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When I first got chickens, about 5 years a go, I was pretty disappointed to learn that in the fall, egg production drops to just about nothing in hens that are a year or older. I quickly ran out and bought a timer and some white Christmas lights, determined to keep those ladies from becoming free-loading feed gobblers.
Every time I
glanced stared out the kitchen windows at dusk, I felt drawn in by the starry white shimmers emitting from within the deep blue barn. It just looked and felt like something special was going to happen. Best nativity scene I’ve ever had!
After a while though, unnatural things always seem to catch up to my consciousness and bother me. Sure enough, google made me face the facts of adding artificial light to the coop:
- Increased stress: fall/winter is a time of renewal for chickens. It would be risky and too energy consuming to raise babies in the cold. It takes energy to replace those feathers and recover from egg production. With our intense heat here in the summer, I need my chickens to be hearty!
- Affects biological rhythms
- Impacts physiology: growth, behavior and reproduction
- Impacts night-time body temperature
- May effect immunity
- Many people believe that artificial light can cause deadly conditions such as ovarian cancer, vent prolapse and egg binding. I haven’t seen research articles proving this, however it would certainly make sense.
Light passes through the eyes and skull of chickens. This then stimulates the hypothalamus, which sends a message to the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland then releases follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which the blood carries to the ovary. The ovarian follicles then produce estrogen. Knowing what we do about too much estrogen, this doesn’t sound good and makes me want to learn more about how light is affecting me!
And then there’s the issue of melatonin. We know that unnatural light can reduce melatonin release in chickens (and humans). Melatonin has been studied for its effects in fighting cancer and improving immune response to name just a couple big roles it plays.
Does it matter?
In my mind, if lighting can have such profound effects on my flock, eating their eggs or meat may have hidden effects on my family. “You are what you eat eats and lives” doesn’t sound as snappy as Michael Pollan’s quote, “You are what you eat eats”… but you get the drift. The better stewards we are, the better the long-term outcome.
Now just to be clear, I’m not suggesting anyone is a bad steward if they are using light in their coop. I just like to err on the side of natural. That’s just where I’m most comfortable. There’s no judgement here, just sharing information so you can make choices that you’re comfortable with based on the facts.
Some of these are pretty obvious but here ya go for completeness sake. 😉
- shattered glass from a broken bulb. NOTE: DON’T USE SHATTER PROOF BULBS. They have a coating that gives off fumes that kill chickens.
- entanglement (string lights)
The other side of the fence
Perhaps you live in a place where you’d never get eggs if you didn’t light the coop. Or… maybe you’re not concerned about the effects of eating eggs and/or meat from your illuminated flock. Check out these tips for lighting up your coop safely:
- Use an outdoor timer. Consistency is important so we don’t stress our flocks.
- Add light in the morning as opposed to at night. You don’t want your flock to suddenly be in the dark, unable to see to get to their roost.
- Keep in mind if you want to light in the morning, be careful about which timer you get. Some are only meant to turn on at night. I made this mistake before knowing that starting the lights before dawn was better. I’ll be using that for Christmas lights 🙂 To add some “daylight” in the morning, look for a timer like this outlet timer for plugging in lights such as string lights that lets you set for any time of the day.
- Aim for 14-15 hours a day of daylight. So subtract the number of daylight hours you are getting from 14 or 15 and add them to the morning light timer. You may want to adjust this each month as daylight hours change, or just add the maximum number of hours you will need and leave it the same for the whole winter. Worst case scenario you’ll just have the light on longer than needed at times.
- Again don’t use shatterproof bulbs. They can give off deadly fumes to chickens.
- Color and type of light matters. Red lights will not increase production but are great for heat lamps to prevent cannibalism. Incandescent lights use a lot of energy and turn most of that energy into heat. They also break easy and burn out quickly. Fluorescent lights are also fragile, contain tiny amounts of toxic mercury, and don’t work as well in the cold as LEDs. Both use very little electricity. LEDs don’t release toxins when broken.
Where I sit
Personally, I like to eat eggs in season and give my family and my flock a rest period. The kids and I used to have a sensitivity to eggs and had to work very hard to be able to heal my gut enough to enjoy them without consequences. I think getting a break every year helps keep us from becoming sensitive again. But like I said, no judgement on whatever you choose. I reserve the right to change my mind at any time 😉
Well there you have it. My 2¢ about lighting coops.
I hope this article makes whatever you choose easier! If you found it helpful, I would be so grateful if you could share this with your friends and family.
Thank you for reading my article!
Always glad to see you at the grove!
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