Friday, November 23, 2012

Ask Bee - Why You Shouldn't Light Your Coop in the Winter

Dear Bee,
My hens’ are not laying very much right now and I read somewhere that lighting the coop (so they have as many hours of light as they do during the summer) will make them lay more through the winter. How do you feel about lighting the coop?

Bee's Answer:

Winter lighting brings up another health subject....melatonin uptake.  Melatonin is only released by the pineal gland in the darkness and will not be stimulate to release if there is any light present...even low lighting.  Many light the coops to stimulate laying throughout the winter and I will give you my take on that as not being a such great idea if you want your chickens to be healthy and have laying longevity. 

A natural slow down for all creatures is needed in the winter months and the all natural approach to animal husbandry takes this into account. The nutrients needed as fuel to stay warm should not necessarily be funneled into forced laying. 

Melatonin is important in preventing reproductive cancers, for increased reproductive health and in good immune system function. 

If you just have production layers that will be replaced in 2 short years, then lighting is the way to go as you have these birds for one reason and do not expect them to last you past the 2 year mark anyway.  At 2 years they can all be culled and you can start a new flock.

But, if you are like me and keep a rolling flock of dual purpose breeds that make their own replacements and are going to be around until they just cannot lay enough to earn their feed, then lighting is probably not a good idea.  You'll want those birds to be as healthy and to lay as long as they possibly can in all the years that you have them.  If so, lighting the winter coop is probably not the best idea.  I've never lit a coop and have always had eggs enough for the family through the winter months... and birds that lay like gangbusters clear up into their senior years. 

If you want eggs through the winter, a good idea is to keep a high production type in the flocks that will go ahead and lay you some eggs for the family during winter slow down.... Rhode Island Reds, Leghorns, New Hampshires and even Black Australorps and White Rocks can do the trick and without anything more than natural light from the winter sun.

Lighting and heat.  Don't do it, never did.  Flock lays supremely in peak season, slows down in the winter and I never needed so many eggs that I had to goose them up to make a little more.  I sell eggs when there are plenty, save them for my family and a few preferred customers when there are few.

Nature is always the best teacher.... if a bird doesn't lay as much in the winter it is because they just shouldn't be doing it then.  Some do, some don't, some will, some can't.

To defray costs when egg money isn't coming in as regularly, I buy whole grains to cut my layer rations.  Goes further, keeps the flock well in the winter but isn't designed for peak laying season nutritional needs.

Heat is provided by God and all His incredible handiwork.... warm, fluffy feathering.  I also use deep litter for the added benefit of floor warmth.  My big coop windows are covered with plastic but the pop door is always open.

Bee -

Leigh Says:

A wonderful question was brought up in our comments section about brooding chicks without light. Of course the best method of all is to allow a broody hen to care for them, but unfortunately that is not always possible.

For those of us who need to brood chicks without a hen, I personally have had wonderful luck using a ceramic heat element like this one :

It fits in the same brooder clamp light as the bulb, but sheds zero light but still keeps chicks toasty warm!

Don't miss our key chain giveaway! See it HERE!

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