Preview: This post explains how lighting a chicken coop can be done safely if the backyard chicken keeper chooses to provide supplemental light during the winter.
Lighting your chicken coop is a matter of personal preference. Some chicken keepers prefer to give their chickens a rest over the winter. Others don’t want to resort to store-bought eggs, so lighting the coop may be something you want to think about. This post shares the pros and cons of lighting a chicken coop during the winter so you can make the best decision for your flock.
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Why Would You Want to Light A Chicken Coop?
Hens need approximately 14 hours of light a day to lay and egg. The sun stimulates the pituitary gland of the chicken. This in turn stimulates the hen’s ovaries to release an egg. As the days get shorter, the pituitary gland receives less sunlight so the hens naturally lay less.
Another reason you might choose to light your chicken coop is that lighting a chicken coop can actually improve your chicken’s health. If your chickens are kept indoors most of the day because of the weather, they won’t receive much light at all. Think of how you feel during the coldest, darkest days of winter when you don’t see as much sunlight. (They call it seasonal affective disorder (SAD) for a reason!) And just like humans, chickens benefit from the brightness too.
Tools You Need to Light Your Coop
A Light, But Not Just Any Light
If you decide to light your coop, you want to do it safely. I do NOT recommend heat lamps. They are extremely dangerous. But I really didn’t feel comfortable using a regular light bulb fixture either. Chickens can and will fly, and I want to know “my girls” are safe.
So I decided to use a slightly unconventional item to light my coop-LED Rope Lights. These lights stay cool and the chickens can’t get to the bulbs or the wires. My coop has rafters, so I was able to wind the lights through the rafters very easily.
The second thing you will need is an outdoor timer. When lighting your coop, you need to add the light to the morning hours, not the evening hours. Chickens do not see well in the dark. If you suddenly shut off the coop light at night, your chickens may not be able to find their way to the roost posts in the evening.
The light also needs to come on and go off at the same time each day (unless you are using the schedule outlined below to get to the 14-16 hour window of daylight). Consistency is the key to preventing problems.
And since the coop needs to be lit in the morning, that means setting a timer, or getting up SUPER early each and every day. (Yes, including weekends!) I’m an early bird, but not THAT early! So an inexpensive timer is definitely your best option.
(I found this set of rope lights on Amazon that already has a timer included!)
No Electricity? I’ve got a solution
So what if your coop doesn’t have electricity? Mine doesn’t. A heavy duty outdoor extension cord run to your coop should work just fine, provided you have an outdoor outlet on your house. This has worked fine for me for years. Just be sure you remove it before mowing your lawn.
How to Light A Chicken Coop in the Winter
How you go about lighting a chicken coop in the winter matters. First, the light needs to added in the morning hours. That’s why the timer is a necessity. It is better to wait until after your chickens molt before starting to light your coop. Yes, this may mean a month or so with no eggs, but not allowing them to molt when they normally do, can cause them to molt later, when it is colder. (No feathers during the winter means cold and unhappy chickens.)
So once your chickens have molted, you want to provide them with between 14 and 16 hours of light each day. This can be a combination of sunlight and supplemental light. If your days are already shorter than 14 hours, it is best to gradually acclimate them to the light. Start off with setting the timer to bring the light on 30 minutes before the sun comes up. Leave it at that time for a week.
The next week back it up another 30 minutes so the timer is now turning on the light 1 hour before sunrise. Keep backing up the time each week until you have 14-16 hours of light each day.
If your chickens go outdoors or your coop has lots of windows, you can have the timer turn the light off once the sun is up. If they tend to stay indoors, it might be best to leave it on all day. However, be sure to turn the light off early in the evening well before dusk. This allows the chickens to find their roosts before dark. There is no need to go beyond 17 hours of daylight each day. Doing so can actually harm your chickens.
Plan to use the lights all winter long. If you suddenly stop lighting your chicken coop, (or forget to turn the lights on for several mornings) you will likely throw your chickens into a molt. Molting will also cause your chicken to stop laying eggs again.
A Few Notes About Using Supplemental Lighting in Your Chicken Coop
- Lighting your coop will not shorten the number of eggs your hen will lay over her lifetime. When a chick is born, she carries all the eggs she will ever lay.
- Lighting the coop will not affect the quality of the eggs your chickens lay. If you notice a decline in quality, it is most likely due to the fact that they are foraging less because there are less bugs and grass to feed on.
- It has not been proven that lighting a chicken coop will shorten your hen’s life. Many experts site this as a reason not to light the coop, but so far, there has been no studies that definitively prove that lighting your coop shortens a chickens lifespan.
- Do NOT use a heat lamp! They are HUGE fire hazards. You can read more about why I don’t like heat lamps and what to use instead in my post about raising chicks safely.
- Do not provide supplemental lighting for any chickens that are less than 20 weeks of age. Providing light too early CAN decrease their lifespan.
My Personal Philosophy
While many backyard chicken keepers prefer to give their hens a break and view eggs as a seasonal product, I enjoy having eggs for my holiday baking. (And breakfast! Who am I kidding?) So if I didn’t light my coop, I would have to purchase commercial eggs. I personally don’t feel that buying eggs is really a better option. Most hens in commercial operations are subject to indoor lighting anyway. My hens are well taken care of throughout the year, so I do what I can to encourage them to lay all winter long.
Ultimately, it is your choice whether to provide supplemental lighting in your chicken coop during the winter. I feel that each backyard chicken keeper needs to weigh the pros and cons and decide for themselves what is best for their flock. If you keep chickens, I would love to know what you’ve chosen to do and why. Leave a (polite) comment below. (Comments attacking anyone’s choice WILL be deleted!)