SHOULD YOU LIGHT YOUR CHICKEN COOP IN THE WINTER?
It is only the beginning of January here in New Jersey and we are already wondering, when will our chickens give us eggs again? It's been a while and when you are feeding them daily, it can feel like a lifetime. Are you also wondering when will your girls serve up your breakfast again?
First to note, it is absolutely normal for hens to stop laying or lay fewer eggs in the winter months. Amazingly, a chicken's laying rate is driven by the amount of daylight. As the days grow shorter, particularly under 12 hours per day, hens will stop laying and usually will only lay at their most productive rate when there are 14 to 16 hours of daylight. This means, here in New Jersey, from the months of November to March, there may be very few if any eggs to gather.
The other reason affecting your chickens' laying rate is in Fall or early winter they go through a molt. Molting is when they lose their feathers and grow new ones. It is pretty traumatic on the girls, quite unsightly and requires a lot of protein thus impacting how many eggs they lay.
So what can you do? Perhaps you have heard about adding artificial light to your coop, but should you light your coop in the winter? What are the pros and cons?
CONS TO USING ARTIFICAL LIGHT IN YOUR COOP:
1. Fire Hazard. (Let me say it again - Fire Hazard!)
There is always the potential that a lightbulb could start a fire due to the shavings and activity of the birds.
2. It disrupts the hens' natural behavior.
When you light a coop, you are disturbing the hens' natural reproductive cycle which arguably can be hard on the birds. There is a reason nature allows the birds to rest.
WHAT DO WE DO?
So do we put artificial lighting in our coop in the winter? No, we do not. Perhaps if we were commercial egg growers we would think differently, but to us the potential fire hazard overrides the benefits. We also like the idea that the hens are acting as nature intended which is a priority for how we treat all our animals. And honestly, after months of overflowing eggs (at times, our 8-10 hens and 6 ducks give us over 4 dozen eggs a week), we actually don't mind taking a break from our morning egg routine. We view eggs somewhat like we view our other crops; to be eaten seasonally. (Although admittedly it does seriously irk us when we have to buy eggs and of course we have to buy the most expensive ones because it is the only hope that the chickens are treated well.)
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO EASE THE PAIN OF THE EGG DROUGHT?
Are you still not sold on the no light idea? If so, maybe consider doing one of the following to help you get through the egg drought.
1. When you are inundated with eggs, make bakery items or quiches to freeze as an alternative breakfast option during the lean egg months.
2. Freeze extra eggs. (Although admittedly we are still trying to perfect this process).
3. Dehydrate eggs. (Something we have not personally done but, on the list to try out).
THE HYBRID SYSTEM?
Finally, if you still don't want to go through months of eggless days, maybe adopt a hybrid system. Allow the hens in the Fall to molt and rest through the shortest days of the year and then in January or February (or depending on where you live) add some artificial light to get them laying again. If you do so, time the light to come on in the morning because it is less startling to the chickens then being plunged into darkness at night. By adopting this hybrid system, your hens will get some much needed rest and you will not have to go as long without your fresh backyard eggs.