Need More Eggs? Just Add Light. Maybe.

The question of whether or not to add supplemental lighting during the shorter days of winter can be highly controversial among flocksters.  Views seem to generally fall into one of two categories: one, adding light in the winter ensures a supply of eggs or two, adding light in winter doesn’t allow the hens to take a break as nature intended. 

Hen house with lighting in the morning

All breeds reduce egg production in winter, some more than others. Actually, it isn’t natural for the hen to lay at all in winter—domestic hens lay in winter only because selective breeding has unmoored their ovulation from a seasonal reproductive cycle—so we should be grateful for any eggs our hens give us in their off season.
— Harvey Ussery, The Small-Scale Poultry Flock

I am going to make a few assumptions regarding my fellow caring flocksters, flocksters have chickens because 

  • Chickens lay eggs,
  • Chickens can make terrific pets, and
  • Chickens are incredible recyclers and manure producers.

Now regarding adding light in the winter at 107 Garden; yes, I add light at 107 Garden. Whoa!? Are you serious? I thought that you were a good flockster. Yes, I know, you have questions and to be clear we like eggs, we like eggs on all the days. I am not talking about supplementing light to create a 24-hour day or even an 16-hour day.  The chickens need six to eight hours for immune system maintenance and rest.

I add enough light to ensure adequate egg production through the shorter days.  I’ve found that with adding light to create a 14-hour day that the flock maintains 85% of the summer rate of lay. I ensure the flock is healthy and strong by supplying fresh food trimmings, forage from the garden, alfalfa hay, and our custom chicken ration.

Hen house light fixture

107's Hen House Lighting Set-up

  • Two 13-watt, soft white, CFL bulbs and fixtures
  • Timer with 15-minute increments.
  • 100’ extension cord! Don’t judge! At the time of installation, the cost a solar set-up was three times the price of the on grid option. But, not to worry 107 is  moving to solar next year!

 

If you forget to turn the lights on for just one day, your hens may go into a molt and stop laying.
— Gail Damerow, Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens

Hen house lighting timer

Adding Light

  • Use an online tool to determine day length. I start adding light in September.
  • Add light in the morning and overlap the supplemental lighting with the daylight so that the chickens don’t notice that the light went off.
  • Use a timer. 
  • 25-watts or 40-watts is sufficient for most smaller scale hen houses/enclosures.
  • Add soft light.
  • Add light in 15 or 30-minute increments per week until desired total duration of light is achieved. I add only fifteen or thirty minutes per week.
  • And what about the time change?! Don’t worry about it! The sun didn’t fall back sixty minutes.
  • Be sure that water and food is available when the light goes on. I "pre-feed"our flock the night before so that fresh food is available as soon as the light goes on.

Decreasing Supplemental Lighting

  • Again use an online tool to determine best time to start decreasing supplemental light. I start decreasing supplemental light in May.
  • Pack up the 100' extension cord or clean off your solar panel and enjoy the summer.

Supplemental lighting during the shorter days of winter can help ensure there are eggs for all of those fancy, egg rich holiday season recipes!

Resources

  • Day length calculator: www.sunrisesunset.com
  • Gail Damerow (2010). Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens. Storey Publishing. ISBN: 9781603424691. 
  • Harvey Ussery (2011). The Small-Scale Poultry Flock: An all-natural approach to raising chickens and other fowl for home and market growers. Chelsea Green Publishing Company. ISBN: 9781603582902.