Should I Supplement Light In My Coop?

Lighting the coop in winter can be a touchy subject among chicken keepers. Whether you decide to do it or not, give your hens the rest they need.

by Rachel Hurd Anger
PHOTO: Rachel Hurd Anger

As we wind down to the end of the year, it’s getting dark well before dinnertime. One of the last things we want is to find a nest box full of disappointment, so I know you’re as frustrated as I am with the sudden decline in the number of eggs you’re getting lately.

Welcome to the lean months.

Light supplementation is a hotly debated topic, and we’re each sure to have our own strong opinions. When our hens are eating more feed during the dark months, the temptation to supplement light and stimulate egg production is real. But, should we do it? Here are two reasons I believe we should eschew light supplementation in our coops:

Light Bulbs Increase Fire Risk

For some chicken keepers, light bulbs serve a dual purpose—lighting that also provides a heat source. But a light bulb amid flammable bedding and dust can lead to disaster. More specifically, a light bulb (especially a high-wattage bulb, like those used in heat lamps) can send a coop and its flock into flames. Not good. Yet, it happens every year. People who are afraid of low returns on their feed investments and think feathers aren’t warm enough for average winter temps end up losing entire flocks in devastating fires.

Hens Ovulate Too Much

Our chickens follow natural rhythms year-round that help their bodies meet their individual needs. Many breeds, like the Australorp that lays 300 eggs per year, were developed over time to provide a daily egg. Those other 60 days, she’s either molting, broody or her ovaries are taking a staycation. Even though egg-laying as a bodily function is a natural process, hens don’t ovulate in moderation. Prolific layers face an increased risk of ovarian cancer due to the overuse of their ovaries. Seasonal breaks can actually improve a hen’s long-term health and longevity, and they can keep her laying eggs well into her golden years.

If You Must Supplement Light …

For my flock, the above two reasons are important enough to me to never supplement light. However, if you find it necessary, please take time to set up your system correctly. Here are five ways to provide extra light safely and respectfully:

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1. Prevent Fire

Choose a light fixture that won’t be a fire hazard inside your particular coop, and make sure it’s as far as possible from flammable materials.

2. Simulate Sunshine

Your lighting system should mimic natural daylight, so use a bulb with a spectrum of light that will seem more like natural exposure to the flock.

3. Mimic A Peaceful Sunrise

Nobody likes to wake up to someone flipping on the lights, so don’t do it to your chickens. Use a dimmer with a timer if possible. A dimmer can be used to gradually increase the amount of light to wake up the hens in the morning, like a natural sunrise. Use the timer to wake them up early for morning egg-laying, and then set it to turn off once the sun is up.

4. Go Slow

Mimic the days getting longer by slowly working up to 12 to 14 hours of total light per day. Any more light than that will stress the hens, which can decrease egg-laying.

5. Permit Natural Evening Rest

Avoid supplementing light in the evening. Allow your chickens to enjoy the natural end of the day. The sunset will help regulate their body rhythms, and the extended resting period will minimize stress.

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