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Should Chickens Be Out In The Rain?

I was standing at the bus stop this morning with my first grader, looking up at the cloudy sky and wondering if we were going to be able to get onto the bus before it started raining. Thirty seconds later, I got my answer. After a mad dash for cover, we found ourselves standing beside our brooder in the garage. Five little chicks looked up at us curiously and I found myself thinking of our flock and how the rain affects them.

If you have provided a dry place for your flock to escape to, then you should be able to let your chickens come and go as they please, even in the rain. Forcing them one way or another, will most likely just cause them stress – which is actually worse for their health then a little rain.

How Much Is Too Much Rain?

So how wet can a chicken get before there’s a risk to the bird’s health? I have found that it’s not so much a question of how wet the bird gets, as much as of how long the bird stays wet.

Using ourselves as an example, kids and parents alike can jump head first into a lake and be completely soaked. So long as we get out and dry ourselves off at the appropriate time, there shouldn’t be any physical affects other than being hungry and tired.

If, however, we get showered with a little rain and it takes some time for our clothes to dry off, then it’s not all that surprising when we come down with a cold.

Chickens are pretty much the same. Their feathers will do a remarkable job of sheltering them from the elements, all while keeping them warm. However, the birds are not invulnerable. This is why a place for them to dry off is so important.

So when it comes to rain, my philosophy is to provide the flock with the shelter they need and then let them decide how and when to use it.

Adult Chicken Vs. Chick

The freedom for a bird to decide, how long is too long in the rain, only applies to the adult chicken. Chicks should never be given the choice as their feathers haven’t matured yet and this makes them more vulnerable to the cold.

For this reason, your chicks should always be kept dry. Depending on the age of the chick, their body temperature could drop fairly quickly, putting them at risk. However, once their feathers have filled in, you can relax a little bit.

With regards to outdoor chicks that are with a mother hen, it actually comes down to whether or not the mother hen is doing her job right. Generally speaking, the mother hen’s instincts will be better than ours…but this isn’t 100%. So while your default setting should be to trust her maternal judgment, it doesn’t hurt to worry a little.

Can A Chicken Catch A Cold?

There’s a lot of argument as to whether or not a chicken can catch the flu – especially from humans. Some people swear up and down that it’s not possible, while others are convinced otherwise. But regardless of who is technically correct, what is not being argued are the facts that a virus will respond in ideal conditions and that it has the ability to mutate.

So with this case of double jeopardy, it’s good to remember that the best defense to any virus is a healthy immune system. Long term exposure to a cold and damp environment will weaken the bird making them vulnerable.

Do Chickens Like Rain?

Chickens do not share the same affinity for water as their feathered cousins, the duck. Point of fact, I’ve seen chickens take great care to avoid the lawn sprinkler. They’ll have a great time taking a dirt bath, but break out the water hose and they’re gone.

So why if my chickens don’t like being wet, then why are they out in the rain?

There are a few reasons as to why your flock may be out in the rain. The first is food.

Bugs that depend primarily on flight for movement are at a disadvantage in the rain. A moth, for example, has a terrible time flying once its wings get wet, and that’s if they can fly at all.

Also, worms that have been hiding safely underground will come to the surface where they become an easy treat for your bird.

The second reason why your flock might be taking a casual stroll in the rain is from the lack of predators.

Water can add a lot of weight to a hawk’s wings, making it difficult to fly. Just circling around overhead, where it’s collecting more and more rain, could be a real bit of work for the predator. And even if the hawk should decide to dive on a chicken, the added weight will undoubtedly affect its ability to perform the maneuver.

While the rain has most certainly made a heavy blanket of feathers for the chicken to carry around, the chicken isn’t a flier as much as it is a runner. And should a ground predator decide to attack, feathers made slick from the moisture will make it a little easier for the bird to slip away.

The Best Way To Shelter Chickens From The Rain

Chickens will use whatever shelter is available. Whether it’s a bush or the base of a small pine tree, if it keeps the rain off of them, they’ll use it. That being said, branches are no comparison to the modern day roof shingle.

If you really want to provide the best for your flock, then give them a waterproof dwelling.

When it comes to housing, the curb appeal for your chicken will vary significantly from our personal choice of what’s attractive. Chickens don’t care so much about the color of the coop,but they will care if there is standing water on the floor.

Mud will stick to their feet and they will not be able to lick themselves clean in the same way a cat would. Also, having muddy feet will increase the risk of injury as their slick feet will have difficulty griping things. This is especially important as chickens like to roost up high.

Also, make sure that there is plenty of wall space that your flock can hide behind. A roof is simply not enough as the wind is sure to carry moisture horizontally. Remember, moisture is always working against your birds. It makes it much more difficult for them to maintain body heat. Allowing them to completely dry is definitely the best thing you can do for them!

# Note #

For more on sheltering your chickens, please read, “Should My Chicken Coop Be In The Sun Or The Shade?”

Dry food is a must! Ask anyone who has had chickens for more than one summer and they’ll tell, once the chicken feed gets wet, it’s worthless. It swells up like cereal and turns to mush. And since your bird’s body is working overtime to stay warm, they will need food to give them energy.

Water is another must have! You would think that with water being the problem in the first place, your chicken wouldn’t need any. But this is not true. They will most certainly be thirsty and they will need to be able to get a drink without going back into the elements and getting chilled all over again.

Caring for your homestead fowl…in foul weather ; )