New Zealand weather can get wet and windy at times. Once the rain settles, we always get a spike in chicken keepers with sick chooks. The three leading causes are coccidiosis, respiratory illnesses and also botulism. Don’t let that be you. Find out how to keep your chooks healthy. Here are the answers to our top five most common customer questions about keeping chickens in rainy weather.
Also, read our related article of the Top 6 Ways to Prevent Disease in the Chicken Coop
1. Should chickens go out in the rain?
Chicken feathers are somewhat waterproof. Being feathered helps insulate them, so letting them out is fine. However New Zealand winters can be bitterly cold, so if it is rainy and less than 15 degrees, probably best to keep them warm and dry. Letting your birds out prevents overcrowding and boredom. It also helps prevent the illnesses that come from having a damp or wet coop. Not all hens appreciate going out. Generally, if it is raining too much for them, they shall seek shelter themselves.
Remember, chickens do become easily chilled, so don’t let them out if it is cold or windy. And don’t let chickens like silkies (their feathers aren’t waterproof), younger birds or sick birds out in the rain.
2. Why do chickens get sick after wet weather?
Chickens get sick after rain generally as it causes wet, soggy or muddy conditions. Add warmish temperatures, and you get these problems:
- Mould and fungi breed, These can produce illness through contaminated feed. Moulds and Fungi can also irritate the respiratory tract of the chicken.
- Damp and wet conditions are perfect for breeding bacteria, intestinal worms and also coccidiosis-causing coccidia.
- As chickens are not dustbathing, lice, mites and other parasites begin to breed. Lice and mites take the opportunity to multiply as the hens spend more time together in close quarters.
- Parasites love damp, moist, wet and muddy conditions. Add chicken faeces, and it fast becomes a parasite breeding centre.
- Just like in your home, sunlight, as well as ventilation, helps fight off many types of bacteria and parasite eggs. The damp and wet conditions help them breed.
3. Why does the coop smell bad after rain?
The short answer is a wet chicken coop. Mould and Fungi need two things to grow. Moisture and food. Building materials, timber walls and floors, high gloss or painted metal sheeting, wet or soggy bedding and litter are the perfect food source. For some reason, mould and fungi prefer high gloss painted surfaces. It is likely due to the Linseed oil in the paint. Using synthetic paint should help resolve this. Where you can help the most for the coop is keeping it dry and ventilated.
- Remove wet litter and bedding and replace it. Wet litter and bedding is a leading cause of Bumblefoot in chickens.
- A hens respiratory tract is sensitive. The fumes from fermenting litter cause irritation as well as respiratory disease.
- Wet litter allows the growth of mould and fungi if consumed or inhaled by the chicken they can cause illness or death.
- The strong odour is an indicator of bacteria, parasites and also decomposing faeces.
4. Are puddles in the run bad for chickens?
A wet, muddy chicken coop can last for days after the rain has stopped. However, a muddy run is bad for chickens for three main reasons:
- Chickens can’t dust bath. Meaning more external parasites.
- Chickens love to drink from puddles. These are likely to contain coccidia, bacteria and worm eggs. A muddy puddle may also contain botulism. If you have an ill chicken, a little puddle water can cause further deterioration or even death.
- Chickens bring their wet feet back into the coop causing further soiling of bedding and litter.
While you can not stop the rain, you can help fix muddy puddles or a muddy run. Ensure the chicken run is in a high, well-drained position where possible. If it is shaded too much, trim trees, so the hens have shady spots throughout the day but there is still enough sunlight to help dry out the ground after rain. Also, if muddy puddles do appear, fill them with soil.
5. How to keep chickens healthy in wet weather?
While the weather is beyond our control, here are six things you can do to avoid the illness and disease in the chicken coop.
1. Let your birds out as soon as possible after a downpour. Now you can clean the coop.
2. Ensure adequate ventilation in the coop. At the same time ensure the protect hens from cold winds and rain
3. Regularly keep the chicken coop clean and dry. Periodically spot clean as well as top up with fresh, dry bedding.
4. Remove soiled bedding with mould or fungal growth
5. Provide a dry dust bath if space permits
6. Clean the coop thoroughly as soon as it is dry. If the rain is ongoing, you may have to don a raincoat and clean it out during the shower sorry.
The final trick in wet weather is to be on the lookout for the first signs of illness. Do not ignore symptoms of lethargy or diarrhea. Wet weather does not cause this behaviour. Isolate the affected hen, clean the coop thoroughly, formulate a diagnosis and treat accordingly.