Can Chickens Swim? Everything You Should Know

I am somewhat sure it is safe to say that most all of us at one time or another have heard the phrase—why did the chicken cross the road? I am really not sure how, or if, this question will ever be answered. However, until just recently, I had never had the question put to me of—can chickens swim?

As a flock keeper, I am sure I can say that the thought of whether or not chickens can swim never, over the last year and a half, entered my mind. I mean, I know they are from the same family of fowl like ducks, but I can honestly state that the thought has never crossed my mind that they shared the same innate abilities when it came to water. Adding in the fact that I have never personally seen a chicken float or swim pretty much gave me the answer I needed.

There is a multitude of backyard flock keepers, old and new alike, that appear to think, for whatever reason, that chickens don’t or even can’t swim. Over the ordinary course of a day, we will see our flock members interact with and drink plenty of water, and on those days that prove to be hotter than most, we may even see them paddle their feet in puddles of water where they can find them to cool themselves off. But do we see them swim? Most times, the odds are that the answer is a big ol’ NO.

Can Chickens Swim?

Yes, chickens can swim – but when given a choice, they will most often make a choice not to.

It is undoubtedly not their most favorite of activities, and when they are swimming, it is usually in those situations of a life and death nature.

We will take a look at the fact that chickens can swim, but by allowing them to swim, you need to understand its implications to their overall health and its effects on their very lifespans.

Chickens + Water

In a recent poll presented to individuals as well as flock owners, the question was presented of whether they thought chickens could swim. Surprisingly, the results showed that millions of people believe in the fact that chickens are not able or capable of swimming.

Given that this question proves to serve more as a piece of somewhat fun trivia for most individuals, for flock owners, knowing the specifics about this question is essential and can mean life and death for their chickens.

On a day to day basis, through the observation of our flocks, we will learn a lot about their personalities, how they interact as well as their abilities. We will basically learn just what it means to be a chicken and do what chickens do. Unfortunately, being able to observe one of your flock members interacting with or swimming in a body of water is not a common occurrence for observation by many flock keepers.

Swim Or No Swim

The short answer to whether chickens can swim, as stated above, is YES. Again, as offered above, it is not the first choice on their list of favorite things to do.

Should you let your chickens swim, or even expose them to large bodies of water in the first place? Does allowing them to swim expose them to any adverse effects on their health? These, along with other important questions, will be examined and answered below.

Chickens vs Ducks

In order to be able to adequately understand the principle involved in that of chickens and swimming, we need to look at another similar-size fowl that is known primarily for its swimming abilities—that of the duck.

In a nutshell, nature created and built ducks to swim—it is second nature to them, much like breathing is to us, humans. They have all the equipment needed for them to be excellent swimmers:

  • Their webbed feet can powerfully propel them through the water at a relatively fast speed.
  • Their feathers excrete an oil that serves to keep them completely waterproof as well as buoyant.
  • If accidentally tipped over while in the water, they are capable of “righting” themselves instantly without much problem at all.

With these three essential attributes, ducks are undoubtedly some of the finest paddlers and swimmers on the planet. They are graceful when in their element—that of being in the water, but once on land—let’s just say, well, not so much.

As mentioned above, ducks naturally secrete an oil from special glands that they use to coat their feathers. This oil, in turn, makes those same feathers “waterproof” and gives them the added benefit of buoyancy to float without sinking.

Why Chickens Aren’t Good Swimmers

Now, chickens are not built by nature to be the swimmers that their fellow fowl, the duck is.

  • Their feet are not equipped with any form of webbing between their toes. This lack of webbing means when they paddle, they have to work really hard to get anywhere.
  • They do not have a special oil gland for oiling their feathers for keeping them waterproof. This means their ability for them remaining buoyant is very limited.
  • If a chicken accidentally tips over in the water, in an upside position, well, the chances are pretty good that they will swiftly end up drowning as they are not able to “right” themselves, again due to their lack of buoyancy.

Now, with all that said, just because they are not readily equipped to swim doesn’t mean that there aren’t those few chickens out there that will give swimming the ol’ college try.

The Action Of Swimming

Even though they are not equipped with the webbed feet that ducks, chickens are still quite the little paddlers. But, at the same time, all that paddling isn’t very powerful, which in turn results in a much slower speed of forward momentum. So, chickens do have a somewhat innate ability for swimming, but they really have to work hard at the process. I may be the fact that being able to swim is more of a hard-wired survival instinct, but at the same time, it is not their preferred action to perform.

The Basic Equipment For Swimming

The main piece of “equipment” that ducks possess that makes them natures perfect swimmers is one that chickens are not privy to. Unlike ducks, chickens do not have the needed equipment to have waterproof feathers. Chickens do not have the oil gland that is present on ducks, that is necessary to coat their feathers with for waterproofing. 

Once a chicken has been in the water for a while and has become sodden wet, they will then begin to quickly sink like a stone, with the ending result being that of death by drowning. For this reason, chickens should not be left unattended around any water that is deep enough to cover and potentially drown them.

If you find that one of your flock members has accidentally fallen into a body of water, such as a swimming pool, and was lucky enough to get themselves out, you will need to work quickly to get them dried off—especially if the incident occurs in the cooler months. Chickens are highly susceptible to hypothermia and, as such, can kill them.

The Panic Factor

A significant factor that plays into how well, or respectively how not so well, a chicken will be able to swim is that of the panic factor. While the majority of the time, most chickens will remain somewhat calm, there are those chickens that will panic and, as a result, can drown easily.

In fact, there have been documented cases of chickens having been found drowned in a bucket filled with water. However, on the same note, the reports didn’t indicate how the chicken got there in the first place. For whatever reason they arrived at to end up in the bucket of water, the end results were the same—the chicken was dead.

Basically, those breeds of chickens that exhibit a calmer disposition, by way of logic, are more likely to be better swimmers than those breeds that are prone to having a nature of being higher strung. It is important to remember that, much like us humans, each chicken’s personality is individual to them, and no two are alike. While one chicken may take being in water in their stride, another chicken may prove to have a somewhat major meltdown.

Chickens And Swimming Pools

You have probably seen the various pictures on Instagram and the videos on YouTube that show chickens leisurely paddling around in a backyard swimming pool. They appear to be very content as they float around like a pool floatie.

It is very apparent that chickens have the rudimentary skills necessary to be able to swim, which proves they are not necessarily unable to swim, or that they are the worst swimmers on the planet. However, they are hampered by specific physical traits that limit their swimming abilities to those more rare and most often life-saving circumstances.

Other than the whole worry of chickens sinking when they get wet, there is the fact that by being in the pool, they are being exposed to the water’s chemicals, primarily the chlorine.

We all know that in order to keep a swimming pool clean and sanitary for safe use, a multitude of chemicals need to be added to the including sanitizers, algaecides, clarifiers, oxidizers, and various enzymes. 

Although we do know that any frogs that venture into a swimming pool will soon meet its end, we still are not sure how the chemicals would affect a chicken from long term exposure.

Swimming & Chicken Health

As mentioned above, a chicken that has long term exposure to pool water can have an effect on its overall health. As for swimming in other bodies of water and its possible impact on their health—well, there is no one universal definitive answer on this.

There is the fact that chickens are highly susceptible to getting a deadly chill. So, if they are swimming in the water and the air around them is somewhat cool, they could get a chill and, if left unchecked, could have deadly consequences.

It doesn’t have to cool outside by our standards. Your flock members may still be in danger of contracting hypothermia. This is not something that should be ignored, as chickens can easily die if their feathers are completely saturated and not dealt with immediately. If you notice one of your flock members is soaking wet, you need to dry them off immediately and place them somewhere where they will stay warm.

Keeping Chickens Cool

Keep in mind that, when the days are hot such as in the middle and end of the summer months, chickens can feel the heat the same as us humans. However, they are very limited in how they are able to cool themselves.

Chickens expel their body heat through their waddles, their combs, and the bottom of their feet—along with flapping their wings or holding them out from the sides of their body.

To this end, many chickens may enjoy the ability to walk through a puddle or such containing some cool water and, in turn, allowing it the ability to cool itself down.

Chickens And Wading Pools

If you want your chickens to have the choice of lounging in the water, your better bet is that of a child’s wading pool. You will be able to use natural, chemical-free water and make sure to limit the depth of the water as well.

This type of pool will allow your chickens the choice to step out of the water quickly; should they feel the need. Many individuals who keep a flock of both chickens and ducks will provide a small kid’s wading pool for the ducks to enjoy.

Pool Safety

Even in if you choose to use a kiddie wading pool with a relatively shallow amount of water, precautions still need to be taken, as chickens could always fall into the water and possibly drown.

Many choose the move of placing bricks or some type of block lining the bottom of the pool. These blocks or bricks will allow your flock to cool themselves while offering the ability to step out of the pool with ease.

If you are looking take a different route, you could build a ramp that offers access into and out of the pool. Placing the ramp on the edges of the pool and allowing a means of both entering and exiting will allow your flock members the security that, if needed, they will be able to get quickly out of the water and to safety at a moment’s notice.

Be Alert

It should really go without saying here that if you physically place your flock member into a pool, whether it is a swimming pool or a wading pool—do not leave the chicken unsupervised.

Treat the chicken much like you would a small human child, in that you will need to keep your complete undivided attention on the chicken while it is in the water.

If at some point it appears the chicken is panicking or seems to be distressed, take it out of the water immediately. Again, as already mentioned above, you will need to dry the chicken off completely, as it can easily catch a chill from being soaked and possibly die.

Baby Chicks = Bad Swimmers

As many flock keepers are aware of, baby chicks are very different from their counterparts that of adult chickens. One of the major differences is that their feathers are still developing and, as such, are not as thick and tight as adult chickens are. This thickness of feathers means that even though adult chickens can float, a small chick can’t.

Baby chicks do not have feathers but are rather covered in down, which means they have little to no natural insulation. This lack of insulation allows the chick to become wet and create a deadly chill and possibly die from hypothermia in a small amount of time.

If at any time your little chick becomes wet, no matter the reason, you need to dry it off ASAP and place it back in its brooder under a warming heat source. 

It is important to understand that a young chick does not have the strength needed to adequately right themselves like a stronger adult chicken might be able to, so it is best not to allow your chicks near any depth of water to even attempt to swim.

Baby Chicks And Waterers

Many chicks do not live past their first few weeks of life because they have drowned in their own waterers. It is suggested that when you bring your chicks home, that the waterer you provide for them is shallow enough that they don’t run the risk of walking or falling into it and drowning.

To better prevent any possible losses, I make it a point to put some small marbles in the waterer as well. The marbles will go a long way to preventing the chicks from accidentally falling in and drowning while at the same time offering their little beaks the ability to drink.

Chicks drowning in their waterers are more common than most realize. As a rule, baby chicks are weak when they begin in life, and are still unsure of how to manipulate their legs, keep their balance, and just generally move around. As a result, the chicks are prone to not only falling into their waterers while obtaining a drink but then possibly drowning.

Are Some Breeds Good Swimmers

Like with anything else in this life, there are those who are better at certain abilities than others. This same rule applies to chickens as well.

There are breeds of chickens that prove to be pretty good swimmers. And, there are those members of specific breeds that are considered bad swimmers, and those of yet other breeds that prove to be very adept at the action.

One breed that is known to be horrible swimmers is that of Silkies. Because of their unique feature of having fluffy feathers, they are prone to becoming soggy wet in little to no time after being exposed to water, and as a result, is one breed that sinks like a stone.

If you keep Silkies in your flock, it is vital that if one of them finds themselves in water, they will need to be taken out quickly, in the matter of a few seconds, or this most likely drown.

The Basic Take-Aways

  • Can chickens swim? – Yes, chickens can swim, and some choose to, but as a rule, it is not on their list of things to do.
  • Can chickens drown? – Yes, chickens are capable of drowning, and as it turns out, quite easily.
  • Can baby chicks swim? – No, their down-like feathers soak up water very quickly, causing them to panic.
  • Do chickens like water? – Yes, but only for the purpose of drinking.
  • Is it bad for chickens to get wet? – Yes, as a standard rule of thumb, it is a bad idea to allow your chickens to get wet.
  • Can chickens drown in a pool? – Yes, although your chickens may see your pool as a source of water, they would easily be able to drown in one.
  • Can chickens float? – Yes, as long as they are not soggy wet, and their feathers are still able to trap air within them, a chicken can float.
  • Are some breeds better swimmers than others? – Yes, some chicken breeds are much better swimmers than others.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, chickens are capable physically of swimming. But, just because they can swim doesn’t mean they should. They are prone to drowning and are highly susceptible to hypothermia. 

If you choose to allow your chicken to float or swim in the water, make sure that you consider the necessary precautions to keep an eye on them.

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