People and chickens operate on different schedules that sometimes conflict.
As days shorten and the temperature drops people turn on furnaces and electric lights and sleep about as many hours as they do in summer. Not chickens. Their daily schedule is set by daylight. Lacking artificial light they settle into a long night’s sleep as soon as dusk arrives and don’t wake until tomorrow’s dawn. In high latitudes they often sleep 15 or 16 hours a night.
For chickens, winter is a time for rest, not reproduction. Cold temperatures don’t reduce laying, but as fall advances, decreasing daylight causes egg production to dwindle. That can create a problem for their owner.
Long dark nights and winter holidays signal baking season. Cakes, cookies, casseroles, area among the popular winter foods that require lots of eggs at the time of year when hens are taking a break.
Even during December’s darkness a healthy flock of good layers rarely completely stops laying, but production is meager. Natural late December daylight at the latitude of Chicago, New York, or Seattle is around nine hours, but chickens need 14 or 15 hours of light for high egg production. There is an easy answer for owners.
A single light bulb simulating June’s day length will boost production. Often the same light fixture used to brood chicks serves well for winter lighting. Suspend it near the coop ceiling and screw in a nine to 12 watt compact fluorescent or LED bulb. Neither type uses much electricity but LED’s work better in cold weather. The lamp should be controlled by a timer set to come on in early morning darkness and switch off after dawn. Nine hours of natural daylight augmented by several predawn hours of artificial light will keep hens laying during the winter baking season.
Chicken owners sometimes debate the ethics of tricking chickens into artificial production. There is no simple answer, and it is a matter of personal choice for the flock owner. Some prefer to let nature take its course and just plan to collect fewer eggs during the dark months. Others don’t mind tricking January hens into thinking it is May.