Do chickens need light at night? Supplemental Lighting for chickens.

When I was constructing my chicken coop, I didn’t make any provision for artificial Lighting.  This is because I did not see the need at the time. Since it is time to install one, I am looking at the different discussions around the need for artificial lighting in the chicken coop. 

The concept of supplemental lighting has been used in commercial poultry production since the 1920s.  As a backyard and homestead poultry keeper, you may wonder if there is a need to offer extra light hours for your birds. 

You might be looking at adding extra light for my chickens when the days are short and the nights long and cold. 

Do chickens need extra lighting? Some poultry keepers choose to add extra lighting for their chickens to increase egg production in layers. Others use supplemental lighting to shorten the period meat chickens reach their desired weight. This leads to processing the meat birds earlier, hence increasing production. While this might be okay for some, other poultry keepers prefer to let nature have its way. 

Let us have a look at why you may want to have light in the coop. 

Which came first, Chicken, Egg, or Light? 

I may not be in a position to answer this, but chickens need light. Whether natural or artificial, chickens need light in order to be productive. Their production cycle is triggered by the dark-light cycle, also known as photoperiod. This means that chickens need both darkness and light. 

Light penetrates the chicken through the eyes, skull, and skin. It activates the pineal gland found in the brain (yes, chickens have brains) of the chicken. The gland produces serotonin and melatonin hormones, which in turn guide the chicken’s biological processes, one being stimulating the ovaries to produce eggs.  

Studies have shown that hens never reach their productive maturity until they are exposed to 12 hours of light. Chicken need light for between 12 to 14 hours in order to produce eggs. Shorter daylight hours will lead to a decrease in production. This explains why your girls will give you more eggs in summer and spring while they slow down production during fall and winter. 

Understanding light for chickens

Chickens perceive light differently from human beings. They can see small light fluctuations that people cannot. They do see green, red, blue, green light, and even ultraviolet light. This gives them the ability to see more shades of light than human beings. 

All chickens, even the blind ones can sense light. This is because, in addition to the eyes, the chicken can tell the presence of light through the pineal gland. They can tell when it is daylight and when the season changes.

The right kind of light for chickens

When considering artificial lighting for chickens, there are three factors of light that affect chickens are to be considered. These are:

  1. The spectrum of light 
  2. The intensity of light
  3. The duration of light. 

The spectrum of light and chickens

Light produces a myriad of energies called wavelengths. These wavelengths are measured in Nanometers (nm). 

Think of the light spectrum as a straight line indicating the different wavelengths being generated by light. On this line, we have some level of blue light, red light, green light, and many in between. What is seen as clear daylight or light from different types of artificial lighting is a combination of different wavelengths. 

How does the spectrum of light affect chickens? You may ask. First of all, chickens sense more wavelengths of light than human beings. They can perceive the ultraviolet spectrum of light, which human beings cannot. Chickens will detect sunrise(dawn) way before people do. 

Studies have been carried out on the effect of different spectrums of light on chickens. Different spectra of light in chickens have been found to have effects on hormone levels in chickens. These hormone levels eventually affect metabolism, immune systems, and production in chickens. 

The Intensity of light and chickens

The layman definition for the intensity of light is the strength of light. The stronger the light, the brighter it appears. Chickens can detect weaker intensities of light than human beings, with studies indicating that light from a single candle can enhance the production in laying hens. 

The intensity of light is measured in lumens. Studies have shown that light at different levels of intensity has varying effects on development and production both in meat birds and layers(source).

Duration of light and chickens

The duration of light is the number of hours chickens are exposed to light and darkness. Both broilers and layers need different hours of light for growth and development. 

Let us look at how the duration of light, the intensity of light, and the spectrum of light will affect chickens at different stages of growth. 

Lighting for broiler chicks

Broiler chicks are put in the brooder for the first three to four weeks. They need light from the first day, so as to see. It is recommended you provide 23 hours of lighting for the first 3 days so that they can learn how to find food and water.

Lighting for broiler chickens

From the third day to the day of processing meat birds, you can provide light for 16 hours, with 8 hours of darkness. Commercial broiler farms use an alternative lighting program where light is provided for 23 hours allowing for one hour of darkness per day. This enables the birds to gain weight as fast a possible.

When raising meat birds on pasture, most poultry keepers do not provide artificial light. They let nature take its course. This means the meat chickens will get natural light for about 12 hours and have 12 hours of darkness. 

Lighting for layer chicks

The lighting program for layer chicks is similar to the ones for broiler chicks for the first 3 days. Provide light for 23 hours and allow for 1 hour of darkness

Lighting for layer growers

Layer growers chickens, egg chickens at the age of 4 days to 19 weeks should be provided with light for 9 to 11 hours per day. For pastured layers, this means that natural light will be enough at this stage of growth.

Lighting for layers

From 20 weeks to 72 weeks, layers will need 14 to 17 hours of light. This ensures that they reach their optimal egg production levels.  

NB: Getting chicks accustomed to darkness will help them cope in case the lights suddenly went off at night. If they do not know how to deal with the darkness they might be scared and pile on each other, leading to serious injuries.

If you are using a heat lamp that comes with light, you will need to leave it on throughout, because the chicks will need heat for the first 3 weeks. Most heat lamps come with red light, wick is friendly. Chicks will be able to rest with the red light on.

Do chickens need a light in their coop? 

Chickens will need light in their coop for them to be able to see in the darkness especially when days are short. You might decide not to use lighting to enhance laying, but you will still need some kind of lighting. 

You will need light in the chicken coop for:-

  1. See while doing your chores in the coop – You need to see while in the coop. When collecting eggs, having some sort of lighting in the coop will make sure you do not miss some. It is also easier to do a headcount at night when the chickens a calm and not running around. You will also need light to see when administering medication or vaccines at night when the chickens are calm. 
  2. Increased productivity –  As discussed, hens will lay more eggs when the right number of light hours are provided. Providing light in the coop will help get more eggs from your girls. 
  3. Heating when in extreme cold – a heat-emitting bulb is one of the ways you can provide warmth for your chickens, in cases of extreme cold. The jury is still out on the need to extra heating for mature chickens, but baby chickens will need some kind of heat source in the first weeks of their lives. 
  4. Heat for baby chickens –  Baby chickens are not able to generate their own body heat, hence an external source of heat is needed during the early days. A heat-emitting light bulb is usually used to provide heat in the brooder. 

Introducing lighting to chickens

Other than light for chicks, which is needed for the first few weeks, introducing light to chickens is not as straightforward as pressing an on/off switch. There is a need to plan ahead. Let us look at some of the things you will need to consider: 

  • Plan your lighting program – Why are you introducing light to your chickens? You will need to plan in advance based on the goals. If the plan is to provide 14 to 16 hours of lighting to your laying chickens, how will you do it? For laying pullets and laying chickens, you will need to introduce the light incrementally, week by week. The recommended method is to increase the lighting by 30 minutes every week. An example is if you want to increase light by 2 hours, you will need to do it over a period of weeks, with 30 minutes increments every week. 
  • When to introduce the lighting to chickens –  The optimal timing to introduce supplemental lighting for layer chickens is at 20 weeks. 
  • What time for incremental lighting for chickens  – The most practical time to add the extra hours in the early morning. This will not interfere with the chickens’ sleep cycles in the evening. Adding extra lighting in the evening will mean your chickens will be confused about the time to roost. They might not want to get into the coop early because they will still think it is daytime. This will leave them exposed to predators. 
  • Safety – For you and your chickens, safety is imperative. Do not put lighting near litter or chickens feathers. This might lead to a fire. You will also need to use good lighting features for your chicken that make sure that the build is held in it’s place, in case the chickens jump over and knock it. The bulb should be put in a dry place where it will not come into contact with water, rain, or snow. If you are getting power to the mains to your chicken, make sure that the cabling is not exposed.
  • Consistency – Chickens are creatures of habit and will need consistency. If it is 14 hours, let it be 14 hours. This means waking up early each day, come rain or sunshine. Alternatively, you can look into having automatic lighting with times that turn on and off at the set times.

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About James Polystead

I grew up on a small farm. My parents used to grow food and keep animals for our sustenance. They would sell the surplus to make an extra coin to supplement the income from their jobs. I am taking the same path. I have over 40 chickens for eggs and meat. I also grow vegetables in my backyard. follow me on Twitter

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