Chickens & Winter Egg Laying and Lighting

It’s common for people to give their chickens light in the winter, or even all year round. Some chicken-owners aren’t so sure. Here’s a look at...
By StarLover21 · Nov 23, 2012 · Updated Jan 15, 2013 · ·
  1. StarLover21
    Chickens and Winter Egg Laying & Lighting


    It’s a question commonly asked among chicken owners; especially around this time of year. Why aren’t my chickens laying? Do they need light in the winter?

    It’s common for people to give their chickens light in the winter, or even all year round. Some chicken-owners aren’t so sure. Here’s a look at both sides to help you make a decision.

    ~Yes- it helps increase egg production!~

    If you especially care about production, light is the way to go. There are many studies that have proven that, in almost every case, when light is added there is a significant increase in egg production. Chickens are ‘told’ to produce eggs by their endocrine system, a system of different glands and organs that produce hormones. As the daylight hours shorten in winter, changes in these hormones shut down egg production. Adding additional light triggers the endocrine system into action, causing them to produce more eggs. Continuously giving chickens light in the winter fools their bodies into thinking that the days aren’t getting shorter at all.

    Why do chickens stop laying in the winter?
    Most chickens produce eggs at the fastest rate when there is a better chance their offspring will survive to maturity. Chicks clearly would not survive as well in cold weather. For a chicken, that gives them no reason to lay eggs in the winter, so their bodies automatically shut off egg laying for the colder months.

    Installing the light (how and when)
    If you have decided to install a light, please keep in mind that lights can also be potential fire hazards. Don’t put them where the chickens can knock them down. This may create a fire that could burn down the coop and the chickens.

    With that said, if you are only installing a light for the winter, it can actually be a good idea to get one that also gives off heat, depending on your climate. Chickens in warmer areas can be fine without heat lamps, although they may be helpful in colder climates or for younger birds.

    You can either leave the light on 24/7 to provide constant warmth and light, or you can install a timed light. If you choose to use a timed light, you want to ensure that your chicken gets 14 hours of total light. It’s usually advised to give them the light in the early morning hours. If you do choose to let it come on at night, the main side effect may be that you have more afternoon layers.
    An example of a well secured red light

    Red or White Light?
    In general it is advised to use red light, but there are arguments that either work. Red light is more soothing for a chicken, and helps allow them to sleep. As you could imagine, chickens probably won’t want a bright white light shining on them, especially if you are leaving it on all day/night. I’ll discuss additional advantages of red light in the next section.

    Benefits of Using Red Light
    There are several studies that show additional benefits of using red light. In general it is said to reduce cannibalism, be calming to the chickens, and reduce pecking problems.
    This is one article I found particularly interesting on red light:

    What happens when chickens see red?
    “A company* that markets red contact lenses for chickens (at 20 cents a pair), points to medical studies showing that chickens wearing red-tinted contact lenses behave differently from birds that don't. They eat less, produce more and don't fight as much. This decreases aggressive tendencies and birds are less likely to peck at each other causing injury. A spokesman said the lenses will improve world egg-laying productivity by $600 million a year.
    (Perhaps everything looks red and they cannot distinguish combs, wattles, or blood. Or ...perhaps the chickens are happier because they're viewing the world through rose colored glasses.)”

    While this study may seem a little far-fetched, red can make an impact in egg laying. Several other credible chicken books also mention the benefits of red light.

    Note: If you do choose to use a red light, or even if you choose white, it is advised not to switch back and forth. This can further stress out the chickens and lead to drops in egg production.

    Now that we’ve covered the advantages of using lighting, let’s look at the negative arguments of the issue.

    ~No- let nature take its course!~

    Why should we add artificial light?

    Most chicken owners aren’t running commercial operations. If all you really want is production, production, production, then it may make sense to add additional lighting, but if your chickens are pets, why not just let nature take its course?

    Chickens deserve (and need) a rest
    Let’s face it: chickens aren’t egg machines. Egg laying is stressful on a chicken, and it takes a lot of work for chickens to pump out eggs daily. Even humans get time off from their jobs; why not chickens? Winter is a chicken’s time to naturally shut down and rest from laying eggs all summer long. Don’t they deserve a break?

    Providing additional light is taxing in the long run
    If you force a bird to lay during the cold months by triggering her endocrine system with extra light, you can also shorten her laying longevity. To quote
    “Since a hen is born with all of the eggs she can produce in her life already inside her, if you intend to keep your hens for their entire life then you aren't gaining anything in the long run by providing extra light for them, but you will be able to get a supply of eggs during the winter months.”

    The article goes on to talk about the potential health hazards of forcing your chickens to lay during the winter, especially if you are forcing them to lay when they really need to rest, for example when they are molting.

    While many people advise using lights, there is also a general acknowledgment that this can actually be harmful for their health, and stop them laying sooner. You can use artificial light and get a burst of eggs for a short amount of time, or let nature take its course, and allow the chicken to lay naturally throughout her life. For example, I have a seven year old red star that has never had artificial light, and she still lays. As a whole, lighting can actually have a negative impact in the long run for your flock. Unless you only care about production, you may have healthier chickens by letting them lay naturally.

    As long as you have healthy, happy chickens, you should still get some eggs in the winter. Make sure to also ensure that your chickens are mite and worm free, as these can lead to drops in egg laying as well. If you care especially about getting eggs in the winter, but don’t want to use lighting, you can also look into getting some more winter hardy breeds that are known to lay better, such as the Salmon Faverolle and Easter Egger.

    In conclusion, it’s really your decision. Are you raising birds mainly for production, or keeping them as a flock of fluffy pets? Hopefully you’ll be able to make the perfect decision for your individual flock. I hope this article has helped you with that decision.

    NOTE: (credit/thanks to gickelvolk)

    Should you decide to use a light BE CAREFUL OF THE LIGHT YOU CHOOSE!!!
    "Industrial Duty" and "Break-Free" bulbs have a TOXIC coating (generally a Teflon) on them to prevent shattering upon breakage. The bulb emits a gas from the coating and it is DEADLY to poultry.

    Share This Article

Recent User Reviews

  1. sprede
    "Great info"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Oct 10, 2018
    As a new backyard chicken farmer I found this extremely helpful. I am choosing to let nature take it's course and give my lady's a break.
  2. Shannonw1228
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Oct 9, 2018
    Enjoyed reading this and hearing good ad bad of light or no light
  3. Natrgrl326
    "6 of one, half dozen of the other"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Oct 7, 2018
    I didn't think about the fact that chickens have all the eggs they'll produce already inside. Makes sense to me to let them lay eggs naturally. Interesting article on both sides


To make a comment simply sign up and become a member!
  1. francel
    Well! I got it ! good article
  2. francel
    Well! I got it ! good article
  3. BirdaMay
    I was recently getting ready to install lighting and the thought crossed my mind to maybe let them rest as nature intended. Since rest seems to elude me, and I'm a world-class insomniac, my decision was clear after reading your article. No light for my birds! I will not over-tax their sweet little chicken bodies! My flock and I will seek to remain in harmony with nature. Thanks for the great article, and so timely in when it was published!
  4. BY Bob
    Living in PA, I have a hen, Patsy, that laid all through the winter, including the big blizzard. However, once it got hot this summer, she stopped laying completely. Now that fall has arrived and temps have fallen, she is laying again. My other two hens layed all summer long. I love how each is so different.
      NancyNurseCxMama likes this.
  5. chicknmom
    Something that played into my decision on whether or not to add supplemental lighting is that, in areas where the daylight changes are less dramatic than in WA state, chickens lay year-round naturally, with no apparent impact to their health.
  6. AnthonyFlock
    Great article! We were on the fence about additional lighting , especially for safety reasons. We decided to add light anyway but ordered a mr beams remote controlled battery operated light to remedy possible fire hazards ( and eliminate our need for electricity in the coop!). No heat in this coop, even with below zero temps. Proper winter preparation is all that's needed for almost any climate (and the right breeds). We'll be eating our birds when they stop laying so we aren't really concerned with longevity, just health. Now, however, I'm toying with the idea of putting clear, red tape over the lense. Thanks for the info!
  7. Dave from Maine
    I used light the first winter I had chickens. I started with an energy efficient light and I too frozen eggs from the nest boxes. When I switched to a red heat lamp It kept the eggs from freezing but my electric bills went way up. There are other people on my road with chickens who sell eggs. It's less expensive to buy my winter eggs from them than it is to heat my chicken coop. If I could check the nest boxes during the day I could gather eggs before they freeze but I leave for work before the girls start laying.
  8. 222danette
    Enjoyed the article, thank you. It cleared up some questions I had about lifelong egg production.
  9. Balloonjuice
    Thanks for the article -- though I'm coming to it late. My chickens are not pets; they are strictly for laying eggs. I do sell the eggs at a farmer's market. Plus, when the hens quit laying they will end up in somebody's freezer. So if your situation varies from that you may decide not to use artificial lighting. After I decided to use artificial lighting, here is the approach I took.

    I mounted 2 florescent fixtures on the ceiling, attached to an outdoor switch (i.e. weatherized). I installed F32T8 tubes in each of the fixtures (a total of 4 32 watt, 4 foot tubes). The tubes are all "full spectrum" light (5000 K). My son helped me install a timer inside the weatherized switch. We had to use a couple of extensions in order to get all the wire nuts to fit inside. The particular timer we used had a total of 18 possible programs, but we used only two of them. The lights are set to come on at 6:00 AM and go off at 8:00. Then they come on again at 5:00 PM and go off at 8:30. Between the artificial daylight and the natural daylight the hens are seeing 14 1/2 hours a day.

    This was a recent project, so I do not have a lot of data to share so far. But here is what I have:

    On November 1st, my production began to drop until in bottomed at 40% on Nov. 3rd (I had been getting about 80% production by which I mean 8 eggs for every 10 hens). After installing the lighting my production moved to 60% then to 70%, which is where it presently is. As I wrote above, my data are limited at this point.

    I should add that I also began offering the chickens BOSS at the same time. It may be that with the increased oil and protein from the BOSS plus the lighting we are getting the results that we are getting. Anyway, I hope that I have added something to the conversation.
  10. judykarlson
    Good article! Helped me since i have 4 hens and only one is laying Thank you!
  11. ChixWelcome
    This will be my first winter with 15 chicks, don't plan on using a heat lamp since our winters in NC are usually mild. However, from the day we moved the girls into "the big house" we've used a solar light on the inside to help get them into the coop each evening before the door closes. Fairly simple, provides enough light but not too much, and no power needed. The solar panel is on top of the coop, small cords (which I secured with staples) run to each light and attaches up to three lights. Even with some dim lighting there has been a decrease in daily egg count.
  12. kathrynmary
    This is my first winter with my 7 hens. I installed the plexiglass and plywood panels for insulation from the cold and wind. . But, in Minnesota it is not unusual to get -20-30 degrees esp at night. So I have installed a red light which I am keeping on 24-7. I am now going to put a small space heater in the run area to keep it warmer for them during the day when they are out of the inclosed resting and nesting area. I hope this will also help keep the water from freezing which it has once already. When I open the run for them if it is too cold they do not come out at all. Smart birds. I am getting about 4-5 eggs a day since 2 are not laying at all yet. One of the reasons I decided to keep the chickens even in the winter is that they have really just started to lay and it doesn't seem right to butcher them when they have many years of a good life left.
      TLCMidMichigan and Olgab311 like this.
  13. Silver Silkie
    Thanks for this article. It is very helpful!
  14. tcstoehr
    "Egg laying is stressful on a chicken, and it takes a lot of work for chickens to pump out eggs daily." I very much doubt this. I think it's just a normal and natural process that they don't even have to think about.
    I also think is wrong in suggesting that hens run out of eggs. That isn't the reason they stop laying.
  15. Phoenixxx
    Regarding rough service bulbs: the one I use is safe, teflon-free; yes, I did confirm with the manufacturer. It is "Ruff-lite" by AGS. Do not confuse with "tough light" as I've read that that kind IS coated with teflon.
  16. Dizzydog
    It doesn't take much to encourage egg laying. I have a very small coop (4'x4'). I found that even a 4 watt night light on a timer is enough to keep them laying through the winter. Just need 14-16 hours.
  17. Herdcutter
    Very good article! Thanks! Helps me make a better decision about artifical light.
  18. Lori Marie
    We have a barred rock & a black australorp and the BA started laying a few weeks ago and she is still laying an egg every other day. There is snow on the ground today and we have had such freezing cold weather here in Post Falls, Id but it doesn't seem to bother her. She is such a good layer.I am very surprised that she hasn't stopped already for winter. I do not want to use lights because I feel it's best to let them do what's natural and not mess with that. They can take a break during winter then start laying in the spring again. Just my thoughts on it .
  19. VKat
    Thanks so much for this article that sums up points so concisely. We are trying to make smart choices since this is our first winter with chickens.
  20. N F C
    Best explanation of lighting pros & cons I've seen. Very informative. Thank you!
  21. sssharon
    Well, I am really not sure. Most of my chickens don't mind the cold. I should have turned the light on for the ones that don't like it. My Welsummer that was supposed to be a cold hardy bird hated it and I should have paid more attention to her. My Sebright I brought in yesterday is at death's door so I would say if you are in a cold climate a heat lamp is good. It's hard for me to use one with the majority loving the cold.
  22. Americano Blue
    i sell eggs so i might need a light in winter. but it won't be on 24/7. i do agree they need the weekends off lol
  23. cackleberrycam
    Great article!! Thank you!
  24. blondizsmilz
    Great article and so informative! Thanks so much. We have a 250w red heat lamp in the top of our coop. Not for production, but to keep our babies warm with these horrible cold temperatures we've been having. Our neighbors down the street didn't heat their coop and lost 4 of their chickens and their rooster got frostbite on his comb. I emailed him your article in hopes to help educate him. Thanks again!
  25. Alaskan
    I use no light, and no heat, and this winter no heated water, and my chickens are in a dark shed with a run on the North side (so not lots of light), and I live at lat. 59, so very little light in general.

    My leghorn pullets have been laying almost every single day, all fall and winter. The other breeds have not been so great. But, now that the days are increasing, we are up to 5 and a half hours of light, my Marans have started to lay.

    Note that 5.5 hrs is very short, but since the length of the days has increased so much since Dec. 21, it was enough to get the Marans to start laying. The Marans are pullets, and weren't old enough to start laying before fall and darkness set in. So, lights all fall probably would have helped them start laying sooner.
      Olgab311 likes this.
  26. Shabana
    We go with nature here.
    In the UK it's not terribly severe, we are hovering around freezing at the moment but it will get lower this month. Certainly there's no need to heat we just tarp our runs use extra bedding and straw in the runs and keep them dry and draft free.
    I don't mind the drop in egg production at all. We don't sell them, just give to family and friends, so over this period we still have enough.
    Our hens and roos have a home with us for life and so I'd much rather they had their rest and were healthier as a result and therefore hopefully will live longer.
  27. Sunny Chicks
    Im not sure on the wattage of my red heat lamp, but it's the same one I used when my pullets were chicks. It's their first winter, and I live in Massachusetts, so I get a good amount of winter weather. My chickens seem completely fine with the red light and seem to be fine with sleeping. Although I have noticed a pullet or two in the nesting boxes at times when they'd normally be on the roost sleeping. This post was really helpful and gave me a bit to think about for in the future and using a lamp next winter.Because it's their first year I dont care about egg production either.
  28. MyPetNugget
    Great Article!!!
  29. TERRY4
    We do NOT have any lights on in the coop and still get a good amount of eggs, from our 6 hens. It helps to feed a good diet and give them a nice draft free coop. IMO. I give layer crumbles, not pellets, greens a few times a week, cold days/nights get cracked corn and oats twice a day for a snack, and even butternut squash we grew in the summer. We kept some back in the cooler part of our house. I slice one open and lay it out in the coop, or outside on a warmer day.
  30. chickendales
    lights are a must i do not heat but lights are a must for me and silkies go broody 1\2 the year so any time i can get eggs i do
  31. chickendales
    i love my chickens and to have show birds for fall i have to hatch all winter long
    I am in the process of building a coop housing the nesters inside of the garage with an already window passage to the outside area. It faces east in the am until 10 am and then the south sun comes into the garage on the other side til evening. I am planning on the bigger run on the north side of house or east side of the garage. Being as how two windows already exist on the south side of the garage, I am planning my coop to be rolled from the coldest area of the garage to the warmest area during the winter with lots of day time sun and heat on that side. I won't be letting them out much in coldest weather anyway. My question is do I still put a light in there to be on from dusk to 10am when the sun reaches that side during the day? From 11 til 7 that side of the garage will get sun, should I increase the light from 7 to 11?
  33. Joshua G
    Great post and very informative!
  34. Farmboy1200
    Great Article.
  35. Gifa
    Science is wonderful... Through science, humans have gained knowledge of what exactly stimulates a chicken's egg making parts... Knowledge gives us choices. Choices are a wonderful.

    The factory farm model chooses to exploit this knowledge (and their livestock) to maximize and regulate their supply and profits.

    The entire reason I chose to start keeping a small flock of hens... is so I can stop supporting the factory farm model... As such it does not make sense for me to exploit that knowledge (or my hens) in the same way. So I choose to allow nature to take its course.

    Chickens do not *need* supplemental lighting. They exist happily with natural lighting... It is the humans who *want* their chickens to lay eggs during their natural off time who *need* supplemental lighting.
  36. Connie Winner
    Great article!! Nice to have both sides to something for a change, in general! I have always let my chickens do it the way THEY were created. I still get about 4 eggs a day out of 13 hens... and I do have Easter Eggers. But if I didn't get any... that's OK too!! People that breed horses do the same light thing. They want the foal to be born in January...ummmm.... the natural way is in summer months. But people have to be in competion in early spring so the baby needs to be born in jan to get ready. Horse racers called their horses the next year older on Jan. 1st, regradless of the birthday. Can't be a year old when you are born in August!! Human interferance isn't always the right thing to do with what is designed to do otherwise! Happy chickens are happy eggers!! LOL
  37. fireflyhatchery
    Best advice I have seen so far! The topic of Red vs. White light is very interesting. I have always been one to use red light because it gives the chickens just enough light to see but not be aggresive.
      Sue Bennard likes this.
  38. Shabana
    We will have our first winter this year with our chickens. We have decided to keep them as close to nature as possible. Their coops are draft free and well ventilated and when they are not ranging their runs will be tarped and have wind breaks. We are not artificially heating or lighting and will let them have the break they deserve
  39. bahman
    it was very helpful for me.
    but you can add the marandi breeds (azarbaychan marand - gara marand) to your coop if you want eggs in winter.
    see the " old breeds marandi (gara marand) Activity in this site or my page and my Photos in this site.
    they are very beautiful and good egg layers in winter
  40. heyjo167
    Great information! Thank you to all!
  41. troy4
    well they may feel wet and when their wet they normally don't lat
  42. TOP KNOT
    I live in Illinois, and I decided to add a regular 100 watt white light in the coop in the morning with a timer. A few extra hours in the morning to make a 14 hour lighted day. What about the people that have chickens in say Alaska? It has super long days or no daylight at all.
  43. CountryGeorge
    I am letting my ladies go with the season and take as much of the winter as they want off. There is a light in their coop that I could leave on as long as I wanted to but I would rather they have a long life than I have a lot of eggs all the time. They deserve a break.
  44. MamaDoodle
    This was well written, and especially since I use chickens for eggs, I really enjoyed reading this. I have been using a floodlights at night for predators, so now it will stay on and have further use.
  45. DuginMT
    I was told that red IR light does not work as supplemental lighting to promote egg-laying, so I set up both a 50W regular bulb and a 75W red IR bulb, on separate timers. I had a pecking problem, so set the red light to come on at about 7:00 PM - 9:30 PM, when they are settling in for the night, and again from 6:30 AM to 8:00 AM, when they are congregating on the coop floor wanting to go out for the day. Their tail feathers are growing back after a month of using the red light. The regular bulb I have coming on at 4:00 AM until sunrise. My 12 young (7-month-old) hens are still laying 9-12 eggs per day, with 10 eggs per day average. If I was convinced the red IR light also works for supplemental lighting, I would turn the white light bulb off.
  46. blackswamp
    I'm installing a light with a timer for my six chickens. That's why I got chickens was for there eggs. It wasn't to feed & clean there poop up everyday.
  47. WhiteLeghorn2
    Good article. However, we don't use lights because it's not nearly as natural.
  48. highaltitudehen
    I agree with the other comment from the folks in Colorado. We have a sharp decline in production, but 80% of our hens are molting, and the nights are already getting below freezing. Seems like I need to wait until Spring to see who is still a good producer and who isn't...despite the use of a heat lamp.
  49. Sam3 Abq
    Great article, very useful info that supports my original plan for my 1st flock in spring 2014 - NO artificial light to lay in winter / Natural way for them to rest and re-COOP their strength for the spring.
  50. llevise
    They should still start laying for you. You most likely won't get very many eggs but there are a few hens/breeds that will still lay pretty good even without light.

    Another reason I have a little extra light in my coop is that I get up very early in the morning. I have to get my chores done then and I don't like to work in the dark, or turn on a light, wake everyone up, and then turn it back off. They have a little LED night light so they aren't completely in the dark all the time. They get up when I get up and go to bed just a little before me. Like my kids did. LOL

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by: