Thursday, December 22, 2011

Chickens 101: Lights in the Winter?

Some backyard chicken keepers feel that the practice of keeping lights on in the winter to "force" the chikens to lay is cruel. I asked my birds, they don't seem to agree.

I believe most organic standards (at least in Canada) say you can not keep lights on for more then 16 hours a day, and you should only need 14 hours to keep them laying. You can't keep the lights on any longer that that because chickens are pretty simple creatures. Light on means you should be awake, light off means you should be asleep.

The COS (Canadian Organic Standards) also say you should fade the lights on & off, and while I think this is a nice idea, haven't quite figured out how to do it in our coop. I think the best way would be having two separate sets of lights on different timers. I've never found it to be necessary as our chickens all seem to know when lights out is and they settle down long before the lights go out.

During the winter we have our lights turn on around 6 in the morning, then turn off around 7:30 when the sun comes up. They turn on again around 3:30 (when I do my afternoon check) and turn off around 9pm.

This has had the added benefit of switching most of the chickens from mid-afternoon layers, to at least half the eggs being laid before noon. Our spoiled chickens also get checked on 4 times a day and eggs collected pretty soon after their laid.

The weather seems to dictate whether or not
they actually go out.
The chickens are let out first thing in the morning to roam around, then come in the coop in the evening when it's dark out, and eat and socialize for a few more hours before they settle in to go to sleep.

Chickens, like people, only have so many eggs in their bodies. So once they've laid them all, they can't make any more.

Chickens kept under lights in the winter will start laying around 6 months, starting with very small eggs and working their way up to a large. Then after a little less then a year, they'll stop and start moulting. Depending on breed they may moult for 12 weeks to a few months, then start laying again. Once they start laying for a second time they will lay less often, but much larger eggs.

If you don't keep the chickens under lights they'll go through the same cycle. They'll moult in the fall as the light changes, and depending on the breed may or may not continue to lay over the winter with out extra light. (Breeds like Barred Plymouth rocks will keep laying)

If you don't use extra lights your chickens will lay for "longer" but they will not produce any more eggs then if you keep them under lights. If you're going to keep chickens as pets there really is no reason to waste the electricity unless you want eggs during the winter too. 

You can freeze eggs for use over the winter, I've heard they aren't great for breakfast but fine for baking.


  1. I leave lights on 24/7. Figure if I'm feeding them, they'd better contribute. Just my opinion.


  2. Totally agree Bon! It costs me $22 for a 40Kg bag of chicken feed, and they can go through that in a few weeks (more if the goats get in the coop!). They'd better be paying me back for all that money!

    Was talking to one of our customers yesterday and she mentioned she got an egg that tasted different because it was from one of the older hens. I've had them too, they are a little watery and just not as yummy. Fine for baking, but just another reason to cull the oldies.

    Unfortunately I haven't quite figured out who our oldies are yet! Time for a food-dye test after the holidays, and we'll be having some chicken soup.
    (Food-dye test would be putting some food dye on their vents, so it will dye the eggs slightly)