Home Caring for Your Flock 5 Reasons Why Baby Chicks Need Sunlight

5 Reasons Why Baby Chicks Need Sunlight

by Jamelyn

Coming out of the winter months and going into spring, many people get the urge to get baby chicks. Farm supply stores and hatcheries have many more breeds of chicks available in the spring and they tend to be much healthier when they are hatched this time of year (see 4 Reasons Why Spring is the Best Time of Year to Get Chickens). I remember when our chickens were just a few days old I wondered if they should be getting sunlight and, if so, how much?

Chicks will stay in a brooder for the first 3 weeks of life.  While sunlight is not necessary for them at this age for egg laying, there are health benefits if you can get them in the sun for about half an hour a few times a week until they transition to the coop.

Keep reading to learn about the 5 reasons why it’s helpful to provide sunlight to baby chicks

1. Sunlight Provides Vitamin D3

Vitamin D3 is a necessary nutrient for a chicken to maintain proper health. Vitamin D is needed for the assimilation of calcium. Calcium is a major ingredient in egg shells and when there is a deficiency in calcium, egg shells become weak and thin. Calcium needs increase with a hen’s age and in warm weather.

Baby chicks can experience rickets if they did not receive enough Vitamin D before hatching. Sometimes chicks can also develop rickets after hatching if they experience a severe Vitamin D deficiency within the first few days or weeks of life. Rickets can result in beak and leg deformities in chicks.

To provide the optimal levels of Vitamin D3, it should be supplemented in a chicken’s diet. Usually there is enough of the essential vitamins and minerals in the feed that you give to your chickens at their different life stages. For chicks, you will want to feed them a starter feed for at least the first 6 weeks. In my post What to Feed Chickens by Age, I give a detailed breakdown of the different types of feed that are available for each life stage of your chickens. It can be difficult to know if your chickens are getting enough protein, calcium, and other vitamins and minerals, which is why feed is a great starting foundation to a chicken’s diet. It’s also good to supplement with kitchen scraps to balance out their diet. See The Natural Diet of Chickens for more details on what types of kitchen scraps are favorites of chickens.

Alternatively, Vitamin D3 can be obtained through direct exposure to sunlight. The key here is that the sunlight must be direct and not through a window pane or filtered through a curtain in order for the Vitamin D3 to be properly assimilated in the body. In addition, sunlight during the middle of the day provides more exposure to Vitamin D3 than sunlight at the end of the day. If you do take your chicks outside to get exposure to sunlight for the Vitamin D3 benefits, time it when the sun is highest, between 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM for maximum benefit.

2. UV Rays Kill Pathogens

In the late 1800s, scientists discovered that UV rays from sunlight were able to kill several types of bacteria, including anthrax, plague, and staphylococcus. By allowing your baby chicks access to direct sunlight several times a week, you might be able to keep them free of any bacteria or viruses than can cause illness.

When my chickens were babies, we would transport the chicks outside in their brooder so both could get access to sunlight and fresh air. Our brooder was a large cardboard box set-up in a spare bedroom that was being remodeled. We would take the entire brooder and all chicks outside for 15 to 30 minutes a few times a week. Keep in mind that chicks still have a difficult time maintaining a proper body temperature, so only do this on warm days and make sure that the area you let the chickens in will allow them to stay close to each other for warmth. Obviously, also make sure that there is no cat or dog around that will try to eat them while they get some sun.

While we let the chicks play in the grass, their brooder would be put in direct sunlight to help kill any germs. It was great to allow the brooder to air out since it can get very stinky. It almost didn’t matter how often we changed out the bedding, it still seemed to stink. Airing out the brooder a few times a week outside seemed to help with the odor. Don’t worry about the baby chicken stench, though, since it doesn’t last too long. Chicks will only stay in the brooder for about 3 weeks before they can transition to a coop outside.

3. Warms Their Bodies

Another benefit of allowing your chicks access to sunlight is that it helps to naturally warm their bodies. Chicks need help keeping warm when they are very young, which is why a heat lamp or brooder plate is necessary for the first few weeks of life.

If you are using the sunlight to aid in keeping your chicks warm, it does not matter whether the sunlight is direct or through a window, as it mattered previously when it came to Vitamin D3 absorption and UV rays for killing pathogens.

When my chicks were in their brooder during the day we would open the window shutters in the bedroom, allowing the sunlight to shine in their brooder during the late afternoon. I’m not sure how much heat they actually got from this sunlight, but they did seem to enjoy the additional light and I liked the idea of them getting heat from something other than the artificial heat we provided in their brooder. We used a heat lamp for our chicks and it did a great job of keeping our chicks warm. I know a lot of people are freaked out by heat lamps, but we made sure the chicks would not be able to knock it down and ensured all cords were intact. My husband and I are engineers and take safety seriously, but we never had any concerns about the heat lamp. If a heat lamp scares you, they have brooder plates available.

Here I am with the chicks in their brooder with the heat lamp hanging above.

4. Practice Sunbathing

Chickens enjoy sunbathing so you can start to give them practice by allowing them access to sun when they are chicks. Sunbathing is a favorite activity of chickens and is said to help prevent mites on their skin.

These chickens were sunbathing, while also taking a dust bath, on a warm fall day.

When chicks are still babies and naive of the dangers around them, they will sleep sprawled out on the ground with their necks and leg(s) extended. As they get older, they will do this behavior for brief amounts of time while in the sun. Sometimes sunbathing will accompany dust bathing, although, I’ve caught my chickens sunbathing without rolling around in the dirt. They seem to enjoy the heat on their bodies and this activity is not limited to cold weather; I’ve also seen my chickens sunbathe in the summer when it’s hot outside.

I wanted to give my chicks time to practice sunbathing while they were little and before they moved outside to the coop. While time to practice sunbathing is not necessary for good health in your chicks, it definitely doesn’t hurt them and allows you time to interact with your chicks while they’re young. My husband and I wanted to interact with our chicks as often as we could so that they would be friendly with us as they got older. Going outside in the sun with the chicks definitely helped them to become more familiar with us.

5. Helps them Transition to Life Outside Brooder

By allowing your chicks access to sunlight and a different environment gradually, they will more easily transition from a brooder to coop. Chicks that spend the first several weeks of their life solely in a brooder with a red light and artificial heat are more likely to get stressed when they are moved outside to a coop.

There are a lot of things to take into consideration when moving chicks from a brooder to a coop, such as continuing to maintain adequate heat, trying to keep the same type of bedding that was used in the brooder, and not changing their feeder or waterer too soon, to allow them some familiarity in their new location. Chickens can get stressed easily so the less changes you make to their daily routine, the more healthy and happy they will be. If they have already been introduced gradually to the outside world, transitioning them to the coop becomes much easier.

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