Have you ever heard the expression matter than a wet hen? How about the old wives’ tale that says chickens shouldn’t be out in the rain because they can drown?
Seems there was a lot of popular folk wisdom concerning chickens and rain, and why they shouldn’t be outside in it.
Maybe it is just an abundance of caution, but what if there is some truth to these idioms and aphorisms? Can chickens survive out in the rain?
Yes, chickens can survive in the rain just fine so long as they don’t get hypothermia.
Well, it is true that chickens do not enjoy getting soaking wet, many of them seem to like being out during a light rain. In warmer climates, this is nothing to worry about.
You can learn more about what you should do about your chickens being out in the rain in the rest of this article.
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Do Chickens Really Drown in the Rain?
Let’s get this out of the way right now. No, chickens cannot drown in the rain. It is a common misconception that they can, but it simply isn’t true.
This is not to say that chickens cannot drown, of course they can, but they are not going to drown from the precipitation itself falling from the sky. Chickens can, however, drown in ponds, thick mud, and other standing water.
So, if you are worried about your chickens getting too wet and somehow drowning in the rain, don’t be.
They will be just fine as long as they stay out of any deep water. But getting soaked can hurt them in other ways, as we’re about to see.
Chickens Can Survive Getting Wet Just Fine in Warm Temperatures
Another common misconception is that if chickens get wet they will automatically die or become sick. This is not the case either.
In fact, in many warmer climates it is not uncommon to see chickens out and about during a rainstorm.
They don’t seem to mind getting a little wet and usually go right back to what they were doing when the sun comes out again.
You have to remember that wild chickens don’t benefit from having a nice, waterproof coop to retreat to when the rain picks up, and somehow they survived all these long centuries just fine!
Most Chickens Don’t Mind a Light Rain. In Fact, They Like It
I’ll let you in on a little secret that you might not know. Chickens actually like getting out in the rain. I know, it might seem a little crazy, but it’s true.
Ask any longtime chicken owner if their birds ever seem excited to get out in the rain and they will likely answer in the affirmative.
Some chickens might actually need to be coerced or else physically restrained to get them to go back in their coop when it’s raining.
Now, this isn’t to say that all chickens like getting wet. Some breeds are more prone to enjoying the rain than others.
But, for the most part, if you see your chickens out and about in a light rain, they are probably having a good time.
And it is more than just a lark or personality quirk: rain actually brings with it some very real benefits for chickens that we will discuss below.
Rain Brings Out Bugs and Worms
The most obvious benefit for chickens of getting out in the rain is that it brings out worms and insects for them to eat.
If you have ever seen a chicken scratching around in the dirt after a rain, this is likely what they are looking for.
Chickens love to eat worms, and a good rain can bring up plenty of them for your birds to enjoy.
This also explains why they bolt out into the run after being let out of confinement; when they hear the rain drumming they know they will have a buffet waiting for them.
And a Little Bath is Good for Them
Chickens take regular dust baths in order to keep themselves clean and their feathers in good shape, but dust baths alone are not sufficient for a deep cleaning.
Chickens, like nearly all birds, do require water from time to time to get truly clean. Next to an actual bath, a rinse in the rain is the next best thing.
You can expect your birds to flap and preen in the rain when they decide to use it for bathing. This helps to remove any dirt, grime, and parasites that might be hiding in their feathers.
And as an added bonus, getting a little wet can help cool your chickens down on a hot day.
“Hard” Chicken Feathers Repel Water to an Extent
Typically, birds do not fare well when soaked to the skin. It hampers their flight characteristics and generally makes them uncomfortable. So why then would a chicken of all species be happy to get out into the rain?
They don’t worry about the rain since their feathers give them a reliable degree of waterproofing.
While their feathers are not as waterproof as, say, a duck’s, they are still very good at repelling water and keeping the chicken dry.
This is due to the structure of chicken feathers. If you look at a feather closely you will notice that it is made up of many smaller fibers that all point in the same direction.
Laid together, they form a sort of soft shell with no gaps for water to sneak through. This helps to keep the chicken dry and comfortable even when it is raining.
Feathers of this type are known as “hard” feathers. Of course, this waterproofing isn’t perfect, and if a chicken is out in heavy rain or a lighter rain for an extended period of time it will eventually get properly wet.
But for light showers or intermittent downpours, their feathers do a pretty good job of keeping them dry enough so they stay warm.
Soft Feathers Do Not
Now, as you might have guessed, if there are hard feathers there are also probably soft feathers, and you would be right!
Contrasted with hard feathers, soft feathers are those that are loose, tufted, and silky in texture, almost like overgrown down. Think of a Silkie chicken and you have the right idea.
But without the dense pattern and tight arrangement that hard feathers have, these soft feathers offer basically no protection from the rain.
Chickens with a lot of soft feathers, such as Silkies or Orloffs, will often avoid getting caught out in the rain if they can help it since they will soak through right to the skin in no time, a condition that they do not like, believe me.
Chickens that Get Wet in Colder Climates Risk Hypothermia
The single biggest risk associated with a chicken being out in the rain and getting properly soaked is hypothermia.
This is a potentially fatal condition that can occur when the chicken’s body temperature drops too low, and they are unable to warm themselves back up.
Hypothermia is more of a risk in colder climates since the rain will be colder as well and the chicken will have a harder time drying off and getting warm again.
However, it can still occur in mild temps when a chicken gets soaked or at night when it is much cooler.
Hypothermia occurs in this case because chickens are robbed of their insulation. Their feathers are designed to trap a layer of air next to their skin to keep them warm.
Combined with their high metabolism and correspondingly high core temperature, chickens do just fine in cold conditions- so long as they are dry!
When they are soaked, this insulation value provided by their feather is lost, and to make matters even worse the water will allow colder air to strip heat from them even faster.
This sets the stage for rapid chilling and subsequent hypothermia. This is why you will often see chickens huddled together when it is cold or raining.
They are trying to stay warm by sharing their body heat with each other…
If there is any risk whatsoever of your chickens getting hypothermic from the rain, you must do what you must to get them into the shelter, no matter how much they seem to prefer being out in the rain!
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.
Find out more about the team here.