Supplemental Light for Chickens? Be Honest About THIS…
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It’s one of the dividing wedges that can be driven straight through the chicken community: should you use supplemental light for chickens during the shorter days of the year?
(Don’t want to read all the words? This blog post is also a podcast—just press the triangle play button on the little black bar at the top of this post!)
A hen’s egg laying is triggered by sunlight. When the days get shorter, egg production falls off. Chickens need 14-16 hours of light per day to continue laying eggs for you. One way to combat this lack of sunlight in the colder months of the year is to add a light on a timer in the coop to “trick” the chicken’s pituitary gland and help ramp up normal egg production again.
The argument for or against supplemental light for chickens goes as follows:
Those who don’t use supplemental light for chickens argue that adding light to the chicken coop to trick a hen’s body into laying year-round is unnatural and wears them out faster.
Those who do use supplemental light…basically need eggs.
We do use supplemental light in our chicken coop. My particular homestead journey dictates that if I’m feeding you in one of my barns, you need to produce something for me.
Farm life. It’s rough, yo.
Additionally, I personally have not felt that the use of supplemental lighting has decreased the life span or egg laying years of any of my feathered friends. But I say that with the caveat that in almost ten years of keeping chickens, the vast majority have not died from old age, but from predators in our yard or chicken adventures they did not return home from.
Did I mention farm life is rough?
What I will say about supplemental light, if you choose to use it, is this:
- Use a timer. You will not be as awesome as remembering to turn the light on as you think you will be.
- Use a regular ol’ bulb. 40-60 watt is fine.
- Provide a total of 14-16 hours. Any less and you’re wasting electricity. Any more and you’re just being a jerk. Pay attention to the sunrise and sunset and do the math to figure out how much extra light you need to add to total 14-16 hours.
- Set the extra light to come on in the morning, not at night. For instance, instead of having your light come on at 5pm and stay on until 9 pm, set the light to come on at 3 am and turn off at 7 am. Why? When a light suddenly clicks off at 9 pm in the winter, it will be pitch black in the coop and you may have some chickens who didn’t make it to their roosting spot, are stuck at the feeder, aren’t by their best buddy hen, etc. However, when a light clicks off at 7 am in the winter, it’s already light out and the chickens can see what they’re doing and go about their merry day.
The thing you need to be honest about if you don’t use supplemental light for chickens…
Now to be clear, I don’t care either way. I always assume you’re going to make a choice regarding supplemental light for chickens because it’s the best choice for your particular homestead. It doesn’t matter to me if you put a disco ball with a spotlight in your chicken coop. You do you!
But it’s the occasional hypocrisy that I encounter that gets to me.
What I wish we could all be honest about is this: some folks cry that giving a chicken supplemental light is unnatural and mean.
Just a question, but where are y’all gettin’ your eggs in the fall and winter?
Because what I see happening sometimes is that people play the less light is natural and it’s cruel to make a chicken lay eggs like that in the fall and winter and then those same people run off to the store to get their fall and winter eggs.
Where I’m just gonna throw this out there…
…but I’m guessing all the eggs sold at the store are laid using supplemental light.
You do you, but let’s not be hypocritical.
If you’re not using supplemental light because you think it’s cruel and unnatural to ask chickens to continue to lay the same amount of eggs in the fall and winter as they do in the spring and summer, and then you yourself don’t eat or use as many eggs in the fall and winter, that’s awesome.
I see what you’re doing, and I give you a thumbs up.
But, honey. To tell me that I’m a heartless chicken mama because I keep a timer on an extra light in my chickens’ super awesome coop…
…and then you sneak off to the grocery store to buy 3 dozen eggs to complete your holiday baking?
The crazy thing about eggs that you probably haven’t thought about?
Eggs are actually a seasonal food.
Crazy, right? That’s hard to wrap our heads around, especially since most of us have become accustomed to doing so. much. baking in the fall and winter months—at the same exact time that our little feathered friends are shutting down for the year.
When we think about seasonal food, we think about what’s growing in our garden. We don’t ever consider what’s going on in the chicken coop. Thinking seasonally encompasses all the things we are growing and raising and producing on our farm—not just the green stuff that shoots out of the ground.
So again, I’m all for people making their own choices regarding what’s best for their small farms and homesteads when it comes to the issue of supplemental light for chickens. But let’s make sure that in our choices, we’re being honest about the results of our decisions.
You are free to raise your eye at me for adding light to my chicken coop. But if I see you at the grocery store later buying carton upon carton of eggs, I’m going to remind you:
Girlfriend, those eggs came from somewhere.
And it wasn’t from a chicken that sees 9 hours of sunlight a day.
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19 thoughts on “Supplemental Light for Chickens? Be Honest About THIS…”
I’m with you Amy!! Awesome post 🙂
Well put. We haven’t kept chickens long, and last year, we did not use light in the coop. We had enough eggs still being laid throughout the winter that it did not matter. But this year, when we started to have NO eggs, I started leaving the light on, because as you said, I can’t really afford to be paying to care for those chickens if they aren’t giving me something in return! I just need to work on the lighting timer thing 🙂
We don’t use a light because we figure the girls need a break from the hard work they did for the last three seasons. We have about forty hens and although we only get about five eggs a day in the darkest part of the winter, we found the secret is to buy breeds that are known for laying at least a little in the winter. We have Orpington, speckled Sussex, Rhode Island Red, Easter’s, Australorps, and Barred Rocks.
You go girl!! Well said!
I really enjoyed this article, I would rather keep my chickens producing than buy my eggs from the store. Thanks for pointing out the hypocrisy that occasionally comes from small farming and homesteading. I know a few people who have called me out for putting up light timers in my coop, I am going to send this link. Thanks!
Great article, and another point to consider is that (I read this somewhere- don’t remember where) is that where chickens originated from there are longer hours of sunlight all year round, so really when you supplement light you are just recreating their natural habiat. I also think that it is good for chooks to have a rest now and then, but their yearly moult takes care of that.
I use a small solar light in my coop year round.
Not to mention all the other evil things factory chickens endure… That being said, I buy eggs at the store cuz I don’t have chickens…yet. thanks for your posts. I’ve learned lots from you?
Totally agree with this philosophy. In Montana our nights are long and the timer is set to come on about 5 am in the morning. During the coldest part of winter, they stop laying no matter how much light they have, so their own biorhythms dictate their egg laying, it seems. AND … when hens are molting they don’t lay, so are given a break then while growing new feathers. Good point about the hypocrisy of thinking it’s cruel to add light, but then buying eggs at the store. Even organic egg producers use light in the wintertime or they’d be out of business, obviously …
Great perspective and a fun read! I have shared this article many times with people who react as though I’m doing something cruel by using supplemental light in my coop; it’s a playful slap upside the head about the hypocrisy of buying eggs while our own chickens sit idly by (in the dark – lol!)
I usually consider myself of at least average intelligence. So why the hell have I not thought about this aspect of it? So it’s okay if a bunch of battery hens get supplemental light, but my oh-so-precious hens get to sleep in? Major DUH moment for me. Thanks.
I’m with you, Amy. After, livestock is supposed to produce, like you said. Obviously it should be well-cared for and treated humanely, but farm animals aren’t the same as pets. I personally don’t use supplemental light, but this spring I decided to give the new Sapphire Gem sex-link hybrids a try, mainly because I think they are so pretty. Many people make the same arguments about sex-linked hybrids as they do supplemental light, i.e., that it is unnatural to breed birds to be “egg-laying machines”. But livestock, or for that matter most pets like breeds of dogs, aren’t “natural” anyway. And like you said, I bet a lot of those same folks buy eggs from the store in the winter.
Can I use a grow light multi spectrum in my guinea brooder? The brooder isn’t open because the keets are only 2 weeks old and it is cold so the brooder is covered getting very little sunlight.
I don’t believe that a grow light would get warm enough to use in a brooder, at least mine don’t! Sorry for the late response to this comment. Hope you got it figured out!
I guess I didn’t realize I was lighting for egg production, I was lighting for warmth. Do I not need to do that? I have one coop with a light and one without, just because I’m afraid of fire. My friend’s house caught fire last year. So I see you don’t even do it for heat, just light. Will they survive without extra heat? And I usually turn my light on at 7pm-7 am I guess I didn’t realize I was doing it wrong. I fall in the just being a jerk category. I was really just trying to keep them warm. I put a red heat lamp light in there. Should I do it differently? Thanks for your thoughts!!!
Hey there! We just use a regular light bulb. I’m of the opinion adults don’t need a heat lamp (even here in Minnesota), we’ve not had an issue with losing chickens because of the cold. I do know many people who add heat/heat lamp to the coop though, I would say that’s totally a personal decision. 🙂
I have a coop that is above a chicken pen wrapped with chicken wire and wrapped again in the winter with plastic. Do I put light in the top and the bottom or just the coop?
Hmmm, I’m not sure about that one. it’s tricky if they’re going to be in two areas (if I’m understanding their set up). Is the plastic around the chicken wire clear or black?