When it comes to keeping a flock of backyard chickens, you have a lot of decisions to make. What kind of coop do you want? What breed of chickens will you raise? How do you ward off threats such as diseases and predators? Every chicken keeper has their own unique way of caring for their hens and making the most of their flocks. As a result, the world of backyard chicken-keeping is full of differing opinions. When it comes to the question of whether you should provide artificial lighting for your hens in the winter, you’re sure to hear many different answers. There are plenty of arguments for and against adding supplemental lighting to your coop. As always, you should carefully consider all the details to figure out the best course of action for you, your coop, and your flock. Read up on the pros and cons of lighting your chicken coop in winter with this overview.
PRO: KEEP YOUR HENS LAYING
One of the main reasons why some chicken keepers add supplemental lighting to their coops during the winter months is to keep egg production high. On average, hens need around 14 to 16 hours of sunlight a day to lay productively. This means the shorter days and longer nights of winter lead to a halt in egg production. Many chicken keepers are reluctant to put the time and money into maintaining their flock when they get nothing in return. The solution is artificial light, which fulfills the same purpose as sunlight. It stimulates the hens’ pituitary glands, which influences the reproductive process. When used safely and correctly, artificial lighting supplements the lack of natural light, keeping your hens on a regular laying schedule all year long.
PRO: ADDED WARMTH IN COLD CLIMATES
Chickens are hardy, feathery creatures that do well in colder temperatures. However, colder climates or even just an abnormally bitter winter can cause discomfort in your flock or lead to frostbite and other dangerous conditions. Just as you use heat lamps in a brooder, you can use chicken heatersto keep the coop warm during fierce winds and freezing nights. When winter hits, your chickens will be most comfortable in a coop that averages around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If insulation and bedding aren’t enough to maintain this, you can add light to keep the space warm enough.
PRO: MAKE COOP CHORES EASIER
Chickens aren’t the only ones who need light to be productive. If your coop chores often take place early in the morning or at night, you might also benefit from installing artificial light in your coop. The light will make it easier for you to see as you collect eggs, feed your hens, or clean out bedding. Supplemental lighting can also help you keep an eye out for leaks or damage, which can prove dangerous for your flock in the winter months. Finally, artificial light deters predators, as a dark coop makes it much easier for raccoons, rats, and other night predators to sneak in.
PRO: CALMING RED LIGHT
Many chicken keepers choose to install red lights in their coops instead of regular artificial light. Red lights don’t supplement daylight—and thus don’t help your hens continue to produce eggs—they can keep your birds calm during the winter months. Some chicken keepers find that installing red lights in their coops leads to less bickering and pecking within the flock. This might be because the red light prevents chickens from distinguishing each other’s combs and wattles, which makes it hard for them to identify each other enough to follow a pecking order. This is only a theory, but the fact remains that red light can prevent fighting in the winter, keeping your birds calm and safe within the coop.
CON: HIGHER PRODUCTION COSTS
Using artificial light in your chicken coop has plenty of benefits, but it also comes with its downfalls. The first con in this list is that artificial lighting leads to higher production costs. You’ll have to pay for the added electricity of running a light in your coop throughout the winter. These expenses become even higher if you don’t use a timer to limit the amount of light you use. Plus, if your coop is relatively remote or if you don’t have easy access to electricity, the process becomes even more complicated.
CON: ADDED DANGER TO YOUR COOP
Artificial lights and heaters also add several risk factors to your coop. The biggest concern is fire. Heat lamps are common causes of coop fires, which is why many chicken keepers steer clear of them even if they use artificial lighting. Even with regular bulbs, the risk of faulty wiring or other accidents is still present. You should also keep in mind that your chickens are curious creatures. If they can reach the light bulb or wires, they may peck at them and accidentally hurt themselves or the rest of the flock.
CON: ADDITIONAL STRESS AND EXHAUSTION
One of the biggest arguments against adding supplemental lighting to your coop is that it can add unnecessary stress for your hens. Winter provides a natural break for your hens to rest and recuperate without the constant stress of laying eggs. A stressed flock is more likely to squabble and fight, leading to injuries among your hens. Some chicken keepers also believe that forcing their hens to continue their laying cycle can cause severe health problems. For many flock owners, the physical and mental stress of supplemental lighting isn’t worth the extra eggs they get in the winter.
IF YOU CHOOSE TO SUPPLEMENTAL LIGHTING
Now that you know the pros and cons of lighting your chicken coop in winter, you can make a choice for your flock. If you decide to add supplemental lighting, make sure you do so safely. Don’t introduce artificial lighting until your hens are at least 20 weeks old. Introducing younger hens to artificial light can cause them to start laying before their bodies can support healthy egg production. Additionally, you should use a timer to keep your light consistent. The goal is to make your supplemental light as natural as possible, so you should set your lights to turn on in the mornings. This will allow the artificial light to fade into daylight, giving your flock a natural transition into day rather than plunging them into sudden darkness when the light turns off.
Do you use supplemental lighting in your coop? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.