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As raising backyard chickens has grown in popularity in recent years, many new flock keepers worry about how to keep birds healthy, a common question is are chickens okay in the rain? Answers to this question seem fairly straightforward, but like most topics related to keeping animals, there is more than meets the eye.
Chickens are perfectly OK in the rain, although they should be provided with shelter and dry ground if they wish to move. When rain mixes with cold weather or extreme winds, hypothermia and other diseases may occur, so it is best to bring them into a shelter. Chicks should not be left in the rain.
Keeping an eye on the flock’s water, food, and general grounds is also a necessary requirement during rain. Thankfully, chickens are strong creatures that have survived plenty of weather conditions on their own, so little extra help is needed.
Can Chickens Get Sick From The Rain?
Chickens will rarely get sick from the rain. The few exceptions where rain will cause sickness or issues with birds are:
- When the birds are young chicks
- When the rain is mixed with other bad weather
In general, however, you do not need to worry about bringing your chickens into the coop or finding other ways to deal with the rain. Any light drizzle or even moderate rain should not be an issue for the large majority of owners.
Different chickens breeds like Faverolles, Poland & Silkies should always be towel dried when as they lack water-resistant feathers.
In fact, you may notice that your chickens enjoy being in the rain – this is fairly normal behavior and, assuming the two situations listed above are not being met, letting your chickens get some good rain is never an issue.
In general, you should be sure that the chickens have access to their coop or another covered shelter during rain in case if they wish to use it. However, you do not need to force them inside under normal conditions.
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Hypothermia Is Dangerous, Especially In Storms
Hypothermia is one of the few dangers that rain can directly present to chickens. Most other issues that can arise from poor weather around the flock are only indirect occurrences; with hypothermia, the very act of being in the rain and cold for too long can cause serious health issues or even death.
For the most part, you do not need to worry about hypothermia among your flock unless the rain is tremendously heavy, accompanied by extreme colds, harsh winds, or a mix of all three. This is especially true if you have a hearty breed.
The vast majority of adult chicken breeds have thick, water-resistant feathers. This means that the birds will not get soaked through as you might expect, so they can be out for much longer without any issues. This only becomes an issue when the water is freezing cold or too much for the feathers to handle.
One of the best ways to combat hypothermia from developing among your chickens is to simply provide the birds with a dry, sheltered place where they can escape from the rain. At a minimum, a roof over their heads is necessary. Walls on the sides are a fantastic addition and quickly become a necessity if your rain is commonly accompanied by even moderate winds.
Birds will dry themselves off fairly quickly, assuming they have access to a dry place that is at least moderately warmer than the stormy weather outside.
Your coop should be fine; simply leave the door open and the chickens will find their way back as necessary in most weather. If you have a particularly long chicken run or grazing area, consider placing small areas with a bit of shelter around that chickens can quickly duck into to avoid the rain.
Of course, all of these tips for avoiding hypothermia in birds have been for less than severe storms and temperatures. If a cold snap is coming that will be accompanied by extreme rain or snow, it is best to simply bring your chickens back into the coop. While they are fine on their own the vast majority of the time, this is a sure-fire way for them to survive any weather conditions.
Speaking of coops, is your chicken’s coop insulated? Learn how to keep a warm flock in my article.
Why Young Chicks Get Sick In The Rain
Although grown chickens face very few issues in the rain, young chicks are a different story. Due to their lower body heat, lack of mature feathers, and general fragility, chicks should never be left out in the rain.
Even in light rain, it is vital to keep young chicks inside the coop and safely away. This is for a number of reasons:
- Chicks cannot regulate their body heat well
- Chicks do not have water-resistant feathers yet
- Their immune systems are not developed
All of these combine to make rain and the natural sprouting of bacteria from it a dangerous occurrence for chicks.
Chicks are still developing their metabolism, and because of this, they cannot regulate their body temperature nearly as well as adult chickens. Because rain, even when warm, inevitably chills the body eventually, this can cause serious issues to arise, including the aforementioned hypothermia. Chicks will simply have a harder time shaking off the cold, and the prolonged exposure can cause a host of issues.
One of the key defenses that full-grown hens and roosters have against the rain are water-resistant feathers that allow the rain to largely slick off of the bird rather than become absorbed. Sadly, young chicks are not born with these feathers already – instead, their feathers are down, giving them that soft and warm look people love. Eventually, these will be replaced with the tougher adult feathers, as shown here.
When a chick’s softer and absorbing feathers are combined with their irregular metabolism, a dangerous combination is formed. The chick will be unable to get dry, and the water on its skin will rapidly cool it. This can cause a chick to get sick quite easily, which often results in death.
A chick’s immune system is still developing for quite some time after birth, making them easy targets for bacteria and other growths. Rain provides great conditions for bacteria to grow, adding another vital reason to the list of why chicks must be kept out of the rain.
There are a host of bacteria that can influence chickens that thrive in the rain; although these can technically affect full-grown chickens as well, their bodies have matured to deal with threats, while a chick is still feeble.
The risks of allowing chicks to be in the rain are simply far too many. Instead, keep them sheltered on all sides and sealed away from the rain to avoid as many health issues as possible until they are older.
Chics not having water-resistant feathers is why they can’t have baths learn why bathing chics can be dangerous for them in my article.
Rain Makes Chicken Diseases Worse
Although chickens are unlikely to get sick from the rain itself outside of catching hypothermia, some diseases do thrive under wet and damp conditions. Some in particular either already exist around chicken coops and will begin to become a larger issue in the rain, and others will simply develop from the surroundings.
Rain allows for diseases to develop around chickens because it provides a great environment for bacteria to spread. Most bacteria thrive in warm, wet places; to help prevent these diseases and more, be sure to keep your coop dry at all times.
Each of these diseases will develop somewhere else where the chickens are likely to go, then transfer onto them; the rain itself is not causing any of these to suddenly crop up. However, thanks to the increased likelihood under damp conditions, it is most likely that any one of these diseases will spread through your flock after some heavy rain.
To help prevent each of these diseases from becoming issues, ensure that your coop is properly sanitized, dry, and ventilated at all times. While there is no guaranteed way to prevent these diseases, taking proper precautionary steps will reduce the possibility severely.
List Of Chicken Diseases That Get Worse In The Rain
To see a webinar about chicken diseases in general by Dr. David frame, DVM from Utah State University watch the video above.
E-coli grows notoriously quickly in water, making it a dangerous threat to some farms. E-coli affects a chicken’s digestive tract and can cause a host of issues, including:
- Weight loss
- Difficulty breathing
E-coli is most likely to develop from poor sanitation practices, especially if water is allowed to sit for some time. To help prevent an outbreak, check for any puddles or sitting water after a storm. Clean and dry the inside of the coop as much as possible and ensure that your flock has fresh water to drink.
In the event of an E-coli outbreak, not all is lost. It can be treated with antibiotics, although this could be expensive for small farms. Take the proper steps beforehand to prevent unnecessary spending and turmoil for your chickens.
Coccidiosis is a disease that can be common in unvaccinated chickens, infecting the intestine and causing weight loss, extreme fatigue, bloody feces, and lowered egg production rates. It is caused by protozoa, which can be thought of as parasites for a basic understanding. These protozoa wreak havoc on the intestine system, and the combination of symptoms can easily lead to death.
Coccidiosis is caused by damp and humid coops and litter, making it easily spread during summer rainstorms. The best ways to prevent this disease from affecting your flock is to ensure that the coop is well ventilated and cooled and that it has fresh bedding.
Your chickens should be vaccinated against coccidiosis early to prevent this disease from being an issue. However, if your flock has not been for some reason, this can quickly spread through all the chickens after some rain and poor sanitation practices.
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Can Chicken Food Get Wet?
Chicken feed is an important but often overlooked part of keeping chickens. Storing and putting out chicken feed in a correct manner takes just a bit of extra time but can ultimately help prevent your birds from getting sick and keep them laying longer.
Chicken feed should not get wet, as the moisture can cause the food to rot and go bad. It can also promote fungal and bacterial growth in the food, sickening your birds before you can notice it has happened.
You should replace any chicken feed that got wet as soon as possible, but do not fret if your birds have eaten some recently wetted food; it takes time for rancidity or fungal growth to develop. If the food has only been wet for less than a day, you likely have nothing to worry about, but it should be replaced just in case.
During rain or storms, it is imperative that proper precautions are taken to help keep your feed for longer. This will not only help prevent your chickens from becoming sick, but it will also save you money as you need to buy less chicken food.
Speaking of chickens feed, do chickens like food pellets? Learn the truth in my article.
The Risks Of Keeping Feed Outdoors
The risks of keeping chicken feed outdoors are numerous. Although keeping some out at any given point is a fine idea, you will preferably keep most of the feed stored properly, in a dry, cool place.
Beyond the aforementioned rain that can cause issues in chicken feed, other risks of keeping feed outdoors include:
- Predator attraction
- Insect and rodent damage
- Fungal growth
- Faster rancidity
The two that present the most danger directly from feed getting wet are fungal growth and the feed going bad quicker. Both of these risks can cause diseases to spread in your birds, slow down weight gain, and cost you money. For more information on how to properly store chicken feed, check out this.
Fungal growth is, at its simplest level, when chicken feed has become moldy. Due to the chicken feed creation process, it is not uncommon to find a bit of mold every now and then. Often, this is found in clumps that your chickens will easily ignore while eating the good stuff. It becomes an issue when fungal growth has spread beyond these pockets and infested a significant portion of your feed.
When fungal growth has grown in your flock’s food, they are likely to get sick or stop eating it entirely. To prevent this, you need to keep the food from getting wet or damp. Humidity and dampness provide great environments for most fungi to grow, so try to eliminate those wherever possible.
Rancid feed is different from fungal growth but shares similarities in causes and preventative measures. Feed goes bad when the fats in the chicken feed oxidize, giving the feed an unpleasant odor and causing some issues for the birds. Most chickens will avoid eating bad feed, so your flock may suffer; those that do eat the feed are likely to have their growth stunted from the change.
While not all of these issues are directly related to feed getting wet, the steps taken to prevent all of them from occurring luckily overlap.
Chicken feed should be stored in a dry, mostly sealed container. Many people use trash bins or metal barrels to store their food. Chicken feed containers should be able to vent moisture out, so do not make them airtight, get an airtight storage container for a bargain on Amazon here.
Otherwise, the increased humidity from the food will cause similar issues to it being left out in the rain. When using metal barrels, try to get food-grade ones to help prevent them from oxidizing the food.
Thick, covered holding places for feed are great for keeping out the rain, preventing predators from smelling the feed, and stopping rodents and insects from infesting and eating the chicken food. All of these are huge positives, keeping your flock safe, preventing diseases, and saving money.
Do your chickens have access to food and water at night? Learn why it’s important in my post.
When To Replace Wet Chicken Feed
Wet chicken feed should be replaced as early as possible to prevent any fungal or bacterial growth from occurring. There is almost no reason to let food sit once it has become damp, especially after noticing it. While your chickens eating newly wet food will not cause them any issues, the growth that can happen shortly after being wet can present dangers to their health.
Although wet feed should be replaced as early as possible, it absolutely must be replaced within a day of getting wet. Within 24 hours, most of the feed is likely to be fine, so long as the wet or damp parts are scooped out and replaced. In fact, wet feed is often fet to young chickens to make them eat more.
However, after just a few short hours, it is possible that the whole batch of feed has grown bacteria. It is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to tell this happened without lab tests, which most home farmers simply do not have access to.
To prevent needing to replace all of your feed after every storm, store it in a dry, cool, sheltered location. Check the area surrounding your food before rain to ensure that it looks secure, and take a peek when the rain has stopped. If you notice any wet spots that developed or suspicious areas, remove them from the rest of the feed as quickly as possible.
Do your baby chickens have access to grit? Without it they cannot digest their food properly, learn why grit is so important for chics in my post.
Risks Chickens Face When In The Rain
Chickens face some increased or additional risks when rain comes. These are issues that most often arise from the environment around the chickens being affected by the rain, rather than the effect of the rain itself. Still, it is important to be aware of and prevent some possible hazards to the health of your flock.
One of the best ways to ensure that your chickens stay safe in the rain is to provide them with an area where they can get dry whenever they want. Most often, this will be their coop, which should be lined with warm, dry straw or other bedding. If a particularly bad storm is coming in or it has been a while, replace the floor of the coop with fresh, thick bedding.
Some of the largest hazards are from the ground itself either becoming too cold or too muddy, which can cause severe issues like bumblefoot to pop up. Before it rains, and especially before big storms, take a moment to walk the grounds of your chicken run and coop and ensure that everything looks safe.
The coop should be properly sealed to prevent leaks; the ground should not be too muddy or slick; the chickens should have an easy path back to the coop.
Do your chicken’s fight often? Learn what to do if your chickens don’t get along in my post.
Bumblefoot From The Wet Ground
Bumblefoot is a sadly common issue in chickens caused by a bacterial infection. Chickens have a high likelihood of getting bumblefoot anyway, and this is largely compacted by muddy and wet ground – perfect environments for bacteria to grow.
Bumblefoot does not come out of anywhere; most often, your chicken will have some sort of leg or foot pain before bumblefoot takes hold. Keep an eye out for any chickens that are limping or seem to be in pain. For more information on how bumblefoot can be detected, look here. It is a dangerous and painful infection for chickens that should be avoided whenever possible.
Most often, the wet and muddy ground after and during rainfall can be a breeding ground for bumblefoot and other bacterial infections. If your chicken has any wounds or inflammation on their legs, it is likely best to hold them inside the coop when it rains to prevent the issue from becoming worse.
There are many steps that can be taken to prevent bumblefoot from occurring, and initially treating it when it pops up. To start, ensure that the chickens have access to a dry and clean area where their legs are not going to be near any additional bacterial growth.
This means having an area where there is little mud, fecal matter, food, and insects. While it is impossible to totally clear an area of most of these things, simply ensuring that the coop is clean should do the trick.
Do not worry about your chickens trekking through the mud and getting dirty in the rain; if they are healthy and do not have any abrasions on their feet, bumblefoot will not develop. However, if you have any previous concerns when it rains, take the time to keep them clean and investigate for early signs of bumblefoot.
If bumblefoot occurs in one of your chickens, utilize a poultry care spray(grab it from Amazon here)and try to treat the wound. Be careful around your chickens, as they are likely in pain and could lash out. For particularly bad cases or if you are unsure of how to proceed, contact a local veterinarian for aid.
Frostbite is a dangerous occurrence that can take place after cold or heavy rains. It becomes especially prevalent on chicken’s feet, as they are in direct contact with possibly frozen ground for a long while. Other parts of the chicken that can commonly get frostbite during extreme weather include the combs and wattles, as they are separated from the body and do not have any protective layering like feathers.
Frostbite occurs as fluid in parts of the chicken freeze. If frozen for only a short while, the affected part of the chicken may recover just fine. However, it is often the case that the affected cells die and become infected, creating a dangerous combination.
Frostbite is unlikely to happen from most rain. Rather, it should only be an issue when rain, sleet, or snow are combined with very cold temperatures and heavy winds which can terribly chill the chicken. The rain is an added cause of frostbite, not the other way around.
To prevent any birds in your flock from getting frostbitten, provide them with a warm, dry space they can run to when the weather gets bad. It is imperative that the whole flock has an area where they can dry off and use each other for heat. Ensure that this area is clean and the ground is warm as well – otherwise, the chicken’s feet may still contract frostbite.
Treating frostbite is doable so long as the affected area has not already died or become infected. The basic steps to treating frostbite are to thaw out the chicken gently, slowly warming the area. Applying heat or pressure will actually make the pain significantly worse and likely cause more damage.
Catching signs of frostbite early is great, as that means that the chicken can be pulled away from the rough environment and likely heal perfectly well on their own. If the chicken’s comb, wattle, or toes begin to look red and puffy, or white on the tips, these are early signs of frostbite. Do not panic; simply take the chicken to a warm shelter like the coop, ensure that the ground is not frozen, and let them sit. Do not let them go back into the cold.
If you are worried about the temperature or storm combination being too much for your specific chicken breed, it may be best to lock them inside for the duration of the storm. This will help prevent issues like frostbite from popping up and make it easier to secure the coop.
Do you struggle to control your chickens? Learn how to be the chicken boss in my post.
Rain Isn’t Bad For Your Chickens, Most of the Time
Although there are plenty of dangers to chickens that are slightly amplified in the rain, they really are perfectly OK the large majority of the time. Consider the weather as you would anytime you went outside; if you are confident you would be fine in the rain, chances are the chickens are, too. Be sure that they always have access back to their coop and that their feed is not getting wet, and the birds will largely take care of themselves.