What’s the Best Chicken Coop Light?
Are your chickens not laying in winter? What type of light is best for supplementation?
Reading Time: 5 minutes
When we supplement light to our chickens in winter, does it matter what type of bulb we use? Between incandescent, fluorescent, and LED bulbs, there are benefits and drawbacks to each chicken coop light, but do the chickens have a preference? How should that light be set up?
Chickens are very sensitive to light. In addition to perceiving light through their eyes, they also have a photoreceptor in their hypothalamus gland which perceives light through the thinner parts of a chicken’s skull (Jácome, Rossi, & Borille, 2014). Light is what signals a chicken to lay eggs. Once daylight hours reach 14 hours per day, chickens begin to make more hormones that stimulate egg production. This peaks when there are 16 hours of daylight each day as this is usually the ideal time to lay eggs for hatching chicks. Those chicks can then grow throughout the summer and be strong before winter. Many modern breeds have been developed to continue producing high numbers of eggs throughout the winter, but most traditional breeds will take a couple of days to absorb enough sunlight to stimulate the production of an egg in the darkness of wintertime. Fortunately, with the luxuries of electricity, we can provide artificial light to stimulate the chickens and keep them producing well even through the winter.
Type of Light
Large poultry operations sometimes participate in studies to determine how to maximize their egg output while keeping their chickens healthy. Most studies that have been done recently compare LED to fluorescent lighting. They don’t compare incandescent because the large operations rarely use that form of light. Incandescent costs too much in comparison for them to care whether there is a slight difference in egg-laying potential. What these studies between LED (light-emitting diode) and fluorescent lights show is that there is little if any difference in egg output when comparing lights of the same color spectrum (Long, Yang, Wang, Xin, & Ning, 2014). One study found that hens under LED lights were a little more prone to feather pecking, while another found that chickens were calmer under LED lights. The hypothesis behind this increased calm is that because chickens have such sensitivity to light, the slight flickering of fluorescent bulbs may have been irritating to them. Fluorescent lights may not hold up to the dust of a chicken coop as well as LED bulbs. While LEDs are more expensive, they last a very long time and can significantly lower your electric costs. Both fluorescent and LED also don’t produce the heat that traditional incandescent bulbs do. While you may want to give your girls a little more warmth in the wintertime, doing so is a huge fire hazard.
Color of Light
Some very interesting studies used LED lights to compare a laying hen’s response to monochromatic light, that is, a single color. The “white” light that we perceive from the sun and attempt to mimic in our light bulbs is actually all the colors together. With LED lights set to green, red, blue, or white in different hen houses, the scientists took careful measurements of egg size, shape, aspects of nutritional value, and output. It was found that the hens under only green light produced more sturdy eggshells. Hens under blue light produced progressively rounder eggs. The group in the white light produced the largest eggs in comparison, and the group in red light produced smaller eggs, but in greater yield. There were no significant differences in nutritional aspects of the eggs (Chen, Er, Wang, & Cao, 2007). Other studies have shown that when light is supplemented to chickens, it must be in the “warm” spectrum and include at least equal red in proportion to the other colors, if not more (Baxter, Joseph, Osborne, & Bédécarrats, 2014). No “cool white” lights for your girls!
How to Implement
Before you supplement light for your chickens, research when your area receives 16 hours of sunlight per day, and when that begins to decline. Know how long the light needs to be on to reach a maximum total of 16 hours of supplemented and natural light combined. This will change throughout the autumn, winter, and into next spring. Giving more than 16 hours of light in a day will actually decrease production. Second, invest in a timer to be sure that the light is consistent each day. It is best to supplement light in the predawn hours rather than after sunset. Chickens don’t see well in the dark, and if the light suddenly turns off plunging them into complete darkness, they will be unable to find their roost and may panic. If your area is already experiencing less than 16 hours of sunlight, introduce the supplemented light gradually. Also, do not suddenly take away the supplemented light as this can throw your chickens into a molt when the weather is too cold. The light source should be close enough to shine directly on your chickens without being so close that they may accidentally bump it even when excited. It should also be kept far away from any water because a single drop can cause a hot bulb to shatter, endangering your chickens.
A Reason Not to Supplement
While you may think, “Why wouldn’t I want as many eggs as possible, year-round?” Nature may say otherwise. To everything there is a season, and winter is often a time to rest and recuperate. Chickens that are forced to produce at their maximum potential even through the winter often burn out at a younger age than chickens who are allowed to rest during the natural period. Your chickens will still produce eggs in winter, just not as often. You may come to think of eggs as a seasonal crop, much like most other foods on the homestead.
Although it doesn’t seem to matter to the chickens which type of light bulb we use, they do seem to prefer red light more than others. This should be given in the morning to avoid confusion and panic when the light suddenly turns off at night. But, if you choose not to supplement light during winter, your chickens can enjoy a season of rest before the busy egg-hatching, chick-rearing, lots of foraging summer. Either way, whether or not to supplement light is your choice.
Baxter, M., Joseph, N., Osborne, R., & Bédécarrats, G. Y. (2014). Red light is necessary to activate the reproductive axis in chickens independently of the retina of the eye. Poultry Science, 1289–1297.
Chen, Y., Er, D., Wang, Z., & Cao, J. (2007). Effect of Monochromatic Light on the Egg Quality of Laying Hens. The Journal of Applied Poultry Research, 605–612.
Jácome, I., Rossi, L., & Borille, R. (2014). Influence of artificial lighting on the performance and egg quality of commercial layers: a review. Brazilian Journal of Poultry Science.
Long, H., Yang, Z., Wang, T., Xin, H., & Ning, Z. (2014). Comparative Evaluation of Light-emitting Diode(LED) vs. Fluorescent (FL) Lighting in Commercial Aviary Hen Houses. Iowa State University Digital Repository.