Chickens are typically curious birds; they love to play, climb, and generally run amuck. But do they enjoy water? And what does this all mean for keeping them safe, happy, and healthy? Here is what you need to know.
So, do chickens like water? A small number of chickens love to play in water; however, the majority are not overly keen. You may be surprised to hear that chickens can swim, but this is more of an innate response to danger than a fun pastime. Chickens do not have waterproof feathers like ducks, so water must be shallow. Otherwise, there is always the risk of accidental drowning.
In reality, whether or not a chicken likes water is complex – it really does come down to the individual chicken in question.
Nevertheless, there are certain trends and commonalities that have been put forward from chicken keepers.
And there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that we can leverage to understand whether water is something these birds, generally, enjoy.
Let us now take a closer look!
Do Chickens Like Being In Water?
Chickens generally only like water for drinking, although there are the odd exceptions and reports of birds that do enjoy a splash about! This is generally in warmer weather, and as a means of cooling off.
Either way, water is essential for chickens for several reasons.
First up is temperature regulation; drinking water helps chickens to regulate their body temperature, which is particularly important as the only ways a chicken can lose heat are through the comb, wattle, feet, or by panting or spreading its’ wings.
Chickens cannot perspire through their skin as humans can.
Secondly, water helps hens to lay eggs.
Eggs are made up of 60-70% water, so without adequate drinking water, a hen’s eggs will literally dry up, or she may even stop laying altogether.
Water also aids digestion, brain health, keeps cells healthy, and makes waste easier to excrete.
It is very rare for a healthy chicken not to drink, so if you find a member of your flock not drinking, you may want to look into other potential causes.
Perhaps it is being bullied by another chicken?
Or could there potentially be an underlying health condition?
Chickens drink by scooping water into their beaks and then lifting their heads up, so the water literally runs down their throat.
For this reason, you must ensure there is plenty of headroom in the coop for them to be able to perform this behavior.
Now back to the notion of chickens splashing about in a paddling pool!
Chickens are terrestrial animals, so they are not built for water per se.
However, you will inevitably find the odd chicken or two that adore playing in water!
The most likely time a chicken would even consider this pastime is during the hotter months but do ensure you only give them a shallow pool as, like many animals, they are susceptible to drowning.
A chicken’s feathers are not waterproof, so after a few minutes of being submerged, they will begin to soak up water.
A safer option is to fill a plastic jug with water and freeze it.
Then you can simply toss it into the coop for your feathered companions to play with, or bury it in their favorite dusting area and cover it with a towel.
Your chickens will love perching on top of it to cool down.
Alternatively, you can set up a sprinkler and watch them dash in and out!
Feel free to try any of these options with your flock but don’t be surprised if their reaction is underwhelming.
Chickens have personalities just like us, so they have their own likes and dislikes, which should be respected.
Never force a chicken into the water as it can cause unnecessary stress.
Generally, you shouldn’t have to bathe any of your chickens very often.
These birds are more than capable of preening and taking care of their own feathers, which can be aided with the provision of a dust bath.
However, there may be occasions where a water bath is necessary.
For example, if there is something seriously stuck in the feathers.
Do be prepared for a fair amount of resistance from most chickens; you will probably get wet, and it is unlikely to be the most relaxing task!
However, if you make sure the water is warm, many chickens will eventually give up the fight and settle.
Can Chickens Go Swimming?
Surprisingly, chickens can swim, although this skill is more down to survival than anything else. And just because they ‘can’ does not necessarily mean they should.
If we compare chickens to waterfowl, there are a number of important differences that highlight the features which are essential for a life on the water, that chickens lack:
Feet: Duck’s feet are webbed, which gives them the ability to paddle effortlessly through the water. On the other hand, a chicken’s feet are claw-like, which are more adapted to digging and walking across land.
Feathers: The belief that chickens have waterproof feathers is a popular myth that is simply not true.
Ducks have a special gland located near their tails, which secretes oil that they spread over their feathers.
This oil acts as a waterproof coating that prevents a duck from drowning – chickens do not have this gland.
This coating allows ducks to sit weightless on the water, whereas a chicken’s feathers would soak up the water, making them heavier and more likely to drown.
No doubt you will have seen online videos showing a hen happily swimming in a pool, yet it is important to remember that this is the exception rather than the rule.
If you do happen to have a water-loving chicken, you need to ensure that your feathered friend is supervised at all times.
Many people have both chickens and ducks and allow them both to free roam the same paddock.
This is perfectly fine but do make sure any ponds are appropriately ‘chicken-safe’.
You can do this by providing multiple easy exit points, such as gentle ramps or bricks, for your chickens to escape if they do happen to get too close to the water.
You don’t need to worry too much about your chickens venturing into the water on their own, as most chickens instinctively know not to get their feathers wet.
The issues arise when a chicken accidentally falls into a body of water.
Do Chickens Drown Easily?
Chickens are known for drowning more easily than other birds. Most chickens will immediately panic if they find themselves in deep water, which lessens their ability to think straight. There have been numerous accounts of chickens drowning in a bucket of water because their fear had taken over their basic survival instincts.
Yes, chickens can float but not for long.
Within 5-10 minutes, a chicken’s feathers will have soaked up enough water to be at high risk of drowning but do be aware that flailing in fear can shorten this length of time significantly.
There also appears to be a difference in ‘floating’ ability between species.
Silkie chickens are the least adept at swimming due to their unique fluffy feathers, which will soak up the water almost immediately.
These chickens will need to get out of the water within a few seconds; otherwise, they will likely drown.
If you do think your chicken may have an affinity with water, introduce her slowly by starting off with very shallow water that just covers her feet.
The most important thing is that they should never be forced.
Even a water-loving chicken will get stressed if there is no easy access to land, so do bear this in mind.
Never give young chicks access to any other water source apart from drinking water, which should be offered via a very shallow ground waterer or a hanging bottle system.
Their fragile down feathers are not as tightly packed together like the feathers of adult chickens, so they will drown if placed in water.
They are also more prone to hyperthermia as they are not as adept at maintaining their own body temperatures.
Saying that even an adult chicken must be dried off after being in the water.
Is Water Bad For Chickens?
Water is not bad for chickens; it is actually essential for their health. However, most chickens will only enjoy drinking water rather than swimming in it.
It is important to remember that chickens only like to drink cold water, which means you may need to replace the water in their drinkers more often in warmer weather.
You generally don’t need to offer water overnight as chickens don’t tend to drink when they are roosting, but if you do choose this option you will need to monitor the humidity level in the coop to ensure it doesn’t rise too high.
As mentioned above, there are only a limited number of chickens that seem to enjoy water in other forms but they must be supervised due to their high risk of drowning.
There is a popular myth that chickens can drown in the rain, but this is not true.
The only real risk comes from the water that is left behind in puddles, if the water is deep enough, and the risk of hyperthermia if they get too wet and cold.
However, do make sure they have shelters to get out of the rain if they need to.
You may even find your flock becomes more active in the rain and appear to enjoy it because there are generally fewer predators to worry about and more tasty bugs to eat!
Chickens have even been known to drink rainwater but, like all water sources, there is always a danger of your flock ingesting harmful bacteria that lays in stagnant water.
Always make sure you clean water drinkers regularly and keep an eye on your flock for any abnormal behaviours, such as one separating itself from the rest of the flock, as this could indicate an underlying health problem.
Offering plenty of fresh water will hopefully deter them from seeking out water from more ‘bacteria-laden sources and try to make sure they are placed in areas of shade in the summer months.
Will Chickens Die If They Get Wet?
Chickens are unlikely to die if they get wet, although they can die from water in certain situations and circumstances. The main ones to be aware of are if a chicken were to get too cold and developed hyperthermia, if they panicked and drowned in deep water, or if they ingested harmful bacteria from stagnant water sources.
It is common knowledge that bacteria just love warm, damp conditions so always be aware of this, especially as chickens have notoriously delicate respiratory systems.
If you notice any mold growing in their coop, you need to remove your chickens from the area and clean it thoroughly.
The most common ailment that affects chickens in terms of damp conditions, is Coccidiosis, which is a parasitic disease caused by Coccidian protozoa.
This condition can be fatal and will quickly affect your whole flock if it is not treated immediately.
Symptoms to look out for include lethargy, pale combs, loss of appetite, and yellow or bloody feces.
As mentioned above, chickens should be absolutely fine in light rain.
Most chickens are able to stay out in it for quite a while due to their thick insulating feathers.
They are also very adept at regulating their own body temperatures so will immediately seek shelter if they get too wet.
Even though their feathers are not waterproof like ducks, they still do a decent job of keeping the moisture away from the chicken’s body when it rains.
The main issue comes when the water soaks down to their skin – this is when hyperthermia becomes a serious issue which is why it is important to dry off your chicken if it gets too wet.
You can easily do this by wrapping them in a towel and patting them dry.
Some chickens will even accept a hairdryer on the low setting but do be aware that the noise can sometimes freak them out!
A temperature of -8 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius) or lower is considered ‘cold’ for a chicken, so these are the times when you will want to keep a closer eye on your flock, especially if it is raining heavily or snowing.
Chickens are not huge fans of water; but is essential that they consume enough of it to remain hydrated.
While chickens can swim this does not necessarily mean they can very well, nor they should.
Instead, consider water and rain as something that chickens respond to and live despite of.
For the most part, larger bodies of water, spills, and dampness generally introduce more risks and problems to the chicken keeper, than it does any benefit.
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.