by Rebecca Nickols
While my heart goes out to those that were in the direct path of hurricane Isaac, the storm has brought some much needed rain to the drought-stricken Midwest. So far we’ve had two days of constant rain fluctuating from a drizzle to a downpour. Usually one associates rainy days with sadness, depression, darkness, but in my community the cloudy gray days are a beautiful sight… My daughter’s high school even declared Friday “rain day” and everyone was instructed to wear raincoats and wellies! In the ICU where I work, my coworkers and even my patients were excited about the anticipated rainy forecast… I had one patient barely awake from anesthesia ask me, “Is it raining yet?”
My free range flock seemed to share in my enthusiasm; the showers haven’t slowed their foraging efforts at all. In fact, they seem to appreciate the cooler temperatures and perhaps the grubs and worms that are coming to the surface of the muddy ground. Sprinkles, drizzles or a gentle steady rain don’t seem to bother them in the least. I have noticed that the only time they seemed deterred from their scratching and pecking is when there is a down-pour; then I’ll find them huddled under a shrub or tree until the rain lets up a bit then they’re back at work!
Even though they look a sight (feathers soaked, feet and beaks muddy), I really doubt that there is any harm that could come to a drenched bird… I know that there are successful chicken keepers who, unlike me, live in areas of annual high rainfall and I would assume that as long as there is shelter available for the flock that free-ranging in the rain couldn’t cause any harm…
But, I’m not one that’s keen on assumptions so I thought I’d take my question to an expert… I asked Peter Brown, aka the Chicken Doctor, if there was any health risk in letting your flock free-range in the rain.
Here’s his response:
“Generally speaking most chickens seem to like the rain but will seek shelter in the heaviest of down pours. Repeatedly being exposed to rain without the opportunity to dry off can and will over time lead to respiratory issues and fungal infections of the feathers. Usually the fungus will go un-noticed as it will form at the base of the feather follicle.
Think of it this way, you may enjoy running through a sprinkler and cooling off but you may not enjoy a soaking heavy stream of water constantly; same would apply to chickens. The stress produced by prolonged exposure to constant rain will allow corticosteroids to be produced and impair the birds immune system and expose the bird to health issues.
Chickens are more tolerant to the cold than they are to heat. A body temperature that rises above 113°F is sufficient to cause death, where as a drop in body temperature to as low as 75°F is just above the threshold limit to cause death from cold exposure. Normal body temperature for chickens would be in the range of 105° to 107°F. Baby chicks are born with a body temperature of approximately 103-104°F. So lowering the core body temperature whether by cold rain or cold air is certainly detrimental to chickens. Chickens exposed to cold air temperatures and cold rain will become hypothermic rather quickly; with the onset of symptoms being rather rapid with death to follow in approximately 1 to 1 and 1/2 hours. Symptoms of hypothermia are as follows: shaking, low body core temperature, pale or blue comb, pale sinus tissues, slow labored respiration and the skin may appear blue as well.
It is my opinion that free range birds should always have adequate shelter to relieve exposure to the elements, but also to help mitigate aerial predation.”
Thanks so much to the great advice and information provided by “The Chicken Doctor”!
You can get more great tips, medical related advice and info from The Chicken Doctor via Internet radio each Monday when he is a regular guest speaker on Backyard Poultry with The Chicken Whisper. His website, First State Veterinary Supply, also provides consultations, information and remedies on common chicken illnesses and an on-line store for purchasing equipment, medications and supplies. Also, the facebook page, “The Chicken Whisper,” is a great site for notifications of the The Chicken Doctor’s radio show interviews.
What’s your experience with chickens in the rain? Do they enjoy spending a rainy day outside–or would they rather stay warm and dry in the shelter of their coop? Leave a comment below or share a photo of your rain-soaked birds on the Community Chickens facebook page!
To see what else is happening on our Southwest Missouri property, visit …the garden-roof coop.