Does Your Chicken Need a Sweater?

This story is part of Treehugger's news archive. Learn more about our news archiving process or read our latest news.
You can knit your chickens sweaters yourself or buy them online. (Photo: IvonneW/iStockphoto).

Just as our furry friends sometimes need a little extra warmth during the winter months, so do our feathered ones, according to some chicken owners.

While chicken sweaters may seem more of a fashion statement than anything, the people who knit or buy them for their flocks say the knitted garments keep their birds warm during molting season and prevent the chickens from picking at new feathers as they grow in.

"In colder climates like ours it can get quite cold in the fall or the spring when the birds lose their feathers," said Maureen Schmidt, who lives in Kelowna, British Columbia. "Without adequate feathering, they can get quite cold, especially if they drop their old feathers all at once."

Schmidt's mother knitted several warm garments for her daughter's chickens.

The sweaters have an opening for the birds' heads and wings, and they button to secure to their bodies.

Schmidt says the sweaters don't restrict her chickens' movements and that the birds adjust to them quickly.

A black chicken with a warm sweater
This chicken is both warm and fashionable in its multi-colored sweater. Maureen Schmidt

"It usually takes anywhere from a few hours to a day before the chickens adjust completely to the sweater. Once they do they go about their daily scratch and peck as if they grew the sweaters themselves."

Chicken sweaters are also used by many rescue organizations that take in battery hens, which are usually sold for slaughter when they start producing fewer eggs. These birds are often missing a lot of their feathers because of the cramped, stressful conditions they live in.

However, while many people with chickens insist that sweaters keep their flocks healthy and warm, not everyone thinks the knitted garments are necessary.

Other chicken keepers point out that the birds are warm-blooded and able to regulate their own body temperatures by fluffing their feathers, roosting and huddling together for warmth.

They argue that such natural behaviors can be restricted by sweaters. For example, when chickens fluff their feathers, this creates air pockets that keeps warm air close to the bird's body.

"We ought not confuse our comfort level with a chicken's comfort level," writes Kathy Shea Mormino, who maintains the Chicken Chick blog. "In freezing temperatures, the average backyard chicken that is molting furiously would be better served by a retreat to an indoor dog crate in the basement or garage than a sweater."

A copper hen wears a red sweater
Is a sweater really to the hen's benefit?.

Is a sweater really to the hen's benefit?

Still, other keepers say the use of chicken sweaters depends on several factors, including climate, the bird's health and the behavior of the rest of the flock, which sometimes peck at other chickens' exposed skin during molting.

And several animal shelters in cold climates say the tiny sweaters are beneficial to featherless rescued battery hens.

"The hens usually come out of farms quite bald and can be underweight,” said Miranda McPherson, who has knitted sweaters for England’s Little Hen Rescue. "They will soon fatten up and regain their feathers with the right care, but while they are waiting for their feathers to grow back, they can benefit from our knitted jumpers."

You can find knitting patterns and directions to make your own chicken sweater online, or you can purchase them from several Etsy sellers.

Below, check out more photos of fashionable fowl in sweaters.

Walter the chicken wears a blue knitted sweater
Walter is rocking this knitted sweater, even if he may not necessarily need it. Bags And More By Pam/Etsy
White chicken in a green sweater
Sometimes, it's just hard to stay warm in the coop. LangsHandmade/Etsy
Chickens wearing sweaters all perched in a row
Everybody wants to know who they're wearing. Happy Money Saver