Philip Einwechter

Have your chickens started laying fewer eggs recently?

If you haven’t made any big changes to how you’re caring for them, there’s a good chance it’s caused by the short day lengths. Chickens need 14-16 hours of light each day to lay their best, and this time of year, they won’t receive that much light anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere (anywhere in the United States or Canada, for example).

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, the amount of daylight per day has been decreasing since June 21. It will continue to decrease until December 21.  Since the end of September, every place in the United States and Canada has been receiving less than 12 hours of daylight. Even if you account for some sunlight reaching your chickens slightly before sunrise and slightly after sunset, they’re still getting less than 13 hours of light this time of year (October) unless you’ve added supplemental lighting.  If you would like to find out the number of hours of daylight in your region, you can find out your latitude then use this daylight hour explorer.

Chickens don’t need a lot of light in order to lay.  Some breeds, like the leghorn, can lay well with just 1/2 footcandle (fc) of light.  To get an idea how much light that is, try reading a newspaper in dim light.  If you adjust the lighting so that you have barely enough light to read it, that is about 1/2 fc.  Heavier, dual purpose breeds need 2 to 5 fc to stimulate laying.

If you decide to add supplemental lighting to keep your flocking laying well through the winter, you can use an outlet timer and a drop light.  It’s best to set the timer so that the light comes on in the morning before dawn, to give at least 14 hours of light.  In theory, you could add lighting at dusk instead, but that approach doesn’t work as well in practice because when the lights go out in the evening the coop will get dark immediately. This makes it harder for the chickens to find a good place to roost. For tips on lighting safety, see our article Preparing Your Laying Flock for Winter, Part 2.