Keeping Chickens Laying In The Winter

Keeping chickens laying in the winter is a challenge many backyard flocks wrestle with. It’s not impossible, and theoretically it actually quite easy. Many times the difficult part lies in the technicalities, or more specifically; getting power out to the coop.

Chickens will happily lay for 12 consecutive months before taking a rest, so you needn’t worry about over-taxing Henrietta and her coop mates. You could be the pragmatic type that says “lay for your dinner, or be dinner”, or the retirement coop curator (like me); either way, I believe we could all benefit from having fresh eggs in January, no?

Solar Powered Chickens

Modern genetic research be damned, chickens still lay according to daylight hours. A chicken’s internal calendar is determined by ambient light as observed by the eye. It’s not concerned about the wavelength, the intensity nor the color temperature per se, but the timespan is crucial to keeping chickens laying. Even heritage breeds of chickens will assume it’s summertime if they see ambient light for 16 hours per day, even in sub-zero temperatures.

Now here’s the interesting thing; chickens are very flexible on what kind of light it is, so much so that you can use an incandescent or LED light bulb to supply “daylight”, timed for 16 continuous hours to keep chickens laying in the winter. Wattage, or wattage equivalence can be as low as 40 watts or even less, so power consumption should be minimal.

keeping chickens laying

Mechanical outdoor timers like these are well shielded from chickens, dust and “stuff”.

keeping chickens laying

As I’ve said, the duration of reprieved daylight is crucial to keeping chickens laying in the winter. As such, we need to take into consideration the actual daylight hours in our area. What we don’t want is to have a light bulb come on at sundown and run a straight 16 hours, because that will likely result in a 24/7 light span, which can cause issued down the road. We don’t want to do that.

I set my coop lights to turn on at 6AM and off at 10PM, which means my lights will turn on before sunrise and off after sunset no matter the time of year. I have used 40 watt incandescent bulbs for years, but have changed over to LED without issue (yet), yielding me eggs year round.

Tip On Setup

In my opinion, CFL light bulbs are a sham. Opinions aside however, CFL’s don’t operate reliably in cold weather, hence they make a poor choice for lighting a coop. Incandescent bulbs are relatively unphased by cold weather, and many LED light bulbs can operate in your coop’s expected temperature range. If you have spare florescent lights or want to buy LED shop lights then go for it; they should all work as far as your chickens are concerned.

If your coop is devoid of light bulb sockets, or plugs for that matter, then consider buying a quality extension cord and a painter’s clamp light. Painter’s lights usually cap out at 100 watts, but we don’t need nor want a bright light, so they will suit your needs just fine. Painter’s lamps are usually the cheapest way to keep chickens laying in the winter, but if you have a spare 250 watt rated brooder lamp then use it, there’s no reason not to.

I prefer outdoor rated timers because they are shielded from the weather, and consequently chickens, chicken dust and other “stuff”. Find them at hardware stores or home improvement mega-marts, usually in the holiday lights section. If you’re spending the big bucks and having power installed professionally, have the electrician add a commercial timer to your lighting circuit. I recommend using UL “wash-down” approved lights, timers and switches in your coop in case you ever need to hose it out. A commercial timer can be mounted in a UL wash-down rated cabinet if you can’t find a timer that meets those specs.

keeping chickens laying

If you need to buy a light fixture, a painter’s lamp is the cheap and effective way out.

What Can Go Wrong

Bright lights such as 100 watt bulbs can cause more harm than good. It has been found that harsh, bright lighting in chicken coops can encourage cannibalism by agitating the birds. Keep a soft, low-wattage bulb in your coop.

Remember to reset your timer in the event of a power outage, or get one with a digital timer that has a backup battery. If you don’t reset your timer, your chickens may stop laying or worse; experience blowouts. When ambient light is suddenly extended, hens just keep growing their eggs. In the worst-case scenario, hens will grow an egg so big that they can’t lay it safely, which results in a condition called egg-bound. If they push too hard, they can cause severe injury to themselves, and it usually ends in a drawn-out and painful death.

Red lights, such as infrared light bulbs will emit light, but the wrong color light. This may keep your rooster crowing all night, but it won’t keep your chickens laying, so keep a soft white light bulb in the coop for daylight mimicking. If you don’t want your rooster to make a racket all night long, consider using a ceramic iguana heat element in place of a infrared bulb.

Have An Omelet In January

Running a timed light bulb is a simple trick to keep you supplied with eggs all year round. You don’t have to surrender yourself to store-bought eggs in the winter, just a light bulb or two.

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