Do Chickens Like Rain or Getting Wet?
It's a wet, drizzly, gray day, and all you can think about is getting back inside the cozy comfort of your house. It's an understandable reaction; you want to be dry and warm! On your way back, you pass your chicken coop, and a few of your chickens are still outside in their run, pecking about in the rain! What's the deal? Why didn't they go inside? Do chickens like rain? Are wet chickens okay?
It's natural to wonder about your chickens' behavior. But should you put on your "chicken commander" hat and usher the entire flock inside the coop to stay dry whether they want to or not? If you want to be indoors, don't your chickens want to be indoors as well? It really depends on a few factors.
Feathers are your birds' first defense against rain and wet weather. Think about the stiff, main, outer feathers on a chicken, known as the contour feathers. These are relatively water-resistant for many chicken breeds and can keep the bird reasonably dry even in the rain.1
As you know, "water-resistant" clothing does a pretty good job of repelling water for a while, especially in light rains. But if you get caught in a real downpour, you might reach the limit of the garment's water-resistant capabilities, at which point the water seeps through, and you get soaked.
This is similar to how chicken feathers function and explains why they may seem happy enough outdoors in the rain for a while. Keep in mind that not all chickens have water-resistant feathers. For instance, chicks are so fluffy and adorable because all they have is down; they haven't grown their tough, outer feathers yet and aren't equipped for rainy weather at all. Silkie chickens are another example. This breed possesses a genetic trait that causes the alternate feather growth that gives the Silkie its unique appearance, but these feathers don't repel rain very well.
The outdoor temperature plays a part too. You may find your chickens tolerate the rain better during warm summer weather and may be more likely to continue to stay out in it if they have the chance. While you probably don't ever want to have really wet chickens, it's less concerning in warmer weather. Additionally, your chicken's specific breed can play a role. Some chicken breeds are naturally hardy and can better handle cold or wet conditions.
Watch out for puddles
Besides making your chickens damp and cold, rainstorms may pose another, more subtle danger—puddles. While these may not pose much of an immediate physical threat to your hens—after all, they can probably avoid or wade right through a small puddle without harm—chickens tend to enjoy drinking puddle water. They may even continue to sample standing groundwater even if their coop has a good source of pure, fresh water nearby (other types of livestock seem to enjoy doing this as well). This can be a problem because the water in puddles isn't very sanitary and may infect your birds with certain types of internal parasites2 as well as problematic bacteria.
But do chickens like rain?
Do chickens like the rain? That's a good question. Some don't seem to mind it much, although it's not always easy to tell what a bird is "thinking." Many chicken keepers choose to let the hens make their own decisions about the weather—at least up to a point. They'll often provide their chickens with access to a warm, dry, cozy coop and a safe outdoor location like a run or predator-safe fenced area. This way, on rainy or windy days, the birds can decide for themselves when they've had enough of the great outdoors and are ready for some indoor R&R.
This plan can work well in some situations, but there are some potential problems. For one thing, the chickens might not realize just how hard it's raining until they're already soaked. Remember, chicken feathers are merely water-resistant. A hard rain or a long time out in wet weather can saturate the feathers beyond their ability to repel the moisture. And if that dampness is combined with prolonged chilly weather and damp ground, it can be a recipe for potential health issues.3
What to do
It might be wise to plan on keeping your chickens inside the coop on wet, windy, cold days or during periods of extended rain. While they stay indoors, you can help them fight off the chilly air with a safe, heated pad to stand on or even a handy heated perch. (Chickens love to rest off the ground inside their coop; it's reminiscent of their days as wild birds in ages past.) It's also imperative that your birds have access to quality feed and fresh water.4 If the temperatures dip towards freezing, consider a heated poultry waterer, or try refreshing their water source with a heated hose. If you already have a waterer, simply sit it on top of a universal deicer to keep it ice-free.
A final option—at least for days of mild rain—is a chicken rain shelter. These are small, outdoor pavilion-like or three-sided shelters that the birds can crowd under during the rain. You might consider including one in their outdoor area as another method to keep them dry and happy. You'll find chicken rain shelters available for retail purchase, but if you're handy with tools, it makes for a fun DIY project. A rain shelter is an excellent spot to place your flock's dust bathing box, as they might not use one if it's damp. Similarly, you could install a waterproof cover for your chicken run.
It's important for your chickens to get outdoors regularly, as being "cooped up" for long periods isn't ideal. But it's probably a wise plan to help your chickens avoid getting overly wet and chilled. And when the sun returns, let them back outside to enjoy it!
P.S. You might be wondering whether or not chickens can drown in the rain. It's an understandable question—after all, chickens (and other birds) possess upward-facing nostrils. While "proof" either way would be hard to come by, it seems apparent to chicken owners that merely being exposed to rain will not cause a chicken to drown, upward-facing nostrils notwithstanding.5
1. The Happy Chicken Coop. "The Miracle of Chickens' Feathers." https://www.thehappychickencoop.com/the-miracle-of-chickens-feathers
2. Hermes, James. Oregon State University Extension. "Seasonal Changes affect Poultry." October 2007, https://extension.oregonstate.edu/animals-livestock/poultry-rabbits/seasonal-changes-affect-poultry
3. Poole, Terry E. University of Maryland Extension. "Introduction to Developing a Free-Range Poultry Enterprise." https://extension.umd.edu/sites/extension.umd.edu/files/_docs/locations/frederick_county/Ag%20Pubs%20A%20Supplement%20to%20Free%20Range%20Poultry.pdf
4. Russell, Adam. Texas A&M AgriLife. "Backyard chicken flocks for beginners." April 2020, https://agrilifetoday.tamu.edu/2020/04/01/backyard-chicken-flocks-for-beginners
5. Homestead Fowl. "Can Chickens Drown In The Rain?" https://www.homesteadfowl.com/chicken-facts/can-chickens-drown-in-the-rain