Do Chickens Need Sunlight? Why It’s Important

Backyard chicken keeping may look like an easy thing to do, and it is, with the proper environment for your girls. But unfortunately, many well-meaning folks decide to have chickens without doing their research first.

Do Chickens Need Sunlight?

Yes, Chickens need sunlight. It’s essential for their sleep and wake cycle and egg production. Sunlight is necessary to all mammals (including chickens) because it helps us get Vitamin D, a fat-soluble crucial for building bones, reducing cancer cell growth, etc.

But to have a healthy flock, having your ducks (or chickens in this case) in a row will save you some major frustration. Assuming that most chicken keepers want those farm-fresh eggs, several things come into play. One of them is sunlight. 

This article will explain why sunlight is crucial for healthy hens. And I will also explain why too much sunlight can be just as detrimental. It’s a delicate balance!

Why Do Chickens Need Sunlight?

It comes down to vitamin D, which is as essential to chickens as it is for most animals. A lack of vitamin D can lead to many issues in your hens, including bone and joint problems, fractures, and in some cases, even death. 

Of course, the need for vitamin D ties into the many reasons sunlight is so important for chickens. 

  • It reduces bacteria
  • Helps with egg production

Sunlight Reduces Bacteria

I have seen many backyard chicken keepers who don’t allow their chickens much sunlight as they are kept in their coop at all times. This is heartbreaking because I believe that chickens should be able to enjoy the freedom to forage in the warm sunlight. 

Sunlight is not only good for their state of mind, but it’s good at reducing bacteria. A chicken run that is completely covered from the sun is a breeding ground for bacteria as it does not have the sunlight to dry out wet, stagnant water. 

Pathogens can multiply quickly, and they do so in moist, dark places. So having the sun’s powerful UV rays shine down is an excellent way to kill and possibly prevent bacteria altogether. 

Sunlight is Essential for Egg Laying

I try not to think of how battery hens are deprived of sunlight and instead given artificial light to increase egg production. In theory, artificial light can work, but natural sunlight is best for your hens all around.

A chicken’s egg cycle is triggered by the light and dark cycle of the sun, also called a photoperiod. The pineal gland is where both serotonin and melatonin are made, and this gland is activated by good ole fashion sunlight. 

The production of these hormones guides the circadian rhythms of hens which are the biological changes that take place over a twenty-four-hour period.

The way egg-laying and sunlight go hand in hand is demonstrated by the fact that most hens will lay the most eggs during the spring and summer when the sunlight is at its longest. 

The Importance of Vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential to helping almost all animals and humans absorb nutrients. And most importantly, in the case of chickens, calcium. 

Chickens getting the proper amount of vitamin D will not only have stronger bones, but they will have eggs with stronger shells.

How Do Chickens Get Vitamin D?

Aside from the obvious, being out in the sun, chickens have some pretty interesting ways of absorbing vitamin D. 

By Preening

When chickens preen or groom themselves, oil is released from the preen gland, which is located at the base of their tail. When exposed to sunlight, this oil produces vitamin D, which is absorbed into the skin.

Through Their Eyes

Chickens can see a wide spectrum of colors, including UVB and UVA rays, allowing them to absorb vitamin D through their eyes.

They Sunbathe

And, of course, the obvious; they sunbathe. Though chickens may look dead when sprawled out in the sun, they are just fine! Flopped down, with limbs and wings in all sorts of funny directions, just means they are catching some rays. 

Vitamin D is so important, and a deficiency in vitamin D can lead to severe problems in hens.

  • Wry Neck, a condition in which chickens are unable to hold their heads up
  • Low egg production
  • Weakness in their legs
  • Thin or cracked eggshells
  • Fragile bones 
  • Problems walking
  • Rickets
  • Stunted Growth
  • Deformed keels, the cartilage in the breast bone
  • Broken or deformed beaks or toenails
  • Aggression and feather picking

Should My Chicken Coop Be in the Sun?

Ideally, no. Your coop should be in the shade or offer a decent amount of shade. 

Chickens may need sunlight, but this doesn’t mean they need to be directly in it for long periods, especially in the warmer summer months. 

Chickens do not do well in excessive heat and can easily suffer heatstroke, so shade, ideally in the form of the coop or some large trees, is crucial. Unfortunately, chicken coops can become overwhelmingly hot in the summer, especially in direct sunlight. So, if possible, set your enclosure up under the shade of a tree.

This may sound confusing, but as long as you offer plenty of sunlight and a shaded area, your hens will figure it out.

Reasons Why the Darkness is Just as Important

Like us, chickens need plenty of sleep. And unless they are in total darkness, they won’t get any. Chickens follow the sun’s cycle to a T and adjust their schedule accordingly. While sunlight is crucial, so is the dark.

The Darkness Tells Chickens When to Roost

The setting sun is like an alarm clock for chickens. You will see them finish up their foraging for the day and head back into the coop one by one. 

The setting sun tells them it’s time to roost and get that good night’s sleep that is so crucial. Not only does heading into the coop help them to feel safe, but it also allows them to find a decent roosting spot.

Their roosting time will fluctuate through the year, and you’ll notice that the girls may still be out pecking around until eight or nine o’clock during the summer. 

But during the fall and winter, they will start to settle in as the sun sets around four or five o’clock.

The Darkness Ensures Chickens are Getting Enough Sleep

Even during the longest summer days, the setting sun and nighttime help chickens get enough sleep. They ideally need between six and eight hours a night.

The age of your chickens may affect this a bit. For example, older hens may retire into the coop a bit earlier, and younger hens may be more active in the evening.

But for the most part, all of your girls will rely on the darkness to help them get a good night’s sleep.

Final Word

Sunlight is essential to chickens, as their daily schedule relies on it. It also keeps them healthy and happy as long as they have a reprive in a well-shaded area. 

The vitamin D in sunlight is the foundation of a strong hen that will produce those fresh farm eggs. 

But the darkness is just as crucial to hens to ensure they get a good night’s sleep because proper rest is also an essential part of good egg production. 

Related Articles