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To light, or not to light? Chickens in unnatural circumstances....

 
Lauren Dixon
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Location: Kalispell, Montana
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I read this article: http://blog.mypetchicken.com/2013/01/04/why-i-dont-add-light-to-the-coop/ which lays out some reasons that supplementing light for chickens in the winter is not such a great idea. I have been giving my girls light with a red brooder bulb, largely for heat, but also for egg production. I have always been a little bit uncomfortable with this, as I am a firm believer in staying out of nature's way and letting things happen as they naturally would. I fear, however, that my chickens would get awfully cold without their heat lamp (right now it is 10 F....and these are jungle animals, after all). What do you guys think?
 
Craig Dobbelyu
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2 nights ago it was -12f with -25f windchill. My 18 birds were just fine. No heat, no light. As long as they have protection from the wind, they'll be fine. They might be "jungle birds" by ancestry but they have been bred for a wide range of temperature fluctuations. Mine are Rhode Island Red, Easter Egger and Barred rocks. Pretty durable cold weather chickens. Birds with bigger combs and longer legs may be more prone to frostbite. Even if I lost one to cold, I'd still not heat or light. Better to get the poor performing genetics out of the flock than to have to keep propping them up with all sorts of extra work and money. I'll be raising a flock of 100 chicks from my current layers in the spring so I'm keeping track of all kinds of factors. Egg output, temperament, foraging ability, not freezing to death.


I've read that the heat light could increase the humidity in the coop which could lead to illness and frostbite.

I don't know, however, if it's ok to just take the heat and light away now that you started using it. You might stress them out by removing now. Then again, you'll have the same problem if the bulb breaks on a cold night when you're sleeping. Catch 22 kinda thing.
Perhaps other folks have an idea on this.

edit: until they started molting I was getting about a dozen eggs a day. Now I average 6, but it thinks it's the molting process, not so much the cold/light.
 
John Polk
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Besides lighting shortening their laying career, a principal reason to avoid it is that you do not want to interfere with the natural molting cycle. The equinox is their visual clue that it is time to quit wasting energy 'reproducing', and spend their energy getting a new winter coat. In a cold climate, if they begin molting too late, they won't have enough time to re-feather before the weather turns bitter cold.

If they have become climatized to a warm, cozy coop, what will happen in that blizzard when the power goes out (why is it that outages never happen in nice weather...only the extremes)? Especially if they haven't yet feathered up because they still thought it was summer.

The further we deviate from nature, the more dependent we become on technologies.

As far as removing the light now, that depends. Have they completed their molt? Is the worst yet to come (weather wise)? How many eggs do you really need?

As Craig pointed out, if you plan to breed, you want birds climatized to your region, not birds that must be artificially maintained.

 
Jay Green
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I've heard the saying "these are jungle animals" quite a bit in reference to this lighting and heating of the coop....but unless you currently possess chickens that have been~ until recently~ living and thriving in a jungle setting, you do not have a "jungle animal" living in your coop. The more common breeds of chickens that most people possess have been living in colder climes than the tropics for many hundreds and maybe thousands of years. Time to take that supposed ancestry out of the equation.

John is correct...no heat or light is needed in those cold temps. Animals adapt to the climate in which they live by growing a deeper, more luxuriant coat with the colder temps. Take your chicken down south right now and she would promptly go into a mild molt to shed those insulating, downy feathers under her guard feathers.

When heating a coop, even mildly, you are forcing your birds to move between the extreme cold outdoors into warmer temps indoors and back again...the going out and coming in several times a day is very hard on them. When you go outside you can don cold weather gear and be more comfortable...when you come indoors to the warmth, you can then shed these layers of warm clothing. Your chicken cannot do this from moment to moment, so you are placing them in an environment wherein they have to be adjusting all day. It's not good on their respiratory system nor their circulatory system to be moving in and out of fluctuating temps with the same heavy feathering and, thus, humidity levels. Think how much you would sweat if you came out of the cold into your warm house and kept all your winter garments on...you'd sweat....then go back outside with that sweat cooling on your skin. Makes you twice as chilled.

The lighting is just as unnatural....they haven't lived near the equator for many thousands of years, so why are we still mimicking that environment? It's up to us to allow that adaptation to occur in the environment in which they currently live. If they need the nutrition to keep warm instead of produce eggs, so be it. It's a natural cycle.

I've found that trouble always starts when you go against their natural design and rhythms...they are pretty much sustainable just the way they are and there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

 
Noel Baker
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I'm on my first flock of my chicken empire. My older chickens are about 7 months, but I have some younger ones that are only about 4 months old. I was worried about the younger ones keeping warm so I made sure to give them a couple heat lamps. Little did I realize this confuses the roosters. They go in at night and roost, sleep for a few hours, then wake up in the middle of the night, see light and decide they need to start crowing at 330-4am. We are just now getting into the really cold temps and I'm afraid it would be too sudden of a change to remove the lights now. As soon as I can, I'm taking the lights out and they're staying out.
 
Lauren Dixon
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Location: Kalispell, Montana
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Yep, my rooster is doing the same thing. He starts crowing at 3:30 AM ON THE NOSE every day. I could set my watch by him. I am thinking, since my chickens are used to light/heat now, I will finish out this winter with them under lights, and next year, we will go lightless. My only concern is that here in Montana, sometimes we get -20F cold snaps. I don't think ANY chicken, no matter how hardy, is going to survive that. Anybody have experience with chickens in those temp ranges?
 
Craig Dobbelyu
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Lauren Dixon wrote:Yep, my rooster is doing the same thing. He starts crowing at 3:30 AM ON THE NOSE every day. I could set my watch by him. I am thinking, since my chickens are used to light/heat now, I will finish out this winter with them under lights, and next year, we will go lightless. My only concern is that here in Montana, sometimes we get -20F cold snaps. I don't think ANY chicken, no matter how hardy, is going to survive that. Anybody have experience with chickens in those temp ranges?



That sounds like the most reasonable course at this point. As for low temps, mine have gone as low as -20 with a tiny bit of frost bite on the tips of one birds comb. I still got 4 eggs that day.
 
Jess Dee
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Location: Saskatchewan zone 2
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Lauren Dixon wrote:Yep, my rooster is doing the same thing. He starts crowing at 3:30 AM ON THE NOSE every day. I could set my watch by him. I am thinking, since my chickens are used to light/heat now, I will finish out this winter with them under lights, and next year, we will go lightless. My only concern is that here in Montana, sometimes we get -20F cold snaps. I don't think ANY chicken, no matter how hardy, is going to survive that. Anybody have experience with chickens in those temp ranges?


I have a flock of chickens in Saskatchewan, and we don't do any supplementary heating until it hits -40. They survive fine, as long as there aren't any drafts in the coop, there is a good deep layer of clean bedding, and they can huddle together to share body heat. We've only lost one chicken to freezing, last winter, on a -25 C night when she flew up into the barn rafters for some reason and roosted alone. Last winter, the chickens were in a stall in a large-ish uninsulated, unheated barn with a concrete floor; we kept a couple of alpacas and half a dozen goats in the same barn. This year, half the chickens are in the barn, and half in a separate coop that is wood-framed, dirt floored, and 'insulated' with a couple straw bales stacked on the outside of the north and west walls. It was -30 last night, and they were fine. Our biggest problem is with the eggs freezing and cracking before we get to them.
 
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