Eggs. Few things say a homesteaders breakfast like farm fresh eggs and home cured bacon. But, in the winter, your plate is probably feeliing a little empty.
Because chickens naturally lay less in the winter. Sunlight is what prompts a chicken to lay an egg. They need an average of 14 hours of daylight to make an egg and… lets face it. Winter isn’t exactly crawling with extra hours of daylight.
So, you cry, because not only is your breakfast severely lacking in that delicious liquid gold… but you’re still feeding the free-loaders and that’s expensive.
There may be a light at the end of the tunnel, though (pun intended). Just use artificial lighting in the coop to trick the hens bodies into thinking it’s summer.
It can’t possibly be that easy, Danielle….
It is that easy. But, not so fast… let’s discuss this.
How to use supplemental light in the winter chicken coop.
Step 1. Screw lightbulb into fixture.
Step 2. Turn it on. ?
Okay, in all seriousness… let’s do this the right way so as to stress the ladies out as little as possible.
Add light gradually.
If it’s already the winter solstice and you decide you can’t go on without more of those delicious eggs, don’t just flip on the switch and bathe your flock in perpetual light. Add about 45 minutes of extra light per week until you have reached an optimal amount of daylight hours (14-16)
Don’t leave the light on 24/7.
Birds need a break. They don’t need to think the light is never-ending. This causes unnecessary stress… which equates to unhappy, unhealthy birds. Aside from, they won’t sleep… and well, especially during the molt, they’re in desperate need of some beauty rest.
Add light before dawn.
Instead turning the light off well after the sun has sunk below the horizon, turn it off several hours before. That way, the sunset naturally shows your birds it’s time to go to bed.
Use a regular 25-40 watt lightbulb.
You don’t need a flood lamp. In fact, you could use a small nightlight in most small backyard coops with successful results.
Do NOT use a heat lamp.
Adult chickens are a lot more equipped for winter weather than we seem to give them credit for. A heat lamp is not only entirely unnecessary for a bird over the age of 20 weeks, it’s downright dangerous. Many a well-meaning chicken keeper has watched their coop and ladies go up in flames from a heat lamp incident.
Any lightbulb carries a slight risk of fire around all of that bedding and feathers, but a heat lamp? 10 times worse. Besides, they’re expensive to keep on! Don’t do it!
If you’re going to do this, you’ve got to be consistent. This causes less stress and confusion to your chickens. If you want more eggs, fine. But if you don’t want stressed out, confused birds with wonky laying schedules, either put that light bulb on a timer or commit to going out and turning the light on every single morning at 3AM. I figure 3 is a safe bet because they need 14 hours of daylight to make an egg and it gets dark around 5 in most places by the solstice….
Pros and Cons of Adding Supplemental Lighting to the Winter Coop
There are two, opposing, schools of thought on this, of course. One group says it’s perfectly fine, the other says it results in unhealthy birds who are past their prime laying years earlier than they should be.
The argument is often this… chickens go through a molt in late autumn to early winter every year. The molt is when your backyard looks like a pillow fight gone wrong. Your poor ladies look like they’ve had a few rough days because they’re literally replacing every single feather on their body with a new one. As you can guess, this takes a ton of energy… and a lot of protein since feathers are basically all protein.
This natural occurrence takes a lot out on your birds and the winter naturally provides them with the ability to recuperate and increase their stores of vitamins and minerals again. Forcing their bodies into laying doesn’t give them adequate time to recuperate.
But, feed bills are high and you’re raising them to do a job… so it’s really up to you.
My opinion on supplemental lighting
Well, for one, we don’t have electricity in our coop. We try to raise our chickens in as natural of a way as possible and that includes not using supplemental lighting.
Even if I had electricity out there, I wouldn’t use a light. Why? Because I believe that eggs, like everything else on the homestead, should be eaten seasonally.
It’s hard in today’s modern culture to even think of eating just about anything seasonally, but you should. Just because you can buy something on the store shelves, doesn’t mean you should do it. While we will never, ever be 100% self-sufficient (everyone has something they must source off their farm. Coffee perhaps. Personally, I can’t live without coffee and I sure can’t grow it here so…) Anyway, eating things seasonally and preparing for the barren, desolate, cold winter months is just part of living a natural, balanced, sustainable life.
Eggs are no different than say… tomatoes. I can’t run out to the garden and get a fresh tomato in the dead of winter. I may not be able to get an egg, either. Just the facts of life.
Hens do still lay in the winter, though. They just lay less. What takes a day in the summer often takes 2 to 3 days to produce now. In the depths of the molt many hens don’t lay at all, but it’s short lived. So our solution? Eat less eggs. Enjoy a hot bowl of soaked oatmeal, eat some shredded potatoes, make biscuits and gravy. There are tons of ways to eat less eggs. But ultimately, it’s up to you and what you’re comfortable with.
So, what will it be? Are you supplementing your chickens light this winter? What influenced that decision?