Sunday, July 8, 2012

Why Some Chickens Just Don't Like Being Wet

With all of the hot weather we have been having and temps reaching triple digits, chicken owners everywhere have been frantically trying to find ways to keep their flocks cool and alive in these extreme conditions.  Most everyone has agreed that ample shade, watermelon, bottles of ice water, fans, cool fresh drinking water, electrolytes, and frozen vegetable treats are proven safe ways to help chickens combat the heat and keep their body temperatures lower.  But one tip and trick that seems to  have caused quite the stir within the chicken community: The homemade "MISTER."
I saw quite a few concerned chicken owners asking advice online worried that the use of "misters" could cause respiratory distress, elevate their birds body temperature even more, and ultimately in some cases cause death to the animal.  I realized that while a high pressure mister would work great for chickens on a hot day by cooling the air and not getting them wet, a homemade "mister" would indeed cool the air, but if not used properly and with caution, would also soak the chickens.  Something about a wet chicken on a hot day seemed like a great idea to me!  After all, the first place I would want to be when the temp outside is 110 would be in a pool!!  But was that the same for a chicken?  I spent a good hour the other day in the hot sun adjusting our homemade "mister" just right so that it would hit the girls and every time I put it near them they took off.  Trying to prop it up, pin it up, point it this way, point it that way, turn the spray higher, turn the spray lower and the only one who got even remotely close to the water was Janis....go figure.  I myself was wet and annoyed and ended up turning off the water.  So I left it at that and wasn't too concerned about the risks involved with using a "mister" because, well....there was going to be no use of a "mister" at our house.  I did however begin to wonder why our girls disliked the water so much.  I mean, we are talking about chickens that feel A DROP of water, and high tail it out of there so fast you would think they were going to be eaten water droplets. Was there scientific or structural reasoning behind this strong hatred towards water that my girls seemed to have.  I searched and searched and could not find anything that would even suggest a reason as to why chickens didn't like to get wet, only other owners accounts to their own personal experiences.  Feeling a bit defeated and convinced I would never find an answer, I e-mailed our friends over at My Pet Chicken and explained why I was writing.  I did not want to put out any bad information and I had heard everyones opinions,  from "My chicken loves it," to "My chicken hates it," to "It can kill your chicken,"  to "That is ridiculous!" but what  I wanted to know was WHY most chickens didn't like to get wet.  So this morning I got a wonderful response from Laree who explained everything beautifully and I would love to share the information with all of you.

Hi Emily,
Thank you for contacting My Pet Chicken.
As with most animals, chickens are individuals--and I do have several silkies (especially a little silkie roo) that do like to be misted in the extreme heat.  However, silkies have a different feather structure than other birds, so they probably don't count ;)
The reason most chickens don't like to get wet it because the water prevents them from regulating their body temperature.  Sudden temperature changes causes stress, and  can be detrimental to a chicken's health.   While warm-blooded, birds cannot regulate their temperatures with the same efficiency as mammals. (They are missing several glands mammals have, but I don't know them off-hand.)
The feathers help insulate the chicken, and keep the chicken cool in the summer, as well as warm in the winter. 
When the barbs of the feather get wet, they collapse on top of themselves, and allow air to circulate next to the skin.  The water also becomes trapped in the downy barbs, under the feather barbs, which prevents the water from evaporating.  I suspect this then raises the humidity within the chicken's feathers, which then warms up the trapped water from both the air and the chicken's own body heat. 
The chicken has gone from hot, to wet and cold, to wet and hot---without any hope of relief.  It would be like walking around in a thermal tank top and a sweatshirt on a hot day.  As long as you walked in the shade, the heat would be bearable.  Suddenly, you fall in a lake, and get chilled--so you sit in the sun to dry off.  The outside of your sweatshirt might dry quickly, but your tank top would stay wet and clammy and you'd start to overheat.  Sitting in the shade would make you cold and uncomfortable, while moving into the sun would make you too hot.
Mmm...clammy humid chicken smell.
Also, water would leave calcium and other deposits on the feathers, which would make the barbs stick together after the water had dried.  Have you ever tried to wash a feather?  They never quite look the same when you are done.  The chicken would have to spend a significant amount of time preening to restore their feathers into working order.

When I read Laree's response it all began to make sense.  After all, that water ride at the amusement park seems like a really refreshing idea until you get off and have to walk around in wet clothes for the rest of the day.  We have ALL been there and know that feeling and it is naaaaaasty!! The point I'm trying to make is that homemade "misters" are not going to kill your chickens (I don't think) if used properly.  Intentionally soaking your chicken might.  Use them in a way that they will cool the air near your chickens but not close enough to get your chickens wet. Do not force your chickens into a mister, do not place it where they can not access food or water without entering it, do not put them in a position where they will get wet OR ELSE.   MOST chickens do not want to be wet because it will cause them some discomfort, please do not force them to.  On another note, you may happen to have chickens that love to get a good spray on a hot day.  If your chickens want to play in your homemade mister and soak themselves silly, well, people are still going to go on the water rides and walk around in sopping wet clothes all day.  May the mist be with them.  


  1. Well Done. Seems the jury may still be out in silkie flocks. Having silkies and showgirls, and standards myself we always offer a free range area of the yard that allows the chickens who prefer water to access a misty sprinkler. The girls love this. Thanks for this really informative blog. Sincerely,

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I am not a poultry expert nor am I mister expert, just trying to pass along useful information so that those concerned know that misters are fine to use as long as their chicken want to use them and are not forced upon them. It's really not a debate. Like you said, offer a free range area of your year and allow access. It's common sense. :)

  2. one of my Easter Eggers died from the heat, after that i installed misters and now the birds don't even pant in 105 degree heat. i believe it saved their lives.

    1. Glad that your chickens make good use of your misters!

  3. The mister also saved and continues to save my chicky chicks

  4. Hey Emily!

    I applaud your efforts to try and get to the bottom of the facts regarding the use of misters. No disrespect intended to Laree, but I’m certain MPC does not employ an outdoor cooling expert, which is really the issue we’re talking about here.

    I don’t know what your question to Laree was, but her reply does not address the use of MISTERS. Her reply addresses the issue of chickens getting WET. Misters are NOT INTENDED to get chickens (or people) WET, they are designed to COOL THE AIR around them by "flash evaporation" or "evaporative cooling."

    This quote is from a company that specializes in outdoor cooling and misters: “A misconception is that misting systems and water misters cool you down by getting you wet with water. While this sounds like a plausible idea, it is not actually how mist cooling works. Mist cooling works by getting the mist to evaporate into the surrounding air as fast as possible. As the mist evaporates into the surrounding air, it begins to cool the air. This process is known as "flash evaporation." As the mister or misting system continues to run, more of the surrounding air gets cooled through flash evaporation. The cool air then begins to circulate away from the water mister to help cool other areas that are not receiving mist from the water mister.”

    Laree stated: “I suspect [water trapped in the feathers] raises humidity [and body temperature]…” but her suspicion is a hypothesis, or a guess, which is not evidence of anything relative to outdoor cooling created by misters. My chickens do not sit underneath misters, but they certainly ARE smart enough to take advantage of the cooler air created AROUND the misters.

    Here is a second link to a company that specializes in outdoor cooling, which you may find useful in coming to your own conclusions about whether misters are right for your flock in oppressively high temperatures:

    I completely understand your confusion on the subject of misters, particularly given the fervent attempts by "some" to discredit my assertion that misters are helpful to chickens in the heat. I assure you that if you, or anyone else, for that matter, had recommended misters based on the FACTS that support their usefulness, there would have been no challenge to those claims. Ask yourself what PROOF the nay-sayer has provided to the contrary. There has been NONE because there IS NONE.

    I’m happy to continue this dialogue on my Facebook page or via email if you prefer:


    1. Not trying to tick anyone off, just saying that misters(even the wet kind) are lifesavers. My chickens will walk through but mainly stay a couple feet away,but if its raining, like today, they basicly avoid dry places. They love it! I'm not saying chickens are smart but they're growing and thriving and most of them enjoy the luxury of cooled air in Texas!

    2. Seems like all of the Texas chickens like misters! :)

  5. Is this about silkies not wanting to get wet, or all breeds of chickens with normal feathers?

    People have often told me their birds will stay out all day in rain. They are no doubt enjoying all the worms that come to the surface. Maybe it even drowns some lice.

    If water was causing so much discomfort I would think they would head for the coop. Then again chickens are not rocket scientists and what the heck do I know?

    1. This is not about silkies. I have done zero research regarding silkies and water. You are right, and as you can see from the comments, many people have chickens that love water. I am not an expert on the topic, just trying to pass along the message that misters, when offered in a large area and not forced, are great ways to help your chickens cool off.

  6. Just to be clear, I never advocate using a "homemade mister," a sprinkler or "forcing" chickens under a mister. Dipping chickens in cool water when they are in heat shock IS a life-saving measure, however, and should not be discounted just because a chicken may prefer not to be wet. They WILL dry off after getting wet and better off for it.

    I would suggest to you that the reason your search showed no scientific or structural reason that some chickens dislike water is because there isn't any and Laree of MPC is a backyard chicken-keeper just like you and I, she is NOT a scientist or a poultry expert either. Her tank-top/sweatshirt analogy was not researched, it was just a theory of hers. Theories are made to be proven or disproven. While I wait for the results of the study, my chickens will be safe in the heat by hanging out in the cooler air surrounding their $7, Lowe's mister and I will feel good about knowing that I helped them survive another brutal summer.

    1. 1) I never suggested that you advocate using a homemade mister, sprinkler, or forced your chickens under a mister. In fact, I'm not exactly sure when this article became one that was written about you.

      2) I never said that Laree was a scientist, nor did I imply that she was. I am not here to debate and argue with anyone, just help people and enjoy having backyard chickens.


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