Backyard chickens bring a delightful dose of charm and productivity to our lives.
Whether you keep them for their fresh eggs, delicious meats, quirky personalities, or as sweet feathered friends, it’s important to provide them with the best care possible.
One often overlooked aspect of chicken care is its sensitivity to sunlight.
In this blog post, we’ll explore the intriguing question: Can chickens get sunburned?
We’ll explore the intricacies of chicken skin, the risks of sunburn, and practical measures to prevent it, ensuring our feathered companions stay comfortable and healthy.
In short, yes, chickens can get sunburned.
They do not experience sunburn as quickly as people, but it is possible. We’ll cover why and how below.
Can Chickens Get Sunburn? Understanding Chicken Skin and UV Sensitivity
Yes, chickens can get sunburn, too!
While a healthy chicken with plenty of thick plumage and natural oils is less likely to sunburn, a chicken missing these protectants might be more susceptible to sunburn than humans.
Chickens have a skin structure that’s very different from ours.
Their skin is covered in feathers that serve as natural protection against various environmental factors, similar to our clothes.
They also have preen glands that produce oil, which is spread over their feathers during grooming.
This oil serves to keep their feathers waterproof and insulate them from harsh elements, and that includes the sun’s harsh UV rays.
What Does a Chicken Sunburn Look Like?
Sunburn in chickens is characterized by redness, discomfort, and behavioral changes.
This indicates that their skin can indeed react adversely to prolonged exposure to strong sunlight.
You’ll probably see redness, inflammation, and discomfort on body parts like combs, wattles, and the skin around the eyes.
Affected areas might appear swollen and sensitive to touch.
Chickens with sunburn may exhibit behavioral changes such as increased restlessness, reduced activity, and seeking shade.
In severe cases, sunburned skin might peel or develop blisters.
Monitoring your chickens closely for these symptoms and taking preventive measures can help keep them comfortable and healthy during sunny days.
Factors That Make Chickens More Prone to Sunburn
Several factors can increase chickens’ vulnerability to sunburn. Here are the most common ones.
Poor Feather Condition
Molting or feather loss exposes their skin, leaving them more susceptible to UV rays.
If you don’t keep an appropriate ratio of hens to roosters, your rooster/s may mount them too often, ripping out feathers and leaving their backs sore and prone to sunburn.
An overcrowded coop and run could also cause feather loss. Hens will pick at each other and rip out feathers to assert dominance.
Some chickens will even pull out their own feathers out of sheer stress.
Do your best to keep their cortisol levels down, and do not overcrowd your space.
Molting is a natural, normal occurrence that also leaves your chickens more vulnerable to sunburns.
On the bright side, there are a few steps you can take to reduce the molting so your chickens are less likely to sunburn.
Here are a few quick facts you should know about molting.
1. Molting lasts three to six weeks
Most chickens molt in the fall, but they can molt at any time, and it usually lasts three to six week-long.
2. Protein can speed up molting
Feathers are made of 85% protein, so increasing your flock’s protein in their feed can do a lot to help speed up the process while keeping the birds healthy.
Do not overfeed protein for long periods of time, just during their molting season.
This will keep them from incurring long-term health issues.
3. Egg production might slow down when molting
Sometimes hens will slow or halt their egg production while they molt.
This is because the process of growing many new feathers at once is arduous and stressful, and uses up many of its calories and stored protein.
Light-colored and featherless breeds, such as Silkies, are at higher risk due to reduced natural protection.
Naked-neck chickens are susceptible for apparent reasons.
Young chicks and older hens have thinner skin that’s more sensitive to sunlight.
They may be missing more feathers too, which is the perfect combination for developing a nasty sunburn.
Altitude and Climate
Chickens in regions with more intense sunlight are more likely to experience sunburn.
What Happens If a Chicken Gets Sunburned?
Sunburn isn’t just a discomfort; it poses genuine health risks for chickens.
The discomfort, pain, and stress caused by sunburn can lead to decreased egg production and even behavioral changes like lethargy and reduced foraging.
Compromised skin is more susceptible to infections, potentially leading to even more severe health issues.
Sunburns are rarely deadly for chickens, but the resulting health issues could be.
How to Prevent Sunburn in Chickens
Prevention is the cornerstone of keeping chickens safe from sunburn. Here are practical measures you can take to keep your flock safe.
Provide a Constant Shade Source
Build shelters and designated shaded areas within the coop and outdoor space.
More than likely, you won’t have to keep your chickens exclusively in shade.
As long as you provide shade, they will come and go from it as they need, and avoid a harsh sunburn on their own.
1. Shade Cloths
Shade cloths are simple yet effective solutions for creating shaded areas in your chicken coop or outdoor space.
These materials are readily available and can be easily attached to coop structures or posts.
Never use tarps, as those can unintentionally amplify the heat.
Stretch the shade cloth over the run’s roof to create a shaded spot for chickens to rest.
Make sure it’s securely fastened to withstand wind and weather.
You may also set up poles or posts and drape the shade cloth or tarp over them to create a shaded area.
This method is versatile and allows you to adjust the shade as needed.
2. Plant Trees, Shrubs, and Fast Growing Vegetation
Introducing trees and shrubs that offer ample foliage can create natural shade spots for your chickens.
Deciduous trees like maples, oaks, and birches provide shade in the summer months when they have full leaves.
During winter, their bare branches allow sunlight to penetrate, so your chickens can warm up easier.
Evergreens like pine, spruce, larch, and fir trees offer year-round shade.
Plant them strategically to block the harshest sun angles. These are especially helpful on the south side of the coop and run.
Shrubs like lilac, forsythia, and mock orange can offer both shade and habitat enrichment.
Growing specific plants that chickens can enjoy while finding shelter from the sun is a win-win strategy.
Here are some of my favorite options:
- Sunflowers: These tall plants not only provide shade but also offer seeds that chickens love to peck at. Once you’ve started sunflowers, save the seeds after the sunflower head dries. You can ensure your chickens have shade, beautiful scenery, and delicious snacks for decades.
- Corn: Planting rows of corn can create cool, shaded pathways between the stalks for chickens to explore. You’ll also be rewarded with food for yourself or your chickens at the end of the summer.
- Amaranth: This leafy plant can serve as both shade and an edible treat for your chickens. You can also cut the flowers as decoration for your home.
- Clematis: This flowering vine comes in various colors and can grow quite rapidly, covering structures with beautiful blooms. It prefers sunny locations but with its roots shaded. Pruning is essential to encourage healthy growth.
- Butterfly Bush: A butterfly bush, characterized by its dense and vibrant blooms, can serve as a beneficial shade-producing plant for chickens, offering not only relief from the sun but also attracting pollinators and enhancing the aesthetic appeal of their surroundings. They will make your backyard smell sweetly fragrant in the process too.
- Wisteria: Wisteria is known for its cascading clusters of fragrant flowers. It grows quickly and provides excellent shade. However, it can be pretty aggressive, so regular pruning is crucial to prevent it from taking over.
- Hops: Hops are not only used in brewing beer but also make for a great fast-growing vine. They provide lush greenery and proliferate during the growing season. Hops can thrive in sunny locations with well-draining soil.
- Morning Glory: These annual vines produce beautiful trumpet-shaped flowers and proliferate. They can be invasive, so make sure to keep them under control.
- Trumpet Vine (Campsis): This vine produces large, trumpet-shaped flowers and can cover structures quickly. It’s a vigorous grower that can withstand heat and drought once established.
- Passionflower: Passionflowers are unique and visually appealing with their intricate blooms. They’re notoriously fast growers and can provide dense coverage over structures. They typically do well in warm climates.
- Boston Ivy: This ivy species is known for its attractive foliage, especially during the fall when it turns vibrant shades of red. It grows quickly and can cover walls or structures effectively.
- Virginia Creeper: Similar to Boston Ivy, Virginia Creeper is a fast-growing vine with colorful foliage in the fall. It’s hardy and can tolerate a variety of conditions.
- Kiwi Vine: Kiwi vines are not only fast growers but also produce delicious fruits. They need a sunny spot and well-draining soil to thrive.
- Grapevines: If you’re looking for both shade and a potential harvest, grapevines are an excellent option. They provide ample shade coverage and delicious grapes for you or your chickens.
When planting any of these vines, it’s essential to consider factors like proper support structures, adequate watering, and suitable soil conditions.
Regular pruning and maintenance will also be essential to keep the growth under control and ensure a healthy, thriving plant that provides the desired shade.
When you prune your cover plants, feel free to toss the clippings to your chickens for a quick snack.
Offer a Complete and Balanced Diet
Ensure a balanced diet rich in vitamins and nutrients, as healthy skin is better equipped to handle sun exposure.
If you offer commercial feed, ensure it is age and purpose appropriate.
Different chickens at different life stages will have varying needs.
Too little feed or nutrients is equally as dangerous as overfeeding.
Here are the basics:
- Chick starter feed (20-23% protein) for chicks up to 6 weeks old.
- Grower feed (16-18% protein) for young chickens from 6 to 20 weeks old.
- Broiler grower feed (19 to 20% protein) until the chickens reach butcher weight, until approximately 12 weeks old.
- Layer feed (16-18% protein) for laying hens, containing calcium for strong eggshells.
- On average, a laying hen requires around 1/4 to 1/3 pound of layer feed daily, equaling about one and a half pounds per week.
- Broilers (meat chickens) require around 1/4 pound of feed per day during their growth phase. If you raise broilers in a chicken tractor, they may eat slightly less.
- Treats and supplementary foods should comprise 10% of their diet, at most, to avoid imbalances.
When your hen is going through a molting phase, mix chick starter feed with layer feed.
This increases the flock’s protein intake in an easy way, without increasing the calcium supplements.
Provide Plenty of Clean, Fresh Water
Offer clean, fresh water at all times, especially during hot weather.
This allows your chickens to continue making those essential body oils and grow in new healthy feathers.
They really need clean water to combat those issues too.
Use Sunscreen or Lotions on Sensitive Areas
Non-toxic, pet-safe sunscreens or lotions can be applied to vulnerable areas, such as combs and wattles.
If it is safe for humans, it is generally considered safe for chickens.
However, avoid sunscreens and lotions that contain zinc oxide or para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA).
You can also find pet-friendly sunscreens.
Carefully Manage Their Outside Time
If your chickens aren’t good at regulating their time in the sunshine, you may have to help them.
Keep your birds in constantly shaded areas between 10 am and 4 pm.
It is more difficult to corral and put up your chickens in the middle of the day, so keep them in the shade all morning, during noon, and then let them out to go free range at 4 pm.
Home Remedies and Treatments for Sunburned Chickens
If, despite your best efforts, your chickens still experience sunburn, don’t worry because there are several natural remedies you can try.
- Aloe Vera has soothing and healing properties that can relieve sunburned skin.
- Oatmeal can reduce itching and irritation, promoting healing. You can give your chickens a quick oatmeal bath to alleviate their discomfort and aid the healing process.
- Epsom salt baths can also aid in healing and reduce inflammation. You can combine oatmeal baths with Epsom salt baths or do one or the other.
Can Chickens Get Sunburn: Final Thoughts
The well-being of our backyard chickens is a responsibility we gladly embrace.
By understanding the unique aspects of their skin, recognizing the risks of sunburn, and implementing preventative measures, we can ensure their comfort and health.
As responsible chicken keepers, let’s continue to educate ourselves about every facet of their care, ensuring that our feathered companions enjoy the best life possible.
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