From a personal standpoint I do not encourage my chickens to swim.
The flock is self-directed and generally do chickeny things – which does not include swimming!
However we have all seen the videos of chickens floating around in the swimming pool with their humans.
It looks very cute and fun, but chickens and water really do not go together well.
Are you wondering whether chickens can swim?
Then keep reading to learn everything you need to know…
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Can Chickens Swim?
Chickens can swim if they absolutely need to however they are not designed for water.
Like most animals, chickens can paddle and float for a limited time but it is not their natural habitat.
Most chickens are only likely swimming because of bad circumstances such as flooding, accidental immersion in deep water, escaping from danger or some other such catastrophic circumstance. For a chicken, swimming is a survival tactic and not something to be done on a regular basis.
You will sometimes find the occasional chicken that enjoys swimming short distances in a known environment but this is pretty rare.
Also, how well your chicken swims will depend on her personality.
Those who take everything in their stride will likely do a lot better in water than her flighty, nervous coop mate. The ability to remain calm will help her stay afloat and survive. If panic sets in the chicken is very likely to drown.
Why Are Chickens Bad Swimmers
One of the reasons why some people think chickens can swim is because of ducks.
Ducks are well known to be excellent swimmers.
Whilst the anatomy of a chicken is similar to a duck in many ways, there are vital differences that make ducks swimmers and chickens creatures of the land.
So although they are often barnyard companions, each is designed for a very specific environment.
Ducks have thick and cold resistant down feathers to prevent hypothermia in cold water. These feathers are oiled daily by the duck using oil from the preen gland to waterproof those feathers. This waterproofing is essential for them as it prevents the feathers from becoming waterlogged and heavy which can drag an animal under the water quickly.
Chickens on the other hand do not have this waterproofing so their feathers can quickly become sodden and heavy.
If your chicken swims for any length of time then her strength will fail and those wet feathers will drag her under. It would be the equivalent of a human trying to swim with an overcoat on.
Hypothermia can also be a serious issue.
If the hen has sodden wet feathers then she will shake off the excess water, but if she is unable to get dry fairly quickly she stands a real chance of succumbing to hypothermia (even on a warm day).
The second crucial difference is the anatomy of the foot.
A duck’s toes are held together by webbing and provide a strong paddle. Whereas a chicken’s toes are separate, so although they can paddle it is not a strong or effective stroke.
Lastly a duck is able to right themselves in water. This is an innate ability common to waterfowl and enables them to be quite at home in the water. Whereas a chicken cannot do this and if they capsize they will drown as it lacks this ability to right itself in the water.
All of these differences make a huge impact on the abilities of both birds. Ducks are graceful in water and chickens are graceful on land.
Can Chickens Drown?
There are tales of finding chickens that have sadly drowned in a bucket of water. These are likely cases of curiosity or accidents where the hen could not get herself out from the situation.
So yes chickens can drown quite easily.
Just remember if you have to keep containers of water around then make sure they are covered.
Also if you have ducks in the same area as chickens and keep a paddling pool for them, make sure there are steps up to and into the water. This way if a chicken accidentally falls in then she can get herself out fairly easily.
Should You Let Your Chickens Free Range Near Open Water
Whilst chickens may not be the smartest animal in the world, they are smart enough to stay out of deep water.
Mine frequently patrol around the pond looking for tasty tidbits, but they never step into the water. Even adolescent hens seem to know to avoid deep water. Of course there are the occasional chickens that seem to get themselves into trouble. But as a whole, chickens will avoid this situation.
So generally you can let your chickens free range near open water without a problem.
Just make sure to place a ramp in the water to help them get out in case they get themselves into trouble.
Should Chickens Go In Swimming Pools?
Some people seem to enjoy letting their chickens float around in the swimming pool with them.
As long as they are supervised and have a way to get out of the pool if they want, then little harm should come to them. It is important to have some way for the chicken to exit the water when she gets tired.
However a chicken should never be left alone in water that is deep enough for her to drown.
Although there is no information on the effects of pool chemicals on poultry then it is best to limit their exposure to swimming pools.
Once she has finished swimming make sure to check her skin and feathers regularly for signs of irritation or rashes.
Should you see signs of irritation then her pool dips should stop for a while until the skin returns to normal.
If your chickens really enjoy swimming or floating then perhaps you could provide them with a small personal pool that contains natural non-chemical water. You could modify this for your bird’s safety.
What To Do If Your Chicken Ends Up In Water?
If you find one of your hens in water then you should gather her up and get her dried off as quickly as you can. This is even more important if it is a cold day.
You should keep her somewhere warm and quiet because she will likely be shocked and hypothermic.
Warm her up slowly using a heater.
Just note that if she is coughing, sputtering, wheezing or has any respiratory problems then you should contact your veterinarian for advice.
Once she is warmed up you can give her some fresh water and perhaps some wet mash or scrambled eggs. After a few hours you can put her back with the flock or if you prefer, keep her quiet and separate for the first night. You can use a chicken crate to keep her safe if she stays with you for the first night.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long can chickens swim for?
The general consensus is that chickens can swim for about 10-15 minutes.
How far can chickens swim?
Do not expect your chickens to break distance records when they swim.
Your chickens will be capable of swimming across a garden pond or a similar distance.
Are all chickens able to float?
All chickens are able to float but some do better than others. Those with a calm disposition do better than panicky birds. However once their feathers get soaked all chickens will sink like a stone.
Can my chicks paddle in water?
Under no circumstances should chicks be near bodies of water.
They are small, curious and woefully unprepared for swimming.
Chicks are extremely susceptible to hypothermia from getting wet and their lack of feathers means they have no insulation at all.
They will quickly drown.
Even a water dish with an inch or so of water is enough for a chick to drown in so be very cautious.
Only once your chicks are feathered out can you introduce them to water.
Chickens can swim but the average chicken chooses not to.
They are certainly not up to Olympic standard in swimming abilities, so the question really becomes should they be encouraged to swim?
As long as your chickens are supervised when floating or swimming then they should not be harmed.
You will find that naturally chickens tend to avoid deep water and swimming altogether. It is not something that they are built for and their water ability is mediocre at best.
The only water I use with them other than for drinking is warm immersion for the occasional egg bound hen or those with mucky bums. Also at times I provide them with cold water paddling areas for times of high heat and humidity.
Whether or not you allow your chickens to swim is of course a personal matter.
Just make sure not to leave them alone in the pool.
Treat your hen as cautiously as you would a small child around the water, and make sure she has an exit ramp where she can get herself out if she wants to.
For chickens swimming is the equivalent of skydiving… living dangerously!
If you want to learn more about chickens and water then read our Complete Guide To Chickens And Water.
Let us know in the comments section below if you let chickens swim…