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Whether or not to light your coop is a topic of hot debate among chicken keepers at this time of year. Adding light will help your egg production, but there are negative repercussions to artificial lighting. Here are some of the pros and cons of lights in the coop.
1. Egg production slows way down at this time of year because of the decreased daylight and the fact that chickens tend to go through their annual molt in the late fall. Supplemental light will counteract the lack of daylight, stimulating the hen's pituitary gland which is what signals her ovaries to release her egg. Hens need about fourteen hours of light a day to produce eggs, and in many areas of the country the sun is only giving about eight hours of light in these winter months. Since most chickens trace their heritage back to equatorial regions, their systems just aren't adapted to continuing egg production in winter light. A lamp on the timer in the early mornings and evenings will help to keep your ladies in the regular flow of things, and keep your basket full of eggs.
2. Sometimes, especially in extreme climates, a coop light can be used to help keep your chickens stay a little bit warmer during the winter months. Heat lamps are used to keep baby chicks warm when they first arrive to you from a hatchery, and they can be used to keep hens warm in winter as well. Chickens are very hardy, and covered in fluffy feathers, so the temperatures have to be very low to require such supplemental heat. Some chicken experts recommend a temperature around 40 degrees as ideal for hens.
3. Many chicken experts have found that red lights are the best way to light a chicken coop. The idea is that the subtle light of a red bulb helps to keep your girls calm. Keep in mind that hens do not perceive red light as daylight, so adding such a bulb to your hen house will not work for increased egg production. Because it's not perceived as daylight, chickens can be exposed to red light 24/7 with no ill effects. Theories abound that red lighting prevents chickens from being able to differentiate combs and wattles, which helps to prevent hen-pecking and cannibalism. While these are unproven, the potential benefits may outweigh the possible negative effects, especially since red will not have the other effects of chickens that white lights have.
4. One good reason to keep your coop lit on a timer or with an easy to access switch is your ability to see your chores as you're taking care of the hens. If you have a day job or just need to get the chicken chores out of the way in the morning, you'll want some additional light to make sure you've found all the eggs, provided enough feed and water, and to see for an accurate head count. You don't need to keep it on longer than you're going about your business, so the effects on the hens in minimal.
1. Many chicken keepers believe that supplemental lighting, forcing your hens to continue their egg laying cycle, is very bad for their internal systems and can cause severe health problems. While these theories are unproven, the potential repercussions can be enough to scare many farmers off supplemental lighting. The possible side effects can include vent prolapse, egg binding, and ovarian cancer. These conditions are all fatal if not treated.
2. The most obvious negative side effect of a coop light is the potential for a fire, especially if you are using a heat lamp. Insecure wiring, possible sparking, and simply having a heat source near dry sawdust and hay can be very dangerous. Coop fires have devastating effects and any lighting system should be set up with every precaution to avoid fire.
3. Light bulbs can break, and even if that doesn't start a coop fire there are even more potential consequences. A hot light bulb can shatter from a single drop of water, and coop lights are often exposed to flapping chicken wings and inquisitive pecks. If you do light your coop, placing the lighting mechanism high on the ceiling out of your chickens reach is important, and you should consider wrapping the fixture in chicken wire to secure it. A broken bulb will leave hundreds of tiny, razor sharp remnants that are not easy to find in the shavings of a coop floor. These shards will slice up your hen's feet, and “shatter proof” bulbs are not an option, as they release toxins that are fatal to chickens.
4. Any change to a chicken's natural rhythms can potentially cause your hens stress. Stress can lead to health consequences, but even before that it will have an effect on your hen's behavior. Cannibalism and hen-pecking are more common in stressed chickens. If you are lighting your coop, make sure to start gradually, to build up your hen's tolerance, and use only a 25 or 40 watt bulb. Don't leave a white light on 24 hours – chickens will perceive it at as sunlight and will not sleep during the night. Use a light only to get about 14-16 hours of “sun” for them a day, and if you're using a timer double check that it turns off and on at appropriate times.
Lighting your coop may be necessary if you are selling your eggs commercially to ensure that your hens are laying, and red lights have been shown to help your chicken's overall health. But be extra careful with exposed bulbs or anything electrical in your coop, and don't put your chickens through undo stress if you are not benefiting from it.
Kirsten Lie-Nielsen farms about 2 acres of a suburban homestead using geese for weeding and guarding purposes, raising chickens for eggs, bees for honey, and maintaining vegetable gardens for personal use. Recently she has begun work restoring an old farm in hopes of farming full time in the future. Find her online at Days Ferry Organics Blog, and read all of Kirsten's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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