.
Then, if you have access to a hair dryer, switch it to both the minimum heat and the minimum power and give the chicken a little blow dry – now, you must work from head to vent in the order of the feathers, otherwise the chicken is likely to become distressed.
If you find your chicken is lifting its wings a lot during this process – it’s an indication that it’s becoming uncomfortably hot. Switch the hair dryer off for a few minutes and let the bird cool down before starting again.
Finally, if all else fails, if you have a chicken proof heat lamp, place it and the chicken in a box and allow the chicken to soak up warmth. You can also allow a chicken which has been taught to sit still to sit near an open fire but don’t do this if they don’t know how to sit still, it’s asking for problems.
What To Do For Chickens In Wet Weather
OK, so while you can’t really influence the weather there are a few things that you can do which make chickens lives easier and to sum them up:
- When a downpour is over, make sure to open up the coop and let your chickens out to play immediately (or as soon as you notice, at least). This frees up the coop so that you can clean it.
- Always make sure that there is proper ventilation in the chicken coop, this has a drying effect and it makes it much harder for mold and parasites to take ahold.
- Always remove all soiled bedding and dispose of it. It’s bound to be full of mold and parasites. Then replace it.
- Try to provide a dry area for a dust bath. It can’t be overstated how important it is for chickens to take dust baths to stay free of external parasites.
- Clean the coop out thoroughly and yes, if the rain won’t let up – you may need to grab some waterproofs and brave it.
- Inspect your chickens for any signs of disease or infestation on a regular basis, it really doesn’t matter how hard you work to keep them safe – sometimes, chickens just get sick and it’s no-one’s fault. The key here is to catch it early and treat it as fast as possible so that it doesn’t cause bigger and more unpleasant problems later on down the road.
- Aim to keep the interior of the coop as dry as possible as this will help your chickens dry off when they come in from the rain.
Can chickens get wet? Chickens while domesticated now are essentially wild animals, so, of course they can get wet – if they couldn’t, they’d have died out as a species centuries ago. That they’ve thrived proves that a chicken won’t die from a little water.
However, that’s not to say that your chickens should spend their lives frolicking in the rain. Chickens aren’t as good at thermoregulation as we are and in the winter, if they get wet, it’s very hard for them to get dry and as temperatures plummet, being wet can make them sick and if they get sick, well, then they can die. So, we hope that you’ve found our guide useful and know how to keep your chickens dry all year long now.