Friday, January 14, 2011

Question- Winter Egg Laying

My curiosity is getting the better of me and I have a question for all you chicken raisers.

Do you give your chickens artificial light in the winter? Why? And how do you think it affects egg laying?

Here is why I ask.

About everything I've ever read about raising chickens for egg laying says that you'll need to give supplemental lighting during the short days of winter to keep up egg production. It is one point that everyone seems to agree on - except two people.

My dad never gave his chickens light during the winter and he always had plenty of eggs. He did design a chicken coop with large windows low to the floor for lots of sunlight.

Gene Logsdon, in one of his books (forget which one), claims that the legend of chickens needing supplemental lighting was begun by the electrical companies to persuade reluctant farmers to attach their farms "to the grid".


Our chicken coop is out in our pasture and not near an electrical source. Our coop is a garden shed that we retrofitted for chickens by cutting large holes for windows and small hole for a door. 


Last year was our first year to have chickens. We had a small flock of heritage breed hens and they drastically cut back their laying in the winter. But we were expecting it and really weren't alarmed and they picked up laying again in the spring.

This year we have eight sex-link hens, a commercial type breed. They are young birds, only begun laying in October so they are in the prime of life. Nearly every day for the past three months, we have received eight eggs from these hens. Occasionally, we get only seven. The two old heritage breed hens that we keep as pets lay eggs occasionally as well. Since the breeds lay a different color egg, we know who laid what.


We have given them no light but sunlight. Their coop is uninsulated. We have experienced very cold weather this winter and every morning my husband has to dump the ice out of their water. They are fed grain in the coop. If there isn't snow on the ground (these girls hate snow) we let them out to run free in the afternoon. They relish the food scraps in the compost pile and try to steal cat food.


I'm just wondering what other's experience is. I don't think we could get any better egg laying production. Do we just have extra hardy hens? Or is supplemental lighting truly unnecessary? Of course, in commercial laying houses, lighting is necessary since no sunlight is available. But I'm talking about the home folks.Thanks for helping my curiosity!

And, yes, we are getting over run in eggs! We can't eat eight eggs a day. But it is a great "problem"  as everyone loves receiving a gift of fresh eggs.

Photos are of our five year old who presently has the chicken feeding/egg gathering job. The wire egg basket and coonskin hat are treasured gifts from his grandparents!

36 comments :

  1. Gina, I have more egg customers than eggs. If you ever need to get rid of some I will pay you $1.50 per doz. Jane

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  2. I have eight hens throughout the winter. One batch are just over a year old the the other batch not quite a year. I bought then as layers different times of the year and have not had a day yet without an egg. I do keep a light on 24/7 Nov-Feb in the coop just a regular light on the ceiling. Our coop is not insulated as it is actually the old milk tank house, made of cement blocks. The water freezes and has to be replenished three times a day. I find that when they lack water they slow down on egg production. Right now I get 7 eggs a day.

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  3. My thoughts and a disclaimer...LOL! We do not live in a cold climate, we are in the deep south. That was the disclaimer ! We don't give our chickens extra light during the cold weather and we still get a pretty good amount of eggs. Not like warm months though. I have never thought about it but I tend to agree with that fellow, the writer, that it was a way to entice the old farmers to put their land on electricity.

    We do like to give them a little handfull of oatmeal (raw, uncooked) each day for a little extra treat.

    Cute pics.

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  4. Gina, Jane again. Maybe you don't have enough extra that it's worth the hassle getting them to us. I'm sure you could probably sell them there too.

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  5. Interesting post and question! This is our first year having chickens, so I am definitely not an expert. We have actually had them only since September--we got them free and have 3 mixed breed (reddish color) and one spotted Sussex. They are all less than a year old. They're excellent layers and we usually get 4 eggs/day, although sometimes only 3. (The Sussex only started laying last month, so we get less eggs from her so far.) We live in NH--it's COLD right now and the coop is uninsulated. My hubby read up on raising chickens and decided to put a light in there for the winter months. I *think* it is just a regular light bulb, and it comes on from around 4:30 pm to 8 pm. So far their egg production has not slowed down at all. We do keep their water heated as well; maybe that helps? We have some friends who have chickens (in the same area as us) and theirs usually slow down a lot in the winter, but I've never thought to ask if they have a light or not. I'll be interested to hear what others have to say!

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  6. Oh yes, and forgot to mention--our hens hate snow, too! Our rooster and the spotted Sussex hen (aka "Josie Pye") are the only ones that will venture outside of the coop right now, but they stay on the perch. Josie actually went out twice in the snow but then seemed to kind of panic and we ended up carrying her back into the coop. Silly hen! :)

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  7. We supplement with light because that's just what you *do*. To be honest, I don't think that it makes much of a difference. We're at 4/day from 15 hens or more. I think the golden comets are the only ones laying. Our new SL Wyandottes were in isolated with a Barred Rock (4 birds) and not one of them laid for a week, but they could have been on strike because of confinement.

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  8. Hi Gina, Our chickens are keeping up quite nicely this winter. We do not add light, because like you, our chicken house is not close to the house. We live in S. Central Pa. and it has been quite cold and there is a little snow in the chicken yard so they don't venture outside very far. Their main feeder is outside the exit hole so I try and keep the snow away from that area. They have 2 large windows in front for adequate daytime light. We have a variety of chickens (30), some old some young. We have 5 young leg horns that are white egg laying machines. I get 5 white eggs everyday and one day I even got 6. Not sure how that happened. We have plenty of eggs and I even sell about 5 dozen a week, and give some away.

    Love the hat and basket. Might have to get me some!
    Tammy

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  9. I love hearing feedback from all of you! Thanks so much for sharing!

    Jane,
    At this point we are just having fun giving away eggs since we don't have THAT many extras. The children are loving the egg custard, deviled eggs, and angel food cake. But if I ever have way too many, I'll keep you in mind.
    Gina

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  10. I live on the southern Oregon coast and we have 30 hens of various breeds, all 3 years or younger. My lowest day this winter was 6 eggs, my highest was about 18, I think. We have a large window in the coop and it's not insulated. I have thought about putting a light with a timer hooked up to a solar panel since we don't have electric out there. I do believe it will help on production and since I sell my eggs, every little bit helps.

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  11. I have eight hens right now, and it has been really cold here in TN too..our hens must be on strike because they have stopped laying altogether. My hens are red buff crosses, they are great broody hens but not winter egg layers. We also feed grain in the coop and let our hens our when snow isn't on the ground, mainly because we have lost 14 due to varmits. Our coop is not insulated either and has a big window in the top, we do put shavings in the bottom for the hens, are they are usually allowed out daily. So our hens have stopped completly, I am wandering if it has to do with the breed of hen? I would LOVE to be able to get my hens to lay in the winter, but at this time I don't want to do a light. I am wanting to build a new coop this bring maybe with the winter months in mind to keep our hens in production. I thought too maybe they were just scared to death because of varmits not sure yet! LOL As of now though we are buying eggs :(, but hopefully Lord willing in warmer weather we will have farm fresh eggs.
    What do you feed yours?
    Joy

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  12. Gina,
    We live in the deep South, Ms., and have 13 layers. In Dec. we are lucky to get one egg a day. However, now they are starting to pick up. They have always done this. I do think it has to do with the light but we choose not to supplement the light because we figure this is the natural way God made them. Obviously they need the break. Ours also, molt during the winter and we feed scratch grain instead of laying mash. We are about to start back mixing in laying mash.
    I have 25 hens in the brooder right now that are a month old. By spring I will have more eggs than I could ever use. We give the eggs away as a way for us to minister to the Saints. Heb. 6:10

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  13. I am so eager for my city to revise its zoning so I can have backyard chickens!
    Anyway, just wanted to point you over to Thy Hand Hath Provided who did a post recently about her chickens and winter laying.
    http://thyhandhathprovided.blogspot.com/2011/01/eggs-galore-and-send-off.html

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  14. I hadn't ever questioned the 'need' for extra hours of light until your post... what a thought-provoking entry! We are limited to three hens by our city code, so we set up a light for them in order to keep production as high as possible. Even in summer, they couldn't produce enough eggs to keep up with us. When the weather was warm, we got 3 eggs a day; now they're averaging 2 eggs a day, with a one-egg-day every four days or so. Here in the Pacific Northwest, it is pretty gloomy all day. I suspect we have less natural light than other parts of the country that are less blessed with constant winter rains... so we'll keep the light for now. But you definitely added a "Hmmmmm" to my day!
    -Miz Carmen-

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  15. Greetings from Nebraska! We have approx 10 Rhode Island Reds that are 2 years old. This past week when our highs were around 0 we didn't get any eggs... mostly we attribute it to lack of heat and light. Mostly we seem to have some warm days where we get some eggs and thus I don't worry about it, generally we have too many eggs rather than too few. Our coop is not insulated, and we let our chickens "free range" meaning, we already have food out for the cows, so the chicks just head over there to eat and are happy! I've enjoyed hearing what others do... we love having chickens!

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  16. Hi Gina, My husband and I have raised chickens for many years and have never used extra light at night. We always have a slow down in the winter but not too much. Right now we are getting 2 to 3 dozen a day. This is better than years past and the only change has been that we are adding a little apple cider vinegar to their water each day. My egg customers are tickled that we haven't cut back on the eggs they buy.
    Regina

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  17. We only have two chickens right now...they are Rhode Island Reds. They are not laying every day but several times a week. We do not put a light in their co-op as it is made to move around and we like to move them once a week or so. They do free range a bit too.

    Our thinking about the light is that we did not want to disrupt their normal day/night cycle like in commercial egg production.

    I really like your windows near the bottom of the co-op, I am assuming from the photo that it is just screen and not glass, right?

    Thanks for the discussion!

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  18. Gina - we have had chickens for six years now. I have one light bulb in the coop that is on 24/7. Truthfully I don't think it makes much of a difference. Last winter we had days where we only got one or two eggs. I would suspect however, that your productive egg count in this cold weather could be due to the fact that your girls are young and just started laying. In my experience the younger and stronger the hens the more production in those cold months. Our coop is not insulated either, and I have to daily change the "ice" so they have fresh water. They learn very quickly when the warm water is delivered to drink up. :)

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  19. I don't supplement light in the winter, and my egg production goes way down. However, I only have 1 small window in the coop and am far north in the US. I notice a bigger difference from the light, but when it gets real cold (-10) then my egg production goes down also for a couple days (slow production is 3-4 eggs a day from 20 layers). Golden-sex links were my first hen and they also followed this trend their first year. Looks like you don't need to supplement.

    I wonder if they will lay like gangbusters in the spring if they have been laying all winter.

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  20. I don't know anything about chickens, but your little boy looks so happy, made me smile :)

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  21. Hi! I'm in NorthEastern Nevada, we get cold (thanksgiving week had us at -15 nights "warming up" to 10 or so for the days). My coop is uninsulated and I don't have a light in it. I have a mixed flock of 20+, my older gals are Rhode Island Reds and Golden sex-links, two Brown leghorn cross hens (we had a Brown leghorn roo for a while), and my younger gals are buff orps and silver laced wyandottes.
    My guys and gals don't mind the snow, they don't really get a choice, although they do jump through it to get to the horse barn. All winter they have shared hay with the horses and cows.
    Late summer I was getting 12-13 eggs a day, they slowed down to 7 or 8, then moulting began and I was getting 2-5 a day. They are back up to 7 or so a day with the little longer days we've been having.

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  22. If you live in the south and recieve over 10 hours of light (or close) they slow down but will keep laying. If you live in the deep Northern Border like I do, where it's dark from 4pm to 9am, you need to supplement because they will stop producing. Hope that helps.

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  23. Hello, I am what you would call a commercial chicken farmer, and I thought I would let you know that we do provide year round lighting.16 hours per day. Our chickens lay at over 90% year round. A light on a simple timer will improve even a small flock lay rate.

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  24. I love reading all your comments about your chicken flocks! Thanks so much for your input. I'm thinking that our excellent egg production probably has something to do with our breed, the age of our chickens, and the amount of sunlight they are receiving from large windows and free range. I'm trying to keep good records and to compare in future years.

    Thanks!
    Gina

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  25. Here (Australia) home chickens don't usually get given light in winter. It's just an accepted "off season" where they rest and save energy for keeping themselves healthy in the colder months. There are different breeds that lay most or all of the year but the Australian Australorp has an off season in the summer.

    They commonly use lights 24/7 for commercial cage chickens to keep them laying which exhausts them and doesn't lead to good quality eggs.
    My 2 cents :o)

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  26. Well, for what it’s worth here is my 2-cents!

    I have raised chickens, off and on, for more than 20 years. During this time I have learned a lot and am still learning. Here in Texas, we have mild winters so I really do not know if warm or cold makes a difference; however, with this being said, for us light does make a difference.

    When I have a lot of egg customers and need a nice supply of eggs I keep a light on in the chicken house, usually a 100-watt bulb during the evening/night, and we keep their feeder full of grain. The purpose of a light is to keep the chickens eating; if you have a light and no feed they will peck at each other. We feed our hen’s Milo and corn as well as let them roam free during the day.

    When I do not have a lot of egg customers I keep the light off. This year we have cut back on both chickens and egg customers so I do not need as many eggs. Our hen’s lay enough for us during the winter months and any extra are usually sold or given to family and friends.

    Over the years we have had many different breeds. Currently we have 30 Buff Orpington hens and 3 roosters. Some days we collect 2 eggs and some days we collect 14 eggs; you never know what you will find in the egg boxes, which makes collecting eggs so fun!

    Patty

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  27. In my opinion it does make a difference about how your coop is set up. I used to have a coop that had a large window and although they cut back laying a little in the winter I still got plenty of eggs then. I now have a very small coop with no window and if I do not supplement with light I get right at no eggs. Although this year I replaced my old layers with new and the new ones (Tractor Supply specials) have been very disappointing in their laying over all anyway. Another thing is when I had the coop with the window I was also able to free range my chickens a lot and I think that also makes a difference.

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  28. Wow! Lots of chicken keepers out there. We've had chickens for quite some time now. My husband reads lots of stuff on chickens from others who keep birds too. Two years ago we decided to keep ducks too. We sell our chicken eggs locally and in order to keep up with demand we do keep a light going in the coop. If we were just providing eggs for ourselves it probably wouldn't be as big a deal. Mr. D has the light on a timer that gives them a 14 hour photoperiod.

    Our coop has deep litter which is emptied out in the spring and added to the compost pile for the following year. The deep litter produces enough heat to keep the coop above freezing for the most part, but it gets pretty rank in there if you get behind on adding new straw or shavings on top. We also have glass underneath the litter to prevent the boards from rotting away from all that manure. That was Mr. D's invention. So far it has worked great and keeps the rats and mice from chewing through also. We actually haven't had too much trouble with rats this winter since our neighbors started keeping poultry as well.

    What affects egg laying the most for us is anything that upsets the girls. After we butcher in the fall, it takes them some time to recover. If they are disturbed by any animals, they may stop altogether. They are used to the dog; she doesn't bother them, but other animals, even the cat gets them going. Mites are also a bother in the hot months so dusting is important. We brought in a new rooster last year and that caused some upset for a few days.

    In the past we had Leghorns, but now we raise Rhode Island Reds. The RIR's do much better in the cold. The Leghorns had a lot of winter damage but were great egg layers.

    Raising chickens can be a tricky business, but a great hobby for kids teaching them much about animal husbandry.

    We have about 30 hens which give us about 6-7 dozen eggs per week, not including the ones we use ourselves. We sell them for $2 - $2.50/dozen which helps curb the cost of feed.

    I have really enjoyed reading all the comments here. It seems keeping chickens has become very popular with the economy tanking and folks looking for ways to feed their families. It can help with the food bill if you are able to supplement a chickens diet with food scraps. This is lots easier during the summer when there are weeds from the garden and bugs for them to eat. In the winter when you feed them mostly layer pellets, it can get expensive. Some feed stores will have damaged bags you can pick up for a little less. If you use hay for bedding they get scratch from that. We save all our vegetable scraps and pick up compost from the local wholesale vegetable place for additional chicken food. Chickens love greens of any type.

    This is turning into a book... sorry.

    Thanks for all who shared comments.

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  29. I think it depends, to some degree, on the breeds and age. You have young production birds that are at their peak laying. But, from all of the time I spend on the backyardchickens.com forum, I know that a lot of people do experience decreased production in the winter without supplemental light. And there is controversy as to whether it is fair to the hens since some argue that their bodies naturally need a break (I'm not sure how that is supposed to work for chickens in tropical settings...).

    I was supplementing light for a few hours in the morning and evening. When it got bitterly cold, I switched to a red heat lamp (which isn't supposed to have the same effect on egg laying). Still, I have had pullets START laying since I went to the red lamp (one this week, even).

    So, yes, I do think supplemental light can help. But if you don't need the extra eggs, I say leave 'em be and the chickens will lay for more of their lives.

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  30. Hi Gina and all who have posted such wonderful info. I have 4 different breeds of hens, red star sex links, white leg horns, rhode island reds and barred rocks. I've had them for more than 2 years. I live in the far north with a short time of long days and long days of dark and cold. I've found through my own records that the sex links are egg laying machines that have a tendency to have reproductive issuues but lay an egg a day for more than a year. The white leghorns are winter hardy, a small bird that lay a good size egg almost daily, the rhode ilsand reds are winter hardy, lay a meduim size egg almost every day, the barred rocks are winter hardy and a heavy breed bird that you can have for either egg or meat procuction, though of my 6 barred rocks, the most I get are 5 eggs a day and they are young. I have winter temps of 30F to -30F and supply no artificial light or heat. I have enjoyed the experiment of the 4 breeds over the past few years and would recommend any of them for northern climate.
    Thanks so much to all who have taken the time to share their personal experience and knowlegde.
    God Bless

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  31. Gina, I'm in central Ohio, have thirteen hens, and no light in the coop. We feed grain and scraps. My young hens started laying in Nov. but I don't think they all are laying yet. On average we get 4-5 eggs/day and up to 7/day. My older ones were molting just as the younger ones started laying so production was down some then. That's plenty for us so we don't use a light. They do need 14 hr. of light to produce an egg and that's why production decreases in the fall/winter months.

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  32. I don't know much about chickens because I've only had my 5 layers for just over a year in Canada. We get very little sun in the winter (it's dark now from about 5:00 - 8:00). In theory, I think the chickens can use a body break from laying for a while and forcing them to lay with unnnatural light doesn't seem quite right. I only light their uninsulated coop when it gets to -20C or colder for the sake of the heat the bulb gives. At that temperature, I have to replace their water a few times a day because it freezes.

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  33. Gina, I've really enjoyed reading your blog posts. I'm trying to learn all I can from others like yourself who are willing to share their knowledge. I'm getting chickens for the first time in a few weeks and I'm so excited. Any suggestions and tips are greatly appreciated. God Bless

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  34. We have had chickens for about 8 years, live in NW Washington and our coop is in the shade of trees.

    What we have found: the first two years are pretty good with laying and it drops off from there. We do keep a light in the coop at night to help get eggs in the winter. We think the darkness has a lot to do with our low egg production in the winter - not so much the cold, God gave them some really good feathers to keep them warm.
    We live in the woods so we get less light than most. We do hope to build a coop more in the sunshine some day soon. This will be our 4th winter with these chickens and last year it cost more to feed them then any money we could have made if selling them.

    **Does everybody pretty much have their coops in all-day sunshine?

    **To those who let them run free: do you have problems with family CATS or DOGS attacking/killing the chickens? (my husband built a very very large run for them that is completed wired in, even the roof. We have wanted to let them run, but our cats might be a problem as they keep all the birds, mice, moles, voles, squirrels from our gardens and flower bed. Was wondering how they would do with the chickens. Our Labrador just herds them if they get out. We just got a boxer and don't know about her, but she can be trained pretty easy.

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  35. Our four remaining hens have just stopped laying, almost two months now. We have had them about a year: 1 rock island red, a white buff cochin, two Polish (1 white crested, 1 golden). Our Wyandotte just died about a month ago - got bandy legs, hobbled around a bit, and passed away. Similar age. They all stopped laying after that but seem healthy. Any ideas?

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  36. Greetings!

    We use a light, because one year our Buff Orpington chickens completely stopped laying. We tried all kinds of stuff and then someone told me to put a light out there. I did and within a week they slowly started laying, again. So, now we do it year round. We have the lights on a timer. We use a couple of very low wattage compact flourescents. I believe it is also related to breed. Some need lights and some don't. :-)

    In Christ,

    Ginny

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I'm still learning how to be a joyful homemaker and I'd love to hear from you!

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