We’ve knit mittens for koalas and put shoes on our dogs, but the question remains, what about the chickens? Do our feathered flocks really need new frocks? The Internet is surprisingly chock full of patterns to help us knit sweaters for chickens, but is it really necessary? Mother Nature Network has investigated, and the answer appears to be a resounding ‘probably not’.
There are a couple of prominent schools of thought as to when and why it might be appropriate to introduce sartorial style into your chicken’s life. The first is in the horrific case of chickens who have been rescued from battery farms. Chickens who are subjected to the stresses of living in densely packed cages quite often pluck their feathers out. (Some battery farms engage in the equally horrific practice of “debeaking” their chickens to prevent this).
When chickens are rescued from these environments they are often suffering from a huge number of ailments, including the absence of large patches of feathers, which cause them to be not only chilly, but uncomfortable and prone to picking at themselves when new feathers grow in. A couple of years ago some rescue groups released patterns to make sweaters for these rescue chickens, and a trend began. (Presumably the same logic would apply to aiding chickens who have been inexplicably rendered featherless by tornadoes, but that’s another story.)
But it’s not just rescue chickens who are wearing sweaters; it’s become something of a trend in backyard coops: a cursory Google search will show you just how prevalent chicken sweaters have become. And, admittedly, it’s pretty cute. But some have cautioned that it might not exactly be in your chicken’s best interests to start engaging in dress up.
The Chicken Chick makes no bones about it: “While it’s fine to engage in a little silliness with our chickens from time-to-time, sweaters are not only unnecessary, they can be dangerous.” Among the issues, the site explains that sweaters mess with chickens’ natural ability to moderate their body temperature. When it’s cold, chickens eat more to keep warm, and with a healthy coat of feathers, they’re a veritable furnace.
Not only this, but sweaters prevent chickens from preening properly, irritate new feather growth, make them vulnerable to prey (not being able to move wings slows them down a bit), trap moisture next to the skin leading to mite and lice issues and, if that wasn’t alarming enough, chicken sweaters can lead to “mating accidents.” That’s right, chickens sweaters can be exactly the wrong type of protection for one’s chicken.
The key lesson here is not to mistake your comfort with your chickens‘ comfort. Let them do what comes naturally—and if they’re losing their feathers in such a way to interfere with their natural capacity to stay warm, bring them inside for a bit. A moment’s dress up won’t hurt, but unless you’re an veterinary specialist, you likely want to let the chicken attire itself as nature intended.