This question had never entered my head – I assumed they didn’t!
Like me, you also assumed chickens don’t swim. You’re not alone. It appears most people think chickens can’t swim either.
In the ordinary course of the day, you can watch your chicken drink water, perhaps paddle her feet if she’s hot, but swim? Surely not!
As it happens they can swim, but mostly they choose not to, for reasons that we will explore shortly.
Keep reading to learn how chickens swim, notably if you should let your chickens swim and the health implications.
Are Chickens Built For Swimming?
To understand if chickens can swim, I thought it was best to compare them to a similar-sized bird that loves to swim: a duck.
Ducks are built to swim:
- They have powerful webbed feet to propel them
- They have waterproof feathers
- Able to ‘right’ themselves in water
These attributes make ducks such fine swimmers and paddlers. They are built to be graceful on the water – not so much on land!
Ducks also secrete oil from special glands with which they coat their feathers. This makes their feathers’ waterproof’.
Chickens, however, are not built to swim:
- No webbed feet
- Feathers are not waterproof
- Lack the ability to ‘right’ themselves in water
Just because chickens aren’t built to swim doesn’t mean they can’t try! Chickens can paddle quite well without webbed feet, but obviously, the strokes are not as powerful as a duck, so forward momentum is slower.
So it appears that chickens do have an innate ability to swim. It seems that it is built into their survival system from long ago; it is not a skill they frequently use.
Their feathers are not waterproof. They do not secrete the oil that ducks do – once they get sodden wet, the chicken will sink like a stone. They should never be left alone near water deep enough for them to drown in.
If your chicken accidentally falls into the pool and manages to get out, it will need to be dried off quickly, especially if the air is cool. They can easily get hypothermia and die.
Something that will affect how well the chicken will swim (or not) is the panic factor. While many birds will stay calm, some will panic and easily drown.
Indeed, it has been recorded that chickens have drowned in a bucket of water (it wasn’t recorded how they got there).
Chickens of a calm disposition are likely to do better at swimming than those who are high-strung.
Like people, no two chickens are alike, and another will have a meltdown over what one may take in their stride.
Should Chickens Go in Pools?
While researching this article, I saw many videos of chickens in swimming pools.
Several videos on social media show hens floating and swimming in family pools – the birds seem content to sit and float!
It is questionable whether we should expose our chickens to pool chemicals.
To keep pools clean and sanitary, barrages of chemicals are added to the water: sanitizers, oxidizers, algaecides, clarifiers, and enzymes.
We don’t know how these chemicals might affect a chicken floating around in it. I do know it will kill frogs.
If you let your chickens float or swim, I would suggest a small child’s pool with natural water and some stepping-out area in case the hen needs to exit quickly.
Many folks who keep both ducks and chickens together keep small kids paddling pool ready for the ducks.
As a precaution against a chicken falling in the water, they place bricks or concrete blocks around the bottom of the pool so the hen can have something to step on and exit the pool quickly.
Another idea is a ramp-up to and down into the water – again, the idea is to provide an exit for any bird or animal in the water.
It should go without saying, if you put a chicken in the pool with you, don’t leave it unsupervised – treat it like a small child and monitor its swimming.
If the bird appears to be getting distressed, take it out and dry it off. Remember, chickens can catch a chill and die from being soaked.
Chicks Can’t Swim
Baby chicks are different than their adult counterparts in that they do not have tight feathering that may allow them to float.
Rather than feathers, chicks have down, and if they become wet, there is little insulation. In addition to the risk of drowning, chicks who become wet will get chilled and die of hypothermia.
So, if your chick gets wet for any reason, make sure to dry it off ASAP and bring it back under the heat source of the brooder.
Additionally, new chicks are fragile and will not right themselves as quickly as a muscular, adult chicken. So, please do not allow young chicks to swim.
When you bring new chicks into your home, investing in a very shallow waterer or fount is wise. For good measure, I usually place a few rocks in the bottom of the fount if a baby chick falls in and can’t find the right-side-up.
This happens more than you might think. Baby chicks, who are weak, not sure how to move about, fall into their water dishes and drown. It’s a sad sight that you can easily prevent with the appropriate waterers and extra precautions.
Can Chickens Swim Summary
Now that we have determined that chickens possess the ability to swim – either for pleasure or to escape (more likely), we need to remember to watch over them when they do venture near water.
While it may be fun to have cute videos of the chicken swimming with the kids, we should remember that water is not a natural environment for this bird. If the hen doesn’t want to swim, don’t make it – be kind.
Chickens are made to rule the barnyard, not the waves!
Do your chickens like to swim? Let us know in the comments section below.