Sep 16, 2011

Supplemental LIGHT in the Chicken Coop: Why & How

      As summer winds down and daylight hours grow shorter, the egg basket will begin to feel a little lighter. A seasonal drop in egg production is an expected, hormone-driven response to decreased light in autumn and winter.  Many chicken-keepers encourage egg-laying in the autumn and winter by providing supplemental light in the coop. 
How does added light encourage egg-production?
A hen’s ovaries are stimulated to produce eggs by the many glands that comprise her endocrine system and the endocrine system is stimulated by light. Adding supplemental light inside the coop can trigger a hen’s endocrine system into action, causing her to produce eggs as it did in the spring and summer months.
Some chicken-keepers view the change of seasons as a good time for the girls to take a break from egg-laying, others provide supplemental light to promote egg-laying. The choice is an entirely personal decision for each chicken-keeper to make, and having all the facts necessary to make an educated decision is extremely helpful. Decisions we make for our pet chickens are often complicated by conflicting information in this Internet age where anyone can write anything based on little more than an imagination or something that they heard or read.
Being an attorney, I am trained to find the facts. I want to be able to base my decisions on the best evidence available; unfortunately, most poultry experts are not in the business of advising small, backyard flock-keepers, and it is challenging to obtain credible, reliable information upon which to rely when making decisions for our pet chickens. So, in my quest to get to the bottom of the facts about certain chicken-keeping issues, I often consult with Dr. Mike Petrik, DVM, MSc, a laying hen veterinarian whose only job is to care for chickens. As someone with more than 10 years of practice behind his medical education and training, which includes a Master of Science in animal welfare, I feel comfortable relying upon his answers as being based in fact and science.

I have never been able to substantiate or discredit the theories weighing against supplemental lighting in my research, so I posed the following two questions to Dr. Petrik:

1) does supplemental lighting harm a hen or shorten her lifespan; and
2) does supplemental lighting risk causing a hen to run out of eggs prematurely?

The following was his reply:
“Seasonal lighting is one of the most important factors in a laying hen's life. The increasing daylength in the spring stimulates the hormone cascade that gets her body prepared for, and instigates egg production. The decreasing day-length in the fall will cause hens to go "on strike"....put their ovaries back into dormancy, and free-load for the winter. In temperate climates, where hens evolved (mostly Indo-ChinaIndia and some in the Mediterranean), this was a good strategy for decreasing nutrient needs during the winter, when food and other resources were scarce.  

Day length is not actually registered by the eyes of the chicken. The pineal gland in the brains of chickens sits just beneath a thin area of the skull, right between the hen's eyes. This organ is what senses day length, and stimulates the pituitary gland to start hormone production that results in eggs being laid. In experiments at the University of Guelph in Canada, researchers used genetically blind chickens (a line of birds that have a genetic defect that results in no retina, and therefore no sight) to study the effect of different kinds of light and day length on sexual maturity in hens. This was the most elegant way to ensure that nothing the bird was seeing was affecting sexual maturity.....these hens had identical responses to increased day length as their normally sighted counterparts!

Also, to be pedantic, hens don't actually sense day length, they perceive the length of the dark period. The longest dark time is the thing that defines day-length to hens. It is possible (and common in professional egg farms) to give flocks naps during the day....if the dark time for the nap is shorter than the night time, the hen does not respond to it, other than to settle down and rest for a couple hours [meaning, they will still lay eggs in the morning].

Anyway, enough science....the important points are this: if you want you chickens to keep laying eggs during the fall and winter months, you need to keep the length of their "day" longer than 13 or 14 hours. The hens can stay in production at less hours of light than this, but not if they are exposed to the long days we have in the summer (ie: if they are kept in a barn all the time). To do this, the simplest way to do this is to look up a sunset/sunrise chart for your latitude, see what the earliest sunset time is, then set an automatic timer in your coop to come on 15 hours previous to that. Do this in the summer, when the sun rises before your lights come on.

If you have already had hens come out of lay, due to the fall, you can stimulate them back into lay by setting your timer for 20 minutes before dawn, then turning it 20 minutes earlier every week until 15 hours of day length is reached. Your hens should come back into production within 4-6 weeks of this stimulation (it takes that long for the hormone cascade to result in egg production).
I've heard people comment that artificial light will decrease the hen's lifespan, or decrease the number of eggs she lays during her lifetime. There is no evidence of supplemental lighting decreasing longevity, provided you supply adequate nutrition, and allow the birds to molt every 12-18 months. The molt is necessary to replenish bone stores, rebuild feather strength, and let the hens gain some muscle and fat stores. Otherwise, the hen is perfectly capable of healthily laying eggs throughout the year. As for her "lifetime" supply of eggs, she is born with the number of possible ova (yolks) already set. These number in the hundreds of thousands, and would take decades of daily egg production to deplete. A hen will stop laying because of old age (and therefore produce less eggs in her life) long before she would ever run out of ova to produce eggs.

I hope this helps.
Dr. Mike Petrik, DVM, MSc
The Chicken Vet
When and how to add supplemental light
Sunlight fades gradually and at dusk, chickens prepare to settle into their favorite roosting spots before darkness falls. Chickens have poor night vision and cannot find their roosts in the dark. Adding supplemental light at the end of the day, allows no transition time for them to get positioned for sleeping. This can cause confusion, stress and possible panic leading to injuries. It is better to light the coop in the morning as they will not object to instant sunrise.
Setting a light on a timer that turns on in the early morning hours is the recommended method for lighting the coop. To allow 14-16 hours of light in the day, calculate backwards from sunrise to determine how many hours the light should be on. For example, if the goal is to provide 14 hours of light during the day when sunset is at 6pm and sunrise at 7am, the timer should turn the light on at 4am and off at 6:45am. The timer will need to be adjusted every few weeks to keep pace with the solar system. 
The amount of light is not critical, it should just be enough to allow the hens to see inside the coop. I have an 8 x8’ coop and I use a 6 foot, incandescent rope light above the roosts, which is enough to simulate sunrise. In my 4’x6’ coop, I use a small string of Christmas lights in the coop and, since we have an electronic pop door opener, I hang strings of Christmas lights around the run and set the pop door to open when the lights turn on. Festive and functional! Due to the unique vision of chickens, fluorescent lights are highly inadvisable. 
 



216 comments :

  1. Hey. I follow your Fb page with mine. Our Little Meadow. I too, have a blog and will add you to my list there as well. Thanks for the info. I only have a couple Polish hens at the moment but, whose to know what lurks ahead?
    Mike

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  2. I really learn from your answers to questions on FB. I've had hens for 3 years now, and each spring I have add 2 or 3 more. Both years, the newest hens start laying when the others quit for fall. So that works out that I always have a few eggs. The short days don't stop the new hens from laying. But I'm glad to now understand about adding lights.
    Do you believe it shortens a hen's life, because she doesn't have the rest period?

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    1. I wouldn't think it would shorten a hen's life, but it will shorten her laying life. Like any other female with ovaries, she's born with a finite number of eggs, and when the supply is depleted, she quits laying. I think it would only shorten her life is she's bound for the stew pot when she's done laying.

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  3. BTW, I have voted for your beautiful tree several times. Love it.

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  4. Charlotte,
    Thank you for your nice comments about my Facebook page and thank you for voting for my tree!! (I'm trying to convey the message that votes only count if one clicks on the number beside my name & then clicks VOTE, NOT by clicking on the tree photo itself. So, spread the word! lol)

    Personally, I don't believe that a hen's life is shortened significantly by adding a few hours of daylight in the dark months. Since I free range, I'm far more concerned about predators shortening their lives. However, whether to give them a 'rest' in the winter is totally a personal decision.

    Thanks for checking in; see you on Facebook!!

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  5. I have added light in the evening for a few hours to keep production going...Many of my hens find their perches as the light outside dims and others come in at the last minute and grab a bite before perching..... I may try the morning light when I get a new batch of hens next year and see if it makes a difference

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  6. Cathy: I don't think the time of day that you add the light is as important as the fact that they are exposed to 12-14 hours of light.

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  7. can you have too much light? My light is also my nightime heat source in the winter.

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    1. That's a great question, thank you for asking it. The answer is: yes, you can have too much light. The chickens need their rest the same way we do and ought not have lights on 24/7.

      Most chickens in most climates do not need heat in the wintertime. If you must heat your coop, you could consider either using a red heat lamp bulb or another type of heat source like an infrared bulb (like the ceramic ones used in reptile tanks, for instance). I hope that helps!

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  8. I don't know if you'll find this interesting or not... but my husband works at a state trout hatchery & they keep brood stock inside with timed light so they can take an extra batch of eggs to share with other hatcheries in the northern part of the state.

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    1. I think that's fascinating, Shelly. Thanks for sharing!

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  9. I really love the Christmas lights outside!! I am going to go string some right now!! I live in a small town and have a neighbor 5 houses away (who harassed our family so much I had to get rid of my daughters black copper maran rooster) will love this!! She probably won't stop posting how crazy I am on facebook for weeks!!! lol

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  10. I love the christmas light idea!! I am going to go string some right now!! I live in a small rural town with a crazy neighbor 5 houses away(who harassed my family so much about my daughters black copper maran rooster I needed to adopt him out) will LOVE this. I am sure it will give her enough material to post about me for weeks on facebook!!! lol

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  11. yes used lights in the darker months

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  12. This will be my first winter having chickens but I beleive I will keep a light on!! Also with my new predator preventor kit it should be awesome!! :) Would love to be able to get some more of these treats for my babies :)

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  13. I am already subscribed. :) We haven't had our chickens over the winter yet but I love the Christmas light idea for supplementing!

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  14. This is our first year having chickens and we have laboriously built our own beautiful coop! It has no electricity yet, but this winter we plan on putting a light or two out there for them, and also moving it closer to the house so that I don't hate trudging out there in the morning to feed my babies :)

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  15. This is our first year having chickens and we have laboriously built our own beautiful coop! It has no electricity yet, but this winter we plan on putting a light or two out there for them, and also moving it closer to the house so that I don't hate trudging out there in the morning to feed my babies :)

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  16. I light mine with Christmas lights too. I actually have some leftover twinkle lights from my parents 50th wedding anniversary - they don't twinkle actually, its a very slow fade in and out. It probably confuses them having all those gold and white lights fading on and off LOL, but they alternate so its ok. Love the effect too - its so cool - very calming.

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  17. This year is the first year we have ever had chickens, and we laboriously built the coop ourselves! It has no electricity as of yet, but this winter we definitely will be sticking a small lamp out there for them! We will also be moving the coop closer to the house so that I don't mind trudging out there in the winter to feed my babies :)

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  18. I am new at raising chickens. My babies are 8 weeks old and have been outside in their new digs for less than a week. My plan was to add an hour of light at the beginning of the day and an hour in the evening. I am so glad I read your post about adding light! Makes much more sense than what I was planning. So, for the past 2 days I have been getting up at 5 to go out and turn on the light. I have my coffee with my baby girls. I have a timer somewhere. When I find it, I'll use that to turn on the light...

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  19. I am new at raising chickens. My babies are 8 weeks old and have been outside in their new digs for less than a week. My plan was to add an hour of light at the beginning of the day and an hour in the evening. I am so glad I read your post about adding light! Makes much more sense than what I was planning. So, for the past 2 days I have been getting up at 5 to go out and turn on the light. I have my coffee with my baby girls. I have a timer somewhere. When I find it, I'll use that to turn on the light...

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  20. I am new at raising chickens. My babies are 8 weeks old and have been outside in their new digs for less than a week. My plan was to add an hour of light at the beginning of the day and an hour in the evening. I am so glad I read your post about adding light! Makes much more sense than what I was planning. So, for the past 2 days I have been getting up at 5 to go out and turn on the light. I have my coffee with my baby girls. I have a timer somewhere. When I find it, I'll use that to turn on the light...

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  21. I follow The Chicken Chick and Happy Hen Treats :) I have not planned to use supplimental light in the coop to allow the hens to have a rest, if that's what nature intends. If I find I get no eggs, however, I may reconsider!

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  22. This will be my first year with my coop and girls! Haven't decided how I will light up the coop yet! Thanks for the ideas!

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  23. Katrina T. DUfrene9/1/12, 7:43 PM

    I put out a heat lamp just to warm the coop, and the side effect is better layers during winter, lol.

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  24. HI There. The Chicken Chick sent me! Obelisk the Tormentor told me too also...And you hafta do what the Queen of Everything says.

    I don't use supplemental lighting. I figured it would shorten her life span by making her lay all year round.

    Awesome on the Xmas lights. Festive coop.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Bummer on the lousy neigbour, Lily. I have those too.

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  25. This is my first winter, but I don't think I will use any artificial light.

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  26. I get up at 5 to turn on the light for my babies. Getting a timer soon, lol.

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  27. This is going to be my first winter, but I'm not going to add any light to the coop. I'll let my girls rest. I'm not in a huge hurry for more eggs - already overloaded now with just 4 hens! LOL My assumption is the less they will lay now, the longer they will lay eggs.

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  28. Sammie Chick's Mom9/1/12, 7:55 PM

    Yes, our girls do better with a full spectrum light bulb in the coop overnight. But I will be looking for a strand of lights to hang, I actually like that idea better. To me the light bulb seems a bit harsh even though it's only 40 watts. I think the full spectrum is the way to go though...

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  29. I haven't lit my coop in the past, but that Christmas light idea is great! Here in Alabama, we get about 10-11 hours of daylight in the winter (about 7 a.m. - 6 p.m.). If I could rig those Christmas lights to come on about 5 in the evening & switch off about 8. That would give them a little extra.

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  30. Here in Alabama we get about 10-11 hours of light during the winter. I haven't lit my coop in the past, but that Christmas light idea sounds great. :)

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  31. i am new to the chicken experience but after some reading i think i want to go with natural lighting for a while and see what the henmates think about that!

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  32. This is our first winter with Chickens .. so we are still trying to figure out what we are going to do ...... but I do like the christmas light idea!

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  33. yep. In fact I will be wiring my coop for light this week.

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  34. yep, wiring the new coop this week.

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  35. I 'ABSOLUTELY' already follow The Chicken Chick and Happy Hen Treats on Facebook :) I am not planning to use supplimental light in the coop to force egg laying, but this is my first year as a chicken-keeper, so we'll see :)

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  36. We have a light on a timer for the shorter days. We try to give the girls 12 to 14 hours of light.

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  37. I will if my girls ever start layin!

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  38. My chicken tractor will be well insulated and have light for heat in the winter, thanks for a great contest!

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  39. This is my first winter with chickens, so I hope I do it right. I'm learning a lot from following you on Facebook. Thanks for all you do!

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  40. I'm new to owning chickens, so this will be my first winter. I'm learning a lot from following your Facebook page. Thank you for all you do!

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  41. Diane Jordan9/1/12, 9:16 PM

    Yes, I light to help them stay warm!

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  42. Mine are not laying yet but I will be adding lights now. I love your site thanks

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  43. (alexis henry, Chicken Well Eggs) Well this will be my 1st winter w/ my girls. I did plan on supplementing since my ameraucana's need another month to start and people are waiting for my blue eggs

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  44. I just got my chickens in March but I will definitely add extra light as the days get shorter. Thanks for all the great and helpful info.

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  45. I love all your post and learn so much. I have been raising chickens for 2 1/2 years. I have not lit my coop in the cooler months becsuse of light but I have lit it for warmth. We also put a camper non flame heater to.

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  46. We put light in the cooler months for warmth and we also put a camp flameless heater too. I just read about chicken hats. I think I wanna seriously look into it for some of my chickens with big crowns.....

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  47. Every hen should be a Happy Hen - Please include me in the giveaway! I'm already a subscriber to your blog and have liked the Happy Hen FB page.
    Love all the great info on your blog.
    Thanks!

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  48. Martha Waugh9/1/12, 11:50 PM

    I'm a chicken outlaw so I don't like drawing attention to my coop. Christmas lights would look so cute, but I don't dare. No lights inside the coop either. That way my ladies give their bodies a little winter break.

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  49. We haven't used lights in our coop in the past. We are moving them to a permanent structure this Fall and power is already run to it, so we might do so. It really will be more for warmth than egg production, though. Last Winter's bitter cold was difficult for some of our birds.

    I think the Christmas lights idea is adorable!

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  50. Esther Widgren9/2/12, 12:27 AM

    Thanks for the article about lighting! It's quite timely as I've never had chickens before and this will be my first time getting them through winter!

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  51. I light my coop a bit in the morning and a bit at night as the daylight hours start to shorten. My dad rigged a light on a timer for me. It doubles as a light to keep the girls laying and also a light to help my sons see when they do their chores in the morning before school!

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  52. Trying this again. Posted twice and still hasn't shown up. I must be doing something wrong.

    I'm new to being a chicken momma. I have eight babies who are 8 weeks old. They've been outside in their new digs for less than a week. Been reading about prolonging their day hours by using artificial light. My plan was to add an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. Then, I read this blog post and realized it makes much more sense just to add it all in the morning! So, I have been getting up at 5 and enjoying my first cup of coffee out at the coop (Coop d'ètat). Thanks Chicken Chick!

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  53. I never light my coop I let nature takes it course and give the girls a break from laying.

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  54. we put a light in,,,in the winter..last year..It didn't seem, to make much difference..But I WILL string Christmas lights up!!

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  55. Yes, I light my coop in the darker months.

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  56. OOOHHH- I too love the Christmas light idea! This will be my first winter with the girls and was just thinking about adding extra light the other day. Thank you for suggestings and great tips!

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  57. This will be my first winter with my girls and I am learning a lot! I will definitely read all of this! :)

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  58. I live in Mississippi so we don't get cold weather below 15F here. I use 2 metal clipped lights with Energy saver bulbs to give them some light even on dreary days. I tried it with no lights and with lights. My girls do better and are more energetic it seems with lights. I do love your blog as I love my chickens. This was my first endeavor into chickens 1 1/2 years ago. I will ALWYAS have chickens from NOW ON !! THANKS!!

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  59. I don't light my coop in the winter anymore. We still get a few eggs here & there, which is enough for just the 2 of us.

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  60. I plan to light my chicken coop this year. This is my first year with chickens.

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  61. Crystal j Taylor9/2/12, 10:48 AM

    I plan to use extra lighting. This is our first fall. Love your fb, blog and emails!!!

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  62. Robin Spencer9/2/12, 10:51 AM

    I don't light my chicken coop. I like to give my hens a break and I still seem to get enough eggs for our personal consumption. If I start running out I'll put the lights on a timer to come on around 5 in the morning and that's it.

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  63. Hello.

    I live in Florida. I do not light my chicken pen in the winter.

    (even though FB says I'm in Antarctica, I'm really in Florida).

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  64. Hello.

    I live in Florida and do not light my chicken pen.

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  65. I'm IN IT TO WIN IT!! And I'm not sure about supplemental light. This will be my first cold season with chickens. So we'll see!

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  66. I'm IN IT TO WIN IT! This is my first year to have chickens, I am just going to watch them and see what I need to do. I am also going to some research on the issue. By the way my chicks LOVE the mealy worms as a snack.

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  67. I light till 8 to 9 pm year round. Studies by folks in my group show it doesnt really help egg laying.,..but i believe it does.

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  68. This is our first few months with our girls and they're not laying yet. If we find it helps them lay more consistently we'll give them light during the winter. We're in Arkansas so we don't have the long, long nights like up north. They are just a few months old, but they already are Happy Hens! Love their mealworms and come running when they hear that jug opening!!

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  69. We Currently don't add light but I would Love to in the future.

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  70. We Currently don't add light but would Love to in the future to see how it changes egg production for our girls.

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  71. We have our first flock and haven't had to think this far...thanks so much for your article!

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  72. This year is my first flock And I haven't had to think about this yet...Thank for your article !

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  73. Nicole Camp9/2/12, 11:47 AM

    We haven't lit our coops in the 2 years we have bad chickens. However, after reading your blog, we may try it this fall! Very interesting Article, thank you!

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  74. We put a red heat light/lamp in the coop for the past 2 winters. While it does keep the coop warmer, I believe it also caused the girls to become bored at night time and start feather picking one another. I'm going to try something different this year to prevent this nasty habit from recurring. Otherwise, it's all natural light with my girls. :)

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  75. I'm a long time fan and blog subscriber and I'm in it to win it!!! Yes, I supplement light in those darker months too!
    ~Christa Kenyon
    cmkenyon01@yahoo.com

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  76. Love the Christmas light idea ! Thanks Cheri Kaelin

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  77. I do plan on lighting my coop. I started my flock at the end of June, So they won't start laying until the end of the year. I love the idea of hanging Christmas lights.

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  78. I do light my coop for a few hours during the winter, but not enough to compensate for 14 hours of daylight. It gets us a few eggs a week, rather than 3-5 per day. And I prefer not to stress the girls during their season of rest.

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  79. I use full spectrum lighting, the same as dog breeder and horse ppl for winter months. We set it on a timer, the same way you describe. Love the idea of the christmas lights as that would make it prettier in the hen house.

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  80. This is my fist year with Chickens I got them in July. I plan to add light to the coop at the end of Sept. for both light and heat for the girls. I <3 your Page :)

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  81. This will be my first winter with my Chickens I plan on using light for both heat and extended light :)

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  82. I do give the girls some supplemental light in the late fall and early spring. We set a bulb on a timer to turn on between 4 and 5 am and shut off at 8 at night. I don't keep it on during the coldest part of winter unless it is bitter cold and we need extra warmth in their house.

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  83. I dont have a coop at the moment, new move, but like it with some extra light in the winter, just like plants, chickens need that extra light to keep active and producing

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  84. I do light my coop when the days shorten. In fact, I will be putting the lights on a timer within the next couple weeks so that the lights will come on and go off automatically.

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  85. New to chickens so no lighting yet. I still need to run electric to the coop but I may invest in a small solar powered light, I would save me a lot of digging!

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  86. I had a light on a timer last year, with an extra hour or so morning and evening. My production is already starting to decrease this year, so if I'm going to set it back up, I guess it's time.

    I can see where extending in just the morning would be good, but they didn't seem to be bothered by extending in both directions, and I felt it made it more consistent with what they experienced naturally during the summer. What I suppose DID confuse them was when the power was out for several hours one day and threw off the timer. It was about a week before I realized that the light was turning on around 11 pm for 2 hours.

    I also like the evening light because in the winter it's often dark outside by the time I get to checking their food and locking them up for the night (they free range during the day). SO much easier with a light already on than trying to juggle a flashlight while I'm refilling feed and such.

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  87. Love the idea of rope lighting in the coop and outdoor area! This will be the first winter with the hens, so we will be adding lighting, but at the moment do not have any supplemental lighting going on.

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  88. In NH, we do use supplemental lighting on a timer for the shorter days. White Christmas lights sound great, again on a timer.

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  89. Brenda King9/2/12, 3:41 PM

    I don't have chickens yet, but need all the help I can get.
    I will keep up with your posts so I'll have guidance. Thank you so much.

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  90. I have had chickens for 5 or 6 years. I do supplement with light.

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  91. I have kept chickens for 5 or 6 years. I do supplement with light.

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  92. This will be our first winter with chickens and since we live in PA, I would like to keep the coop lit during our cold months, however my husband thinks no.

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  93. Silver chicken9/2/12, 4:34 PM

    This is my first fall and winter with chickens. I am loving the daily eggs, I think I will use lights.

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  94. I am getting a new coop in 2 weeks and I plan to light it, so your article came at a great time for me. I love the idea of the Christmas lights in the run. I think I have some left over from last your, but I will be awaiting the after-Christmas sales so I can get some more.

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  95. I am getting a new coop in 2 weeks and I plan to light it, so your post came at a great time for me. I love the Christmas lights idea, so I will be shopping the sales after Christmas to stock up!

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  96. Cheryl Haven9/2/12, 5:05 PM

    I light my chicken coop with a heat lamp in the winter and that's about all. I found that when there is too much light in the hen house they go under their nests and dig little holes to try to get away from it so I think it bothers them. They like the dark to sleep just like we do so I only use it for warmth in the winter.

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  97. I use the energy saving bulbs in all my coops. I us a timer set to come on at dusk and go off around midnight that way they get the same amount of light year around and keeps them laying year around too! I love the fresh eggs! I LOVE spoiling my chickens and LOVE giving them lots of yummy treats! They all come running whenever they see anyone wondering what goodies they are going to get this time lol!

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  98. Yes I turn a light on via timer in the winter months to suppliment daylight. Usually it is set from 5pm to 9pm. We also have a little night light for the Runner ducks so they can see. LOL. They are a nervous breed. The light does help with getting more eggs!

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    Replies
    1. Congratulations Kelly! You have won the Happy Hen Treats Prize Package!
      Please email me at Kathy@The-Chicken-Chick.com to claim your prize and include your mailing address. Thank you!

      Delete
  99. We have chickens for years, in the PNW, and with the exception of baby chicks, never have to use anything for heat. In the winter, we supplement their egg layer feed (without hormones), with some cracked corn. Corn adds heat to the body (even to people..as the Arthritis Foundation will attest to) and the chickens really go for corn starting in the Fall. When it starts to warm up in the Spring, we no longer supplement with corn. Also, the Sex-Link breed of chickens, are known as 350 days a year, laying hens. We have certainly found that to be the case. We don't use lights, they just are consistent layers! We make sure they have comfy nests, and with all the rain we get, we have to add layers of sawdust from time to time, to help them keep their feet dry, but that's about all the fussing they need.

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  100. We have a light in the run that I hang and set on a timer. It is a Christmas light timer that goes on as soon as it gets dark and I can set it to stay on for either 2 or 4 hours after dusk. Kept me in eggs all last winter (my girls first year) I hope that works again this year!

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  101. I used a Christmas light timer last year. It can be set to come on for 2 or 4 hours after it gets dark. It worked will for us last year. Thanks for the opportunity to win!

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  102. This is our first year with chickens...Thanks for the informative article!

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  103. I have never used a light, but I might this winter.

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  104. We haven't had the chickens over winter yet so I'm not sure if I will light them or not. Thanks for this article tho' to help me w/ my decision.
    Liked on FB - Robin Phillips-Knotts is my id.
    Following on GFC - :)cokelush is my id.
    Thanks!
    cokelush at gmail

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  105. I do light my coop in the shortest days of the year.;-)

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  106. I plan on lighting my coop the shortest days of the year.

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  107. I can't wait to restring the christmas lights for this winter. I love the way the coop looks in the early morning before I start my day. Very relaxing.

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  108. This will be our first winter having our girls. We will be install light for the girls on a timer.

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  109. This is our first winter with our girls...we will be installing a light but on a timer.

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  110. We start our lights Sept.1st every year after letting them moult during Aug. My 3yr old hens are still laying at max capacity and lay all winter long in an unheated hen house. It's all because of the lights.

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  111. We have 2 windows for natural light in our coop. We also have a light switch that my hubby installed in case we need light at night.

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  112. We have 2 windows in our coop.

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  113. WOW, I had no idea there were this many chicken people. My husband read somewhere that chickens lay best when they get 12 hours of light a day....he adjusts the timer to keep it as close to 12 hours as he can.

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  114. I use solar spot lights pointed at coop during the fall and winter.. Others have told me that Christmas lights work as well, but I don't have electric to use

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  115. yes I use solar spot lights ... :)

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  116. I do light in the winter months. Not so much for egg production- but that red lights really helps out on those uber frosty cold Colorado mornings. :)

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  117. We do light our coop in winter. We heat it a little too.

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  118. Laurie &amp; Mark Ashley9/3/12, 6:24 PM

    Hi again :) We just wanted to say "were in it to win it!" :) Being this is our first ever chicken project, and we are building our first coop, I dont think we will be adding light to it for this winter. We live in the deep south of Louisiana, and from what I understand, it shouldn't be too very cold here, so a heat lamp wouldn't be needed. As well, I think for our first year, we will just wait to see how the girls do as far as laying :)

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  119. I normally light my coop in the winter.

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  120. This is our first winter for chickens so will see what we need to do-we may not even have a hen-so far we know that 2 are roosters-we are learning-they are my 8 year old Grandsons chickens-he is reading and learning alot-thanks for the contest

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  121. I normally light my coop in the winter.

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  122. Heaher Harris9/3/12, 6:32 PM

    I'M IN IT TO WIN IT :) I don't put white light in my coop during the darker months. I havn't noticed that much of a drop in the amount of eggs they lay. I do put a red light to help them see at night and a red heat lamp (safely secured)if the temp drops. I'm so glad I got them last year and have added to my numbers this year. They make me smile :) Heather

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  123. yes we light our coop in december, jaanuary, and when ever else needed . :) ---Kelsi Beer

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  124. Christine L9/3/12, 6:43 PM

    I don't light the coop when it gets dark, I figure I will let the hen's natural instincts and physiologies take over and they get a break or at least slow down.

    clayne317@gmail.com

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  125. We are inconsistent about this. Sometimes we light our coop in the winter, sometimes we don't. But for us it is less about getting more eggs, and more about giving them (the chickens) that extra little bit of heat in the winter. Having the light bulb in there can mean that the coop stays above freezing, even when the chickens are not inside. This also has the added benefit of keeping our eggs from freezing and cracking when it is really extra cold.

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  126. Anne Guffey9/3/12, 7:49 PM

    I prefer to let my girls rest during the winter months. I like to rest so I think they should too! :-)

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  127. We do keep lights on in our coops during the winter. If we didn't they may not see the light of day for some time. We also put a red heat light in the coops when it is exceptionally cold.

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  128. This coming fall/winter will be our first with chickens...we're planning to light the coop at this point...

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  129. I just got my first girls in February so I don't have much experience with darker months yet. But I don't plan to light the coop. I figure its good for the girls to get a break.

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  130. I just got my first girls in February so I don't have much experience with darker months yet. But I don't plan to light the coop. I figure its good for the girls to get a break.

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  131. Hi, I do not put white lights in my coop durring the darker months. I do however, put a red lightbulb in to help them see at night. Unless the temp drops then I put a heating lamp secured safely until the temp comes back up. I haven't noticed a large drop in egg production with my girls. I have enjoyed getting my girls last year so much I added some new gals this year. They make me smile :) Thanks Heather heatherfrizzelle@hotmail.com

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  132. We light our coop in the winter.

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  133. Rebecca Garrett9/3/12, 8:40 PM

    No light for us either. I think they deserve a break

    drgarrett3@aol.com

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  134. Hi! Cheri Kaelin here , no I don't light the hen house but my chickens are free pasture raised. They well some come to the coops at night, but most roost in trees, thanks I love the Christmas lights idea

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  135. Steve White9/4/12, 11:15 AM

    This is my first winter with 3 hens. I haven't decided what to do yet. I don't have electricity to the coop. Suggestions?

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  136. I do light morning and evening....the downside to doing it all in the early morning, is they start laying earlier, which means a lot of singing and clucking and I worry it is too noisy before my neighbors are up and about. In addition to the 60 watt bulb morning and night, I have a little 4 w night light that comes on when the big bulb is out, just enough to help them find their roost, and they sleep just fine with that all night. Great Article, thanks!

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  137.  I do not have electricity in my hen house, but run a heavy duty outside extension cord out there.  I then put a timer on the end of the cord and plug in one of the lights that has a cord/plug on it and also a clamp to attach to a rafter.

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  138. TheChickenChick12/24/12, 11:03 PM

    We used to do that too, Patti. After a few years, we finally had it wired.

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  139. CatwithChicks1/27/13, 1:36 PM

    This is a great article, but the vet's phrase "and allow the birds to molt every 12-18 months' brings up a question... if you do use lighting, should you turn the lighting system off at 12 to 18 months to let them molt?  

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  140. TheChickenChick1/27/13, 9:55 PM

    Great question. Some people think that supplemental lighting means 24/7, but chickens need to be able to rest for 8 hrs a day and re-charge just like humans do. Leaving the lights on doesn't do that and it can interfere with molting.

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  141. We have a about 12 hens and 2 roosters. My wife uses a red light halogen light at night (actually it is often left on all the time) duriing the winter months here in Kansas. How does she go about giving them extra day hours, and rest hours (darkness) and still keep the coop warm?

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  142. TheChickenChick2/2/13, 8:29 PM

    There are all kinds of products on the market that you can use to keep your coop warm without light, try searching Shop the Coop, for example. Chickens don't actually need heat as long as they are cold-hardy breeds. I don't know how cold it gets in Kansas though or what breeds you have. Some people just prefer to do it. If you are going to use a heater, you should be sure to have a generator in case you lose power otherwise the chickens can die from the abrupt change in temperatures.

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  143. Thank You for the reply. She said most are Reds. As far as the winters here, they vary.
    The winters run from mild/cold to very cold. Most winters run between 0 and 30 degrees. Sometimes dropping to about -10. The snow is also varied year to year. It was 70 a couple of days ago, had thunderstorms the next, then dropped to 2 degrees for the low and snowed. We have a saying "If you don't like the weather in Kansas, wait 5 minutes...It Will change".Thanks for the info on the heater source we will check it out.

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  144. Your posts are exceptionally helpful. I wish they had a print button. :-)

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  145. TheChickenChick6/10/13, 8:48 PM

    I'll work on it, Judy. Thanks for the feedback. :)

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  146. What does he mean by "allow" the birds to molt? Is he suggesting that we have any control over it?

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  147. TheChickenChick7/10/13, 11:53 PM

    Oh yes, molting can be controlled by manipulating lighting.

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  148. Marie-Claude Audy8/23/13, 12:47 PM

    Totally helpful :) I'm seconding that Judy!

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  149. Deborah Paterson8/31/13, 6:52 PM

    I have set my auto timer so to turn a 40w soft bulb on at 4am and off at 7am. They do not raise a fuss and seem to have gotten used to it. Everyone seems to have a thought about this. Another site that posts on my facebook states that doing this means I am going to cause an increase chance of "ovarian or other reproductive issues" because they are forced to lay un-naturaly and not allowed their natural down time during the shorter days. I want to be the best caregiver I can for my birds. Can you shed some light on this debate? (no pun intended). Thanks

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  150. TheChickenChick8/31/13, 7:19 PM

    I have provided an expert's thoughts on the matter, Deborah and have given you his credentials. I suspect the other source that you are getting that inaccurate information from is not a vet and doesn't have a masters in animal health and welfare. Anyone can say anything, but that doesn't make it true. Do what you're comfortable with, but don't listen to people who have nothing to back up their claims.

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  151. Your site is so informative, I follow you obsessively:) thank you. This is really good information. Any thoughts or advice on how I might light my coop since I have no electricity? Any battery based options I can put on a timer that might work?

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  152. TheChickenChick9/1/13, 12:38 AM

    I haven't looked into it, but I'm certain there are options available.

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  153. Thank you for this information! I have 10 chicks that are 15 weeks old. I intend to add supplemental light with a timer so we have about 14 hours of light a day. I have 2 questions. 1.) Since they are only 15 weeks old should we wait until they are 18 weeks and on layer feed and oyster shells to supplement light, or is it OK to start now? We are in NE IL and the days are getting shorter. 2.) I think I read you had suggested a low night light in the coop and I have a small green night light in the coop. That should be OK, and not interfere with their sleep/rest, correct? Thanks so much! You are an invaluable source of information to me and so many others! :)

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  154. What are your thoughts on lighting a coop during the chickens' first year? I have a 13 pullets (just 16 weeks old) who have not yet begun to lay. Waiting, waiting, and still waiting! Anyway, most likely they will begin laying right before winter. I have read not to use supplemental light during the first year/winter, but I have also read it's ok to use light after 16 weeks. Thanks in advance for any feedback you can offer. :)

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  155. TheChickenChick9/4/13, 11:58 PM

    I wouldn't light the coop if the pullets have not begun laying yet, Liz. I would also ditch the nightlight.

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  156. TheChickenChick9/5/13, 12:09 AM

    I would not begin lighting the coop when pullets have not reached the point of lay. They don't need the help during their first winter in my experience.

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  157. That makes sense. Thank you for your response. :)

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  158. John Stone9/5/13, 6:44 PM

    Haven't started to light yet this season but will soon! 8 chicks and 8 eggs per day!

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  159. I have a very disturbing situation for the second time this year I have been hit with Mercks disease :( is there anything I can do I lost 3 chicks at different ages and for about 2 months everything was good but now I have another chick ill . It's so sad to see them this way and I keep them with the flock they have food and water close by . Is there really anything that can be done I hate this :(

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  160. Susanne Helms9/5/13, 11:44 PM

    I e-mail them to myself and then can file or print.

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  161. I love your website! I'm a newbie to chickens, and my 3 girls haven't started laying yet. Thinking ahead to winter, after they are laying I would like to add light but don't have electric to the coop. Just found a website called one step timer that has battery-powered outdoor led string lights on a timer. Have you heard of this? Seems almost too good to be true...

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  162. allikpeters9/10/13, 2:04 PM

    Our chickens were squawking very early, dark-early, this morning with the supplemental light. Does it take time fort hem to adjust to the additional light int he coop. Also, we don't keep food and water in the coop due to a space issue. Is this a problem for chickens when they have the additional light in the coop?

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  163. allikpeters9/10/13, 2:11 PM

    Has anyone had any issues with the light in the early morning hours causing the chickens to squawk and have a loud chicken talk? Our birds don't seem to sleep through those early morning hours of artificial light. Also, if you have extra hours of artificial light in the coop, are you supposed to have food and water in the coop?

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  164. TheChickenChick9/10/13, 10:35 PM

    I have not found that it takes time for my flock to adjust to supplemental lighting. If you're going to use it, there should at least be water available to them. I would recommending both food and water- the feed will give them something to do until they can get out of the coop.

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  165. So as not to have to deal with electrical extension cords, I am considering adding a solar lawn light for the supplemental lighting. Do you have any experience with this? Does the type of light bulb matter?

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  166. TheChickenChick9/29/13, 9:09 PM

    They type of bulb doesn't matter. Being able to turn the light on early in the morning with a timer is the important thing.

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  167. Don't use a bulb with Teflon coating as when it heats up it releases a chemical which will kill birds.

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  168. This will be our first winter with chickens. Do they need a heat source in cold weather and if so what are my options? I live in Ohio where nights in the winter months range from 40 to below zero. We have electric in the coop.

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  169. So does it matter if i turn the light on at dusk and shut it off at bout 10:00 or eleven

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  170. TheChickenChick10/13/13, 11:44 PM

    Yes, it matters. The light should be on a timer to come on in the morning for the reasons mentioned in the article. Sudden darkness is dangerous and stressful for the hens.

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  171. Hey! I'm stealing your idea.

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  172. Steve Hunsader10/28/13, 6:19 PM

    My chicks are now 7 weeks old (Hatched around Sep 1) and I've done a lot of research in regards to supplemental lighting. I'm finding this topic very difficult to get get solid factual information.

    This page has probably the best information on supplemental lighting:

    http://www.sp.uconn.edu/~mdarre/poultrypages/light_inset.html

    Although it's probably something most would like distilled down, it covers what type of light, when to use it, and how much to use. Unfortunately, it's difficult to distill exactly what I'd need to do to get the job done (for late hatched pullets).

    In Gail Damerow's book 'Raising Chickens', she mentions that "Under normal circumstances pullets mature during the season of decreasing length", and that "if you raise pullets in the off-season, increasing day length that normally triggers reproduction will sped up their maturity, more so the closer they get to laying age", and that "pullets that start laying before their bodies are ready will lay smaller eggs and fewer of them and are ore likely to prolapse."

    This past weekend I took my local sunrise/sunset data, put it into an excel spreadsheet, and plotted the sunlight curve for 'spring chickens' (April 1) and then for my Sep 1 chickens. From what I see, spring chickens actually have longer days for the first 10 weeks, and then the days get shorter until mature. The link I provided cites a study done in 1992 :

    "However, according to Lewis et al. (1992) the sensitivity of the young pullet to an increase in photoperiod varies with age and is at a maximum between 9 and 12 weeks of age and thus
    increasing the photoperiod at or soon after 18 weeks has little effect on age at 50% lay. Therefore, the use of step-down - step-up lighting programs should be timed to bring the birds into lay at the age you wish, either early lay or late lay, starting the program between 9 and 12 weeks. With early lay you will get more, smaller eggs and with late lay you will get fewer, larger eggs, but the total egg mass at the end of lay will not be much different."


    With the information in mind, it seems that if I want eggs at 18-21 weeks (assuming this is when chickens are ready to lay eggs), I'd need to have between 12-14 hours of sunlight around the end of January, and with today only having just under 11 hours of sunlight, I'm considering providing enough light to keep the 'girls' at 11 hours, and then increase daylight 15 minutes per week on Dec 22 (shortest day, and the pullets will be in their 15th week).



    I know it's a lot to digest, (yes, I'm finally getting to the question), but does this sound reasonable?



    Or should I be concerned about shortening my nights by 15 min/week starting on their 15th week?


    Thanks!! - Steve
    (This was my very first post)

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  173. We bought a set of solar spotlights and mounted both lights in the coop. With such a lack of sunlight in the winter to power them, they don't get too bright at all. Works great, and they come on at sundown automatically. We just turn them off at about 9pm or 10 pm each night.

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  174. R.m. Hamilton Wilson10/28/13, 7:04 PM

    GREAT information!! My husband took some pride in informing me of how artificial lighting thru the dark months will extend the hen's life and egg laying ability just yesterday! I hadn't had time to research that factoid yet and this article cinched it for me! Thanks, Kathie and Dr Petrik. (I've decided to let the girls go the natural route this winter. They had a rough molt)

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  175. TheChickenChick10/28/13, 8:20 PM

    Truth be told, Steve, I don't over-think it. I supply 15-16 hours of light to my hens. The precision is far less important in backyard flocks than it is in commercial egg production facilities where maximum production means dollars and cents to the growers.

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  176. Hi, I just started raising chickens and this is our first winter. I have added a small coop light to keep the girls on a consistent laying schedule, following your advice on providing a minimum of 14 hours of light per day. After close observation with my coop cam I have learned that they all get up and go lay down outside as soon as the coop light comes on? The other night our first winter storm was blowing in and I was worried that with the windchill they could get really cold. I was wondering if the light I chose was too bright (890 lumens) so I replaced it with a much dimmer light (300 lumens) but they still go outside and lay down as soon as it comes on. There is no light in the run, only what filters through the windows. Is my light driving them outside and if so once "real" winter hits, will they stay inside the coop? It was in the teen last night and they all went out at 4am and slept in the dark cold ground until the sun came up?

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  177. TheChickenChick10/30/13, 5:47 PM

    How are they getting out? The pop door should be closed for security reasons. If it's not, that's your solution. Close the pop door and they have to stay inside.

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  178. Hunter4Liberty11/5/13, 10:40 AM

    HI, Kathy - love your blog - you are my go-to resource on all things chicken! I am a newbie too and just put lights in the coop this weekend. Had the same experience as worrywart the first night so I too bought a dimmer bulb and closed the pop door last night. Well, the girls were not at all happy about being locked in the coop! At 4:00 am this morning, Lucy (my loudest and leader) started squawking non-stop. After about 1/2 hour of this racket, the owls came and chimed in wanting breakfast (thankfully we have a secure set up). We have a pretty small coop built like the Wichita design shown here http://www.backyardchickens.com/a/wichita-cabin-coop. Food and water are in the run like shown. I saw you post elsewhere to put water in the coop for early morning hours and I did but they knocked that down this morning and now the bedding is wet - will change that shortly. Question is - will they adapt to being "cooped up with the light on?" I certainly don't want them to start fighting or cause other behavioral problems. At the same time, I don't want them out before sunrise or to leave the pop door open in the colder weather. Do you think a 25 watt (240 lumens) is still too bright? Should I try something like a nightlight instead? Any other ideas or suggestions would be appreciated.
    Thanks,
    Diane Hunter

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  179. TheChickenChick11/5/13, 7:59 PM

    You definitely don't want to leave a light on all night- they must have 8 hours of darkness. If your coop isn't big enough for them to be inside for a few hours without getting into trouble, you may need to skip the supplemental lighting.

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  180. Alyssa Biddle11/6/13, 8:10 PM

    This doesn't have to do with this topic, but my family have been searching for a new coop for our chickens. We absolutely love the one in the pictures! Where can we find one like it?

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  181. Hunter4Liberty11/7/13, 11:12 AM

    Thanks. I do have the lights on a timer that comes on from 3:00 am - 7:00 am. After the first night described above, I put a lower wattage light in the coop and they seem to have settled down. Since they have been sleeping all summer with the pop door open, I think they may have been confused by having light but not being able to get out like usual that first night! I sometimes fear I have spoiled my dear birds to the point of no return! LOL.

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  182. Tammy Townsend11/9/13, 7:22 AM

    we are planning on adding lights to our coop this weekend. Our girls have had a decrease in egg production but we are still getting eggs. Will this cause too much confusion since we have waited until now?

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  183. Alyssa Biddle11/9/13, 4:34 PM

    I know it's off topic but my family and I really love the coop in the pictures!! Where can we find one like it?

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  184. TheChickenChick11/10/13, 8:00 PM

    No, they'll be fine, just be sure you do it corrrectly, at the beginning of the day only.

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  185. TheChickenChick11/11/13, 8:51 PM

    Thanks Alyssa. My husband built it for me.

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  186. Thank you so much for this. We are going to try it out. Last winter we had red heat lamps in the coop all winter during the night time, so I am very nervous to expose my ladies to the cold of a Northeast winter, but if they need 8 hours of dark I need to give it to them!

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  187. Why would you ditch the nightlight? I have been reading that a low watt nightlight is a good thing, since their night vision is so bad. If they fall off the roost they can see to get back up if there is some light. My coop is a cabin 8ft by 16ft and I have 15 three month olds.

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  188. TheChickenChick11/14/13, 7:07 PM

    Chickens require 8 hours of darkness, depriving them of that can result in all sorts of problems, most notably reproductive malfunctions that can shorten their lives (egg-binding, peritonitis, etc). Chickens do not have issues with falling off the roost. If one ever were to fall off, they could simply remain on the floor of the coop- it wouldn't be a problem.

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  189. So, if I give extra light in the morning during winter - - will this stop them being able to molt? Can you explain how to manipulate them into molting with lights. Id like them to molt in the warmer months and want to make sure they have their down time to be able to molt. I hope that makes sense! Many thanks

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  190. how do you "let" them moult in Aug. Sorry, I am new to this! thanks

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  191. Your molting article says. ' To encourage egg production, supplemental light may be added to the coop during the fall and winter months with no negative effects on the hen.' Would using lighting prevent them form molting and thus be harmful.
    Also, if a hen lays thru winters with supplemental lighting, will she slow down on production at a younger age than if she didn't lay winters with light?

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  192. Copy and paste it in word then print. Just a thought

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  193. I have 6 hens that just started laying. Wondering if I should add light? Are they too young at 5 months old? Thanks!

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  194. Marianne Gathard Carnevale12/15/13, 12:00 PM

    I feel like dragging my husband out of bed saying "get up, get up, the girls need more light!!!!! We have to get electric and light to the coop right now!!! " Thank you!

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  195. Marianne Gathard Carnevale12/15/13, 12:08 PM

    OK I just did it lol he is up! Our two girls were born in early December 2011. Started laying as normal. We got our daily dose of fresh eggs until they went into molt in May and June of 2013 ( why May and June - I do not know we are in South Florida) They have not laid since. :( They are beautiful, healthy, healthy dropping, clean environment, fresh water, best feed, they have the whole back yard to themselves. The only thing I keep thinking is the light. Thank you for the in depth article. I will keep you posted.

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