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Winter Lighting

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by OSDad, Aug 12, 2016.

  1. OSDad

    OSDad Out Of The Brooder

    Jun 28, 2016
    Nova Scotia, CANADA
    I have installed a light on a timer in my coop to help with winter egg production.

    Once the days get shorter, what should the timing be on the light.

    I want to produce eggs but don't want to get their natural clocks all out of whack.

    Our shortest day in the winter is sunrise at 08:00 with sunset at 16:30.

    How long and when should I be having this light on.

  2. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener Chicken Obsessed

    Nov 7, 2012
    You should gradually increase the light until they are getting a total of 14 hours/day. "they say" that the light should be added to the front end of the day so the chickens have a natural sunset to make it easier for them to go to perch at night. But, for 2 years, I've given light at the back end of the day, and have found that they adjust very well and they "know" when lights go out, and are on perch before lights out every night. I would need to have the light go on at 2:30 AM to give them 14 hours if I provided all extra light at the front end of the day. No thanks! I do not want a roo crowing at 2:30 AM, and I'm sure my neighbors don't want it either. So, I have lights go on at 6 AM, off at 10 AM, back on at 3:30 PM, and off at 8 PM. I do let them go through a bit of day time decrease, and their laying slows down. I start light in October, with gradual increase to the 14 hour period. ("They say" to start it when the day length decreases to 14 hours.) I use a 7 watt CFL in my 10 x 12 coop.
  3. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler! Premium Member

    Nov 27, 2012
    SW Michigan
    My Coop
    Start now...keeping the 'daylight' at 14-15 hours.
    You can find a chart online(I use dateandtime.info) showing sunrise data to keep your timer adjusted.
    IMO, it's best to have light coming on in early morning so they can go to roost with natural sunset.
    Never had a problem with cock crowing, but I sleep hard and live rural.....
    ....and I like seeing the glow of the coop in the winters dark mornings(will miss that).

    BUT after 3 winters using lights I have decided not to use them this winter.
    Last winter most all the older birds (2014 hatch) molted and stopped laying anyway.
    Year before, most older birds laid all winter then molted in spring and summer, so lost production anyway.
    First winter was my first and most birds were older, purchased a starter flock of 18mo and 4mo, and I started the lights late, like end of September.

    It's hard to fool Mother Nature. Most pullets will lay all winter anyway and most 18mos will molt in fall.

    I have evolved my chickeneering to keep some older(18mo) and some pullets over each winter.
    My population capacity dictates that all older hens and extra hatched cockerels are harvested for meat before winter sets in, the cockerels go at 13-16 wks and the older hens after the pullets are all laying.
    It will be interesting to see how that works out over the next couple winters with no lighting.
  4. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    I’m tempted to have fun with LG and Aart this morning but I’ll behave. There is nothing magic about a 14 hour day for chickens laying. A lot of commercial operations that control the light environment use 14 hours because it fits there management methods, but there is nothing that makes it right for all of us.

    What caused the general molt in the fall north of the equator and in the spring south of the equator is the days get shorter, or technically the nights getting longer. Feathers wear out and need to be replaced. The spring and summer are the best months for chickens to raise chicks. We’ve domesticated them so the cycle is messed up a bit, that’s why pullets and some hens lay so much in winter, but they still follow a general pattern. A typical year for a hen is that they lay eggs in the spring and summer, then quit laying eggs and molt in the fall, using the nutrients they were using for egg production to grow new feathers. Then when the days get longer in the spring they start laying again. It doesn’t matter if you are in Nova Scotia where there is a huge difference in length of day and night or so near the equator that there never 14 hours of darkness, chickens generally follow the same pattern. The nights start getting longer after the summer solstice where you and I are.

    What triggers the molt is not a specific number of hours of darkness, it’s the nights getting longer. Some chickens start the molt earlier than others. I don’t know what it will be for your flock, you may find that different chickens start the molt at different times. September seems normal for mine but I occasionally have one start earlier (especially broody hens raising chicks) and sometimes they wait until later. It’s fairly common for pullets just coming into lay in late summer/early fall to skip the molt entirely their first fall/winter and continue to lay until the following fall. But not all do that, some molt their first fall/winter. Some hens start laying right after they finish the molt, even in the dead of winter. Some wait until the spring days when the nights are getting shorter and the days are getting warmer. About the only thing consistent with chickens is that they are inconsistent. They don’t all do the same thing.

    Since you want to stop the nights from getting longer and keep them laying this winter, you need to pick a time then provide lights that will keep the day length the same until the natural lighting in the spring matches your chosen length of day. If you stop the extra lights before that you risk triggering a molt in the spring when production should be climbing toward a peak. I know I’m using weasel words like “risk triggering a molt” or “might”, but you are dealing with living animals, their behaviors don’t come with guarantees. We can tell you typical behavior but there are always exceptions. Whether you decide to extend daylight at the start of the day, end of the day, or both is up to you. As you can see from LG and Aart different people do it differently for their own reasons. Any way can work. What’s easiest for you?

    I do not use lights to extend the laying period, I let them molt. I usually have pullets that lay through the winter so I’m getting eggs anyway without lights. That didn’t work last winter but it usually does. I will put lights on after the winter solstice to help kick-start them laying in the spring. I want hatching eggs in February so it’s nice if some of the older hens are laying eggs to go in the incubator. I’ll add about 15 minutes every two to three days in the morning until I’ve added about an hour and 15 minutes, then leave the timer working until sunrise matches when they come on. Then I turn the lights off. There is nothing magical about the way I do it, it’s just the way I do it because it’s easier for me. It doesn’t always kick start all of them either. The effect is not instantaneous. They have to make changes to their internal egg making factory, taking it from dormant to production mode. This can take a month or so.

    Chickens can lay for a long time without a break, but eventually they get worn out. For commercial operations with their hybrid egg laying machines that is normally around 13 to 14 months. I suspect it will vary for out flocks. After a certain amount of time production drops and the egg quality declines. The hens need to molt to recharge their systems. When the production or quality eggs drops to a certain level where it is no longer profitable, the commercial operations have to decide if they will molt their flock and feed them through that period with no egg production or get rid of them and bring in new pullets.

    Even if you maintain the lights you may find that eventually production drops. You may find them molting at strange times of the year. You will sometimes see posts on here about production dropping at peak times of the year or chickens molting out of season. Often those are chickens where light was provided in the winter to keep them laying. Not always, but often. I know I’m using weasel words again but chickens really aren’t that consistent. I’m not opposed to people using lights to keep their hens laying in winter. For many people it’s the right decision. But I think you should be aware of this so you may understand this production drop if you see it.

    There are many different ways to do any of this. Good luck in the way you choose.
  5. duluthralphie

    duluthralphie Chicken Wrangler Premium Member

    Two things:

    If you have a light you are changing their systems. They will be whacked up, if you want winter eggs you have to do that.

    I agree with Arrt. start now if you want eggs all winter. I guess that depends though on your goals. Know if you make them lay eggs all year long you wear them out faster.

    I am a State licensed Hatchery, (NPIP) , I let the light go down now naturally. I do not start using artificial light until around mid/early November depending on the breed. It takes about 2 week of light to get the hens laying eggs again. Remember for hatching it takes the rooster about 4 weeks of light to become fertile again.

    The Breeds the 4h kids want for the fairs I incubate to hatch right after the first of the year. The ones chicken people want I hatch for March/April. Minnesota is not a great place for winter chicks, I have never been to Nova Scotia but I assume your winter is somewhat like ours. (maybe a little warmer and a lot moister)
  6. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener Chicken Obsessed

    Nov 7, 2012
    Poking fun respectfully is always appreciated. I can say that the first winter without supplemental light, I had one of 5 pullets that produced 3 eggs/week. The rest... Nada. They took a break and started laying as days got longer, some time in Feb, as one would expect. so much for "pullets producing through their first winter". I decided to add light b/c I didn't want to feed them for extended periods w/o getting eggs in return. And, yes, as you say, there are trade off's either way. No matter what I do for lighting or not adding lighting, it seems there is one foolish bird in my flock who chooses to blow all of her feathers at once in the dead of winter. If her naked carcass were placed in the refrigerator case at Hannaford, she would have been much warmer there than in my coop.
  7. duluthralphie

    duluthralphie Chicken Wrangler Premium Member

    I have that same crazy bird or two that decided to go naked in January. Silly things!
  8. Intheswamp

    Intheswamp Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 25, 2009
    South Alabama
    Er, I think by involving artificial light there is no way that you won't "get their natural clocks all out of whack."....that's what the lights are for, to keep them from going into the natural cycles of molting, rest, and renewal. Putting light on them will indeed mess with their clocks. Is consistent, regular egg production your goal? Are you planning on replacing hens on a regular cycle, maybe every couple of years? If the answer to both those questions are "yes" then artificial lighting will work for you. If, on the other hand, you want to get 4 or 5 years of service out of your hens then giving them a natural (molt) rest will help them stay productive for a longer period of time, albeit there will be times of low-production during molts. Chickens have a physiological need to molt, a need that has been there for ages. Running with lights or going the natural molt cycle...it all depends on your husbandry style and what you desire to achieve from keeping chickens.

    Here's some google search results regarding winter lighting for hens. Good articles both for and against artificial lighting. https://www.google.com/?ion=1&espv=2#q=lighting laying hens winter

    Best wishes,
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2016
  9. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler! Premium Member

    Nov 27, 2012
    SW Michigan
    My Coop
  10. Cindy in PA

    Cindy in PA Overrun With Chickens

    Jul 8, 2008
    Fleetwood, PA
    This again is not what I have seen over 20 years. I was taught to start lighting here August 15th when it hits 14 hours. I gradually increase it until I get to about 15 hours. I normally get my chickens in the beginning of April, they start to lay by the end of August & molt the following year from September-November. Of course there are exceptions, but I have never had chickens fail to molt in the fall even when using lights & the lights benefit the ones who continue to lay or come back into lay. They don't all flip a switch & molt the same time. I am debating on when to turn on the lights this year. I got pullets last year & they started to lay the end of May. They have slowed down from 12/12 per day to 8-11/12 per day, so I know they are close to molting. I may wait until the end of August & see how it goes.

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