Kumu Aina is an off-grid farm and improving egg production was a welcome challenge and a pet project of mine. After capturing 20 free range hens and assorted roosters and putting them in my new coop, I expected what any farmer would expect…eggs. Well, it was December, winter after all, even though it was Hawaii the sun only shines for about 12 hours. With limited sunlight, hens will stop laying. What is needed is 14 hours of light and those extra two hours have to come from a light bulb. I wanted my chicken coop to be sustainable as possible so what I needed to install was a solar powered light system. Now I am no electrician or solar expert, just a farmer with DIY know how, so proceed at your own risk.
Here are the things you will need to do this yourself: LED or 12 volt low wattage bulb, 12 volt battery, 30 watt solar panel, 12 volt timer switch, wire and tools. First, I collected the batteries which were two old 6 volt batteries that had once been new and more useful but had enough energy storage capabilities to power a light bulb for two hours. You must elevate them on a platform and not place them directly on the ground for proper grounding. It’s also good if you can provide some weather protection.
Next, you will need a solar panel. For Hawaii, 30-watts will do and I just happened to have one I wasn’t using for anything. Once it had been on a cabin and powered only a 12 volt bulb so I knew this would work for my purposes. Place the panel where it is going to get the best and longest light from the sun. Placing it at a 45 degree angle is a good solid winter-summer choice. Also, make sure there is nothing partially shading the panel. The slightest shade, even partial, will prevent the panel from doing its job–collecting energy from the sun. Connect the panel to the battery placing the positive wire to the positive connection on the battery and negative to negative. You don’t want to mess this up or you will have a reverse polarity situation on your hands which can damage both. In addition, follow safety practices, like wearing eye protection when handling batteries. I either cover the panel with a blanket or place it down or away from the sun during hook up.
FYI, if you purchase new batteries and a higher solar watt panel, my advice would be to buy a solar charge controller which you can buy for $30-$60. This device will prevent over charging of the batteries and power leakage to the panel. Very simple to install and it goes in between the panel and the battery. In my system, I’m pretty sure that my batteries will never become overcharged from the low wattage of my panel, the condition of my batteries and the daily usage of power. I highly recommend one, but in this case, I’m not using one.
Time to install the timer. I had one on hand but you can buy them and they are not expensive at about $14 online at Amazon.com (and if you live in Hawaii, like me, you’ll be thrilled with Amazon’s super shipping savings). The timer comes with directions and illustrations and it’s quite easy to hook up and set the timer following them. I placed mine in a plastic food storage container so that our frequent rain won’t damage it and mounted it outside the coop. When it came to deciding on which type of light bulb I would use, I went through several choices before I finally decided on LED.
My first choice, was a regular looking 12v bulb that even though it was low wattage, it used more power than the system could properly store. I frequently tested the battery using a voltage meter for how many volts it stored and lost during the process of collecting and using energy. My next effort was a 12 volt bulb from a rear light panel assembly from my old truck. Perfect upcycling I thought. But even though the wattage was less, I still was not totally pleased and settled on a LED light bulb. You can find these online, but my neighbor sold them so I called him up and he so nicely obliged. Don’t worry about polarity here, 12 volt supply electricity doesn’t care. I hung the light so that it will partially light the coop and the run.
Now for chicken safety set your timer to turn on 2 hours before sunrise so that it shuts off at dawn. You don’t want to have a bunch a chickens suddenly finding themselves in the dark and having to navigate blind to their nightly resting spots. The suns natural dimming at the end of the day enable the chickens to find their roosts before it’s too dark. So, to put the light on to extend the day by two hours would shut off the light without such dimming and leave them in their run or on some other perch thus finding their roost could be hazardous to a chicken who suddenly finds herself in the dark. In addition, the light only needs to be as bright as one single candle but it does need to be on long enough to make up 14 hour days.
All systems go! Adding only two hours of light to my coop worked amazingly fast. I went from 1-2 eggs a day to up to a dozen. I was thrilled and still am, as I often check on them and collect the eggs. Now I have my own organically fed hens with plenty of greens supplying them with carotene. In addition, I’ve made my own biopod to raise solider fly larva adding bugs to their diet.
If you would need any help in designing your own off-grid chicken coop, leave a comment in the box below and we will be happy to help. Mahalo!