Winter Lighting for Chickens

Keeping your egg cartons full can be achieved in the winter through artificial lighting in your coop.

People and chickens operate on different schedules that sometimes conflict.

As days shorten and the temperature drops people turn on furnaces and electric lights and sleep about as many hours as they do in summer. Not chickens. Their daily schedule is set by daylight. Lacking artificial light they settle into a long night’s sleep as soon as dusk arrives and don’t wake until tomorrow’s dawn. In high latitudes they often sleep 15 or 16 hours a night.

For chickens, winter is a time for rest, not reproduction. Cold temperatures don’t reduce laying, but as fall advances, decreasing daylight causes egg production to dwindle. That can create a problem for their owner.

Long dark nights and winter holidays signal baking season. Cakes, cookies, casseroles, area among the popular winter foods that require lots of eggs at the time of year when hens are taking a break.

Even during December’s darkness a healthy flock of good layers rarely completely stops laying, but production is meager. Natural late December daylight at the latitude of Chicago, New York, or Seattle is around nine hours, but chickens need 14 or 15 hours of light for high egg production. There is an easy answer for owners.

A single light bulb simulating June’s day length will boost production. Often the same light fixture used to brood chicks serves well for winter lighting. Suspend it near the coop ceiling and screw in a nine to 12 watt compact fluorescent or LED bulb. Neither type uses much electricity but LED’s work better in cold weather. The lamp should be controlled by a timer set to come on in early morning darkness and switch off after dawn. Nine hours of natural daylight augmented by several predawn hours of artificial light will keep hens laying during the winter baking season.

Chicken owners sometimes debate the ethics of tricking chickens into artificial production. There is no simple answer, and it is a matter of personal choice for the flock owner. Some prefer to let nature take its course and just plan to collect fewer eggs during the dark months. Others don’t mind tricking January hens into thinking it is May.

14 thoughts on “Winter Lighting for Chickens

  1. Just wondering if I am wrong to have a heat lamp on my hens during the night as our temps drop so cold.

    • Hi Charlotte. You are fine to have a heat lamp on them at night. It is similar to blanketing a horse, once you do it you probably want to continue the rest of the coldest nights/days of the winter. My flock do not get a heat lamp until it is below zero and they are fine. They are also cold-hardy breeds and I plastic the windows of my coop and have insulated it behind the nesting boxes and roosts to cut down on drafts. The structure is original to my farm, so it is most definitely NOT airtight, but the improvements have helped. My first winter with chickens a few got a touch of frostbite on their combs. With the combination of cutting the drafts and the heat lamp in the coldest weather, the girls (and one aging rooster) are much more comfortable in the winter! *Always be cautious with electric heaters and lights. Check cords and keep flammable materials far away – be aware of fire risks.*

      • We used an infrared heat lamp last winter here in Indiana during the single digit temps, and the girls faired well. Although it’s a good thing to cut down on drafts, you DO want ventilation at the top of the hen house to allow vapors to escape. Frostbite can be caused by humidity build up in the coop.

      • The problem with a heat lamp is they will get used to the warmth….then should you have a power outage, your chickens will be COLD! If you have a generator then be sure they are plugged in, too. Chickens have a natural tolerance to the cold and are much better prepared for it than we think.

  2. We have used an LED light powered by a small solar panel and battery with a timer for three years in our coop. Our hens have kept laying through the winter with no significant drop in production. Another benefit is they don’t molt. So far I haven’t seen any disadvantages.

    I built my 8′ x 16′ coop/storage room with ventilation at the top of the walls and six windows that I close at night when it gets cold. I also put insulation in the walls, primarily to help keep the heat out in summer. We had several nights of near zero temperatures last winter which is unusual for North Carolina. I used a small electric heater in the coop that I placed in the storage room side where the chickens couldn’t inadvertently knock it over. The chickens do well in the cold. I think they have more difficulty with the summer heat. Unless it is near zero, I don’t use any heat.

  3. I gave away a young nervous Nellie and am thinking of getting her back. She had a bit of a shock moving to the other coop and met some hungry coyotes. She has lost a lot of her feathers and does not lay eggs now. Her 2 sisters are still in my coop of 5. She has also had to deal with mites in the other coop. Is she beyond helping. Can I bring her home and hope for recovery for her.

    • It sounds like a good treatment with poultry dusting powder for the mites and time to recover from the shock is what she needs. Good luck!

  4. We wrap our coop floor to ceiling in hay for the winter months. It not only produces a natural warmth but the hens like to burrow in. Unfortunately we rarely get even sporadic egg laying during our dark months. The girls did not lay an egg for approximately the last ten days…then I found eggs this morning and I am once again being outsmarted by the chickens!

  5. I purchased 4 Araucondas and 3 light brahmas this summer. All are 6 months now, but the eggs are so small! My Araucondas are small birds, but the light brahmas are large and fluffy. They are on layer crumbles now. I can’t remember previous flocks being this small, although i did have a rooster with them. Any thoughts? Thanks.

    • As your birds get a bit older, their eggs will continue to get larger and become a more standard size. Pullet eggs are usually very small but will increase in size over time. Thanks for the question!

  6. Should we have a Rooster with 20 laying hens? We bought chicks and they are doing well but I dont believe any of them are Roosters.
    Thank you

    • Hello Don,

      You only need a rooster if you want one, and if you want your hens to eventually raise chicks. If you just want eggs to eat, then no need for a rooster!

      Thank you ~ Gina T.

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