One of my readers from the Iron Oak Farm blog recently e-mailed me with a question. She was wondering if chickens should be locked up during rain storms because she heard that they can drown simply by looking up into falling rain.
The issue of rain and farming has been a prominent subject this summer. Storms come daily, fast and stay just long enough for everything to get soaked, muddy and gross. Needless to say, we haven’t had to water the garden at all, in fact, the pumpkin patch is leggy, yellowing and in some lower areas, drowning… I can’t say the same for our chickens thankfully.
Honestly, I’ve never heard of this notion of chickens drowning in the rain until now. I thought, oh boy…somebody is playing one on a chicken newby…ha, ha! But just to be sure, I did what every self doubting chicken keeper would do…I Googled it.
And much to my surprise, this is somewhat of a common concern. I found this question asked on many a chicken forum and even addressed to other species of poultry including turkeys. So once again, there is always something to learn in the chicken keeping world.
I was unable to find a reputable source who could, without a doubt, confirm or discredit the drowning possibility so here’s my thoughts on the subject. I’d love to hear from you and what you think as well.
Many who claim that drowning is a possibility, relate it to the lack of intelligence of chickens and other farm fowl. They claim that due to the domestication of poultry, natural instinct and the common sense required to come out of the rain has been bred out of modern day poultry breeds. Others claim that the placement of the nostrils make it a perfect funnel for drops of water to flow into the nasal cavity and block it.
As for the intelligence argument, I hope I don’t ruffle any feathers, (horrible pun I know!) but here’s my two cents on the subject. I often see this claim directed at animals meant for slaughter. For years I have heard that cows, chickens and especially turkeys are dumb animals. After raising both chickens and turkeys, I couldn’t disagree more. I believe that this is something that people tell themselves so that they can get through Thanksgiving dinner without feeling guilty. And while I’m not a vegetarian, I think that many people want the domestic animals we eat to be stupid. It allows for a multitude of justification. If the animals we eat are dumb, unintelligent and unfeeling, not even smart enough to come out of the rain, then it conveniently allows for disrespect and mistreatment.
As for the placement of the nostrils, I personally have a little more faith in nature’s design than to believe this whole heartedly. For one thing, what about wild quail, pheasants and turkeys who have a similar nasal cavity and don’t have a coop to retreat to during times of rain? I understand that there are natural shelters in the woods under logs or large leaves etc. But it just seems like if this was a viable threat, that after a rainstorm, there would be hundreds of unlucky, dead birds, who just happened to look up.
The third argument is that when a chicken looks up, like when a large bird or plane flies over, it doesn’t look directly up, it looks sideways at the sky which would actually block water from entering the lower nostril. Chickens are also capable of sneezing and shaking water from their nostrils if it happens to enter. When my chickens do spot a low flying plane or a “V” shaped flock of Canada Geese flying over, they squawk and run for shelter. Proving again that even though they’re domesticated, they still possess enough instinct to survive and protect themselves from overhead threats like hawks, eagles and even rain.
My final argument is that in the 17 years I’ve raised chickens I’ve never had a chicken drown in the rain. Now I know that this alone is not concrete/conclusive evidence, and that anything is possible, but not only do our chickens not drown in the rain, they tend to really enjoy being out in it. I’m sure it has less to do with the pleasure of being wet, as chickens bathe in dry dirt, and more to do with the abundance of worms coming to the surface of the earth. But unless its a really windy, or pouring they enjoy a good sprinkle.
Now, like everything in chicken keeping, a little common sense goes a long way. First of all, allowing your chickens to get soaked in a downpour in cool weather isn’t a good idea. Chickens can get chilled which can prompt upper respiratory infections and lowered immune systems. Also, if you allow your chickens to frolic in the rain, always give them the option to retreat to shelter. If a storm is really harsh where hail, high winds or falling branches etc. might be a possibility it’s a good idea to make an executive decision to lock them up, or not let them out that day.
Really, if the idea of your chickens out in a storm stresses you out and you have ample room and ventilation in your coop, a rainy day locked inside isn’t the worst thing that could happen to your flock. They might be a little bored and miss out on some prime worm pickings but they’ll be fine.
At our farm, our chickens are let out each day and have the choice to come out of the weather if they want to. Most of the time, as a storm rolls in and the wind picks up, they will instinctively head to the coop. As the storm retreats, they will come out in the leftover, lighter rain to gather bugs and leaves that have fallen.
If you do find yourself with a chicken that is somehow soaked to the bone, (accidents happen, coop doors are blown shut, they fall in waterers etc.) chickens love to have a warm bath and a nice blow dry. (For more on this, read my post Chicken Bath 101) One of our bantams was knocked into the goat waterer one day. I found her soaked and shivering. I gave her a nice warm bath and a blow dry, and she was “right as”…ready for it… “rain!” (more puns! I can’t stop myself…but I should, I really should.)
What is your opinion on chickens and rain? Do you lock them up or let them weather the storm? And have you ever heard of a chicken drowning in the rain? I’d love to hear from you! Leave your comments below or visit us at the Community Chickens Facebook Page.