Light and Chickens

Most folks don’t realize that light and eggs go hand in hand.  Many of us live so far from our food sources that we don’t have an opportunity to be exposed to where our food comes from let alone understand the nuances of what makes our plentiful food supply possible.

As a keeper of a backyard flock every year we go through the same quandary to light or not to light.   This comes into play because chickens need ideally somewhere between 12-14 hours of daylight for optimum egg laying.    Where I live the days are about 9 1/2 hours long now and they will get as short as 8 1/2 hours on December 21st.   I need to make a decision do I want to add supplemental light or take my chances with nature and my birds.

If I choose supplemental light, I need to turn on a light in the coop to give them the daylight they need.   In the farm egg factories that your grocery eggs come from all the lights are on timers and come on at the same time everyday and go off each evening at the same time.   The farmer has figure out exactly how much daylight he wants and the magic of modern technology takes care of it for him.   Nothing is left up to chance.   I on the other hand need to get my bum up and dressed in the cold of the morning so that magical fake sun hits the birds at nearly the same time each day. Howling wind and sub-zero temps be damned.   Chickens like consistency with their light.   Being late a couple of mornings can send them into a seasonal shut down.   Then in the interest of  money as soon as the sun is really up, then I need to head out to the coop shut off my lights and let the girls out and about for the day to absorb their daily dose of real sun for awhile.

If I choose to not go with supplemental light, which some would argue is the more natural approach, then I am at the mercy of the birds I have selected for the year.   Some breeds and birds are less light sensitive.   Some of my birds have already shut down and are no longer laying, others are still hard at work.  Even for the backyard flock owner it is an economic issue.   Do I wish to keep birds who are not laying and feed them for 4-6 months?   In the summer when they free range around the area, I  go through very little food as they get most of their food naturally foraging.  In the winter they are dependent on me for their nutrition and they eat more because it is colder out.   Keeping birds over the winter can get pricy.

I opt for a combination of the above.   We will add some supplemental light, with my husband turning on the coop light as he heads out to work each day.   Weekends it becomes my job.    As long as I get a few eggs each day I will keep up this ritual.   Sometime  in January this routine isn’t enough for my birds and they will stop laying.   I will stop fighting the natural rhythm and let their bodies rest.   We will treat each of our eggs like the precious commodity it is, while we wait for the early birds to start laying again.   By late February or March our least sensitive birds will start laying again.  We will soon be able to share eggs with friends and neighbors.   We will have survived the winter the birds will let us know that spring is on the way with a nest box full of eggs.