Short days and remote location called for a creative lighting solution for our chicken coop
Summer vs. Winter Sunlight Hours
Anyone who lives materially north or south of the equator is all too familiar with making the statement “wow… the days are getting really short now” when fall and winter begin rolling around. Living in the Midwest, was our first foray into this experience having lived most of our lives in Southern states. Obviously the closer you get to the equator, the more equal the days are year round.
It may have been obvious to other people, but we were genuinely blown away by how much difference a move from a location like Florida to a place like Wisconsin can make. To put it in into comparison, Orlando Florida loses 3 hours and 38 minutes from the June Summer Solstice (longest day of the year) to the Winter Solstice in December (shortest day). However that same comparison in Milwaukie Wisconsin is 6 hours and 22 minutes different (a difference of almost 3 hours more). The difference gets more and more extreme the further north or south towards the poles you get, with Anchorage Alaska coming in at a whopping 13 hours and 54 minutes different between the two days.
That’s a ton of difference in daylight hours from summer to fall depending on where you live!
Working in the Dark
If you’re raising animals, the lack of light can present quite a few challenges in the winter months. In our case, since we still have day jobs off the homestead, much of our farm work often happens before or after work. Factoring into that challenge is the fact that most farm animals aren’t overly keen on someone they can’t see, coming and checking in on them.
No matter how much we dote and love on our chickens, they are hardwired to believe I’m a fox or wolf trying to eat them when I first crack open the coop door. In their defense, I can’t really appreciate what must be running through their animal brains when they see us show up with our headlamps on (low light of course) in the darkness. Do they think of me as some type of benevolent… light emanating cyclops that’s able to create a portal in what was previously a solid door and steal their eggs? Frankly, I chuckle at the thought because I have no idea what must be running through their minds.
No matter what goes through their minds, the fact was that we needed a solution that provided some level of broad light in an otherwise dark space around the coop.
Fill Some of the Sunlight Gap with Solar Light
We’ve always been interested in solar options where we can afford it. I know there’s a lot of debate online about whether solar electricity is as green as it’s touted. Especially when you factor in the environmental costs of making and recycling panels and the ecological impact of mining lithium for batteries. We won’t wade into that debate, but will only share that our motivation behind solar in our space is… simplicity.
Frankly, we’re enamored with the idea of not being tethered to the grid constantly. We like the idea of being as self-sufficient as possible but there’s a very real practical application with the chicken tractor. Since we constantly move our coop around our property to give our hens free range, it’s not overly practical to have power cords running everywhere across the property for constant light.
Then there’s the other option, the ever elusive (always in need of charging) headlamps that we employ to light our way. As a side note, if you have younger children and your headlamps are accessible, you should absolutely expect to frequently find their batteries dead. You should also expect there to be a fantastical story that resembles the plot from “Goonies” as the reason for said batteries being used up. Maybe that’s just our house though…
We wanted an inexpensive way to add little bit of light to the space around the coop. Mainly for when head lamps weren’t available, and solar lights seemed like an obvious choice.
Solution: Solar Lights
So I started looking into solar lights. All I found were the ones that were used for landscaping around the house and I knew that’s not what I wanted. Then I stumbled onto these solar accent lights that were designed to be perched on a home’s gutters. While not originally designed for this purpose, I didn’t see any reason why they couldn’t be used for it, so I decided to try them out.
I looked at all the big box stores and finally found some basic white ones at a store called Menards (common to the Midwest) for about $7 each, but decided to look online as well. Most of my searches led me to Amazon where I found essentially identical lights for only $4.50 each. I know that some people are passionately for and against using Amazon. Depending on your preferred shopping location, hopefully that gives you some options for where you can get these (affiliate disclosure here).
From there, we just mounted the lights in a couple of strategic locations around the coop. I knew that the front door was a key area because I wanted to be able to see that the primary door was closed and locked without a headlamp. We also wanted to have some light by the smaller door where we typically retrieve the eggs from, so I mounted one there as well.
We’ve been using these for ~2 months and they provide significant light in the strategic areas we need it. If you’re looking for a bright “work light” level that lights up a broad area, then this isn’t the light for you. It’s small and inexpensive and works great at helping us quickly locate the chicken tractor in the dark. The lights are also bright enough to help us easily see the coop doors and locks while doing minimal work like egg retrieval.
Some things that you have to take into consideration is the battery size and solar cell size. Neither are huge, so much like solar landscape lights they start out very bright in the early evening and by the wee morning hours they dim and turn off as the battery charge gets low. This wasn’t a big deal for us because I was shooting for a solution that would operate when I was getting off work. I’m not typically harvesting eggs at 1am in the morning, and I think the chickens are probably grateful for that.
The other thing to consider is that depending on where you are, if there is inclement weather, sustained cloudiness, snow buildup, or very short days (like parts of Canada or Alaska) then this may not work for your situation. Since the solar cells are on top of the light, we make sure they are cleared of snow and the solar lights are getting as much sunlight as possible for each location.
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