Chickens can't swim, backyard water safety

Did you know that chickens can't swim? Well, not very well at least. That's one of those things you never really have to think about though. I was looking at Summer pictures today and came across some pics of the pond in my yard. It's now just a decorative fish pond, but it didn't start that way. It started as a goose pond and sadly, over the years, a few chickens met their maker there.

chickens and water

About 2 years after we put it in, it became a duck pond. Another 2 years later and we were done with waterfowl completely! The original goose house, now the duck house soon became the d'Uccle house. The fence was moved to the other side of the pond to remove it from the enclosure. The banty's moved in and all was well for a long time. Or so I thought. 

I chronicled the transformation from goose pool to fish pond on my other blog.

Can chickens swim?

After awhile I learned that chickens can't swim well AT ALL. It's not like I ever thought they could, I just didn't think they absolutely couldn't! It was a very painful lesson. Let's go back to when the pond looked like this: 

backyard chickens water safety

That's deer netting across the top of it. It worked perfectly all spring and summer. Most of the frogs couldn't get through it which made it easy to scoop them out every day. The netting kept the frogs from eating the fish I had populated the pond with also. 

The whole time that netting was on I didn't see one wet chicken. The neighbors dog fell in, but that's another story all together!

When fall came along I finally removed the netting because of the leaves. You'd think the net would have made it easier to clean. Wrong! I don't have the foggiest clue how so many leaves got under that net but it was a daily struggle to keep them out. Finally I just took it off. 

Inside the pond, I built up the sides with rocks up to the edges. There were lots of plants and things to stand the chickens had never ventured into the pond before. I thought it would be ok. I thought if they fell in they could get back out....again, I was wrong. 

fish pond plants

Chickens can drown, easily

The first one we lost was a chick. Accidents do happen so I thought it was just a one off. Then a 9 week old pullet was found floating. I put the net back on, but somehow it got pulled off and her brother met the same fate. 

There was plenty to stand on in the water. They're checked frequently while they're out....and we were out there working that day, so he wasn't in that water long. They just don't stand a chance when they get wet. Lesson learned. This year the net stays on. 

I go to a lot of poultry swaps and chat with other chicken keepers. Around this time I was upset about the losses and talked to a few others about it. Often when one person tells a chicken story then everyone else shares theirs. 

During the last few months I've heard stories of full size chickens drowning in buckets. Banty's drowning in dishpans left out to collect rainwater. Chicks drowning in overturned garbage can lids and adult water bowls they shouldn't have even been able to reach! 

Chickens are naturally curious and some aren't terribly clever. They get themselves into crazy situations and when water is involved, they often don't make it. Even though a chicken is waterproof enough to stand out in the rain and not get soaked to the skin, when submerged in water it eventually soaks through and weighs them down too much. 

This happens very quickly for younger birds as they have not grown a full, insulated coat of feathers yet.

Take a look around your yard. Empty out buckets, pans, old planters, tires, wheelbarrows...anything and everything that can hold any depth of water. Or place a screen above it (like for water collection). It'll only take a few minutes of your time and it may just save one of your feathered friends!   

If you want to put out a kiddie pool with water for them in the summer as I talk about in 14 ways to keep chickens cool in summer, only put an inch or so of water in it. 

Can Chickens Float?

Update 2018: Since this original piece was written chicken swimming has suddenly become popular. People are taking their chickens into the swimming pool with them and letting them float. These chickens actually are floating (not swimming) and sometimes they kick their legs which does give the appearance of swimming. 

However, these chickens are being supervised. They are not being left alone to swim as that would have deadly consequences.

A chicken's under feathers are soft near the skin, like a down coat or pillow. What happens when you wash your coat? Once wet, it weighs much more than it did when dry. Now imagine that weight suddenly added to a chicken. Once the water soaks into her feathers she will no longer 'float' but will start to sink.

Chickens cannot use their wings to 'swim' so they would have to rely on their little legs to keep them up, and that's just not enough. This is the reason a duck has webbed feet, to give him more swimming power. They also have an oil glad to waterproof their feathers, and chickens do not. 

A chicken left alone in a pool of water will drown.

So please, practice good water safety and if you have a pool, pond or other body of water do what you can to keep your chickens out of it.


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  1. We have a small pond on our land. The chickens always go to it for a drink. We've never lost one. We've even had one try to stretch her wings and fly over it.... she made it to the middle of the pond and then swam out. There's no way we can cover it or put a fence around it because of how it's situated on our land.... I hope the chickens keep passing along the knowledge to stay out of the water.

    1. Smart chickens! Glad she could swim out.
      Thanks for stopping by!


  2. In trying to keep my chickens cool. I would like suggestions on how to get them use to a mister?

    1. I throw some treats on the grass in front of the mister and the chickens all run over to get a snack and a shower! lol Chilled fruit cut into small pieces works great, or some mealworms. Hope that helps!