Using Artificial Light To Stimulate Egg Production…

Free Ranging and Training Chickens...

We are absolutely flooded with questions about using artificial light to stimulate egg production in the winter. For those of you in the Northern Hemisphere, this is a hot topic right now. For those of you in the Southern Hemisphere, you’ll be prepared for next year ;-0

I’ve written about this before but there seems to be some confusion so let me go ahead and clear this up with a detailed piece this week.

Hopefully when you’re done reading this, you’ll have a better understanding of this issue. I apologize for any confusion I may have caused in the past.

A hen has the ability to ovulate once every 26 hours. It is this ovulation that ultimately produces an egg. If I’m not mistaken, research has shown that it takes 16 hours of daylight to stimulate ovulation. The light absorption stimulates the anterior lobe of the pituitary gland which produces a hormone that influences the sex gland activity. (Boy, that was a mouthful.)

When days are shortened with the changing seasons, the hens don’t get as many daylight hours. Ovulation occurs less frequently, egg production decreases.

In case you’re interested, using artificial light to increase winter egg production has been practiced since the late 1800’s and by 1930 it had become common practice for the commercial farmer.

In the natural order of things hens will be at peak production in the spring and take a holiday for quite a bit of the fall and winter. She’ll still lay an egg here and there but production will decrease quite a bit.

So as chicken keepers, we have a choice;

Do we provide artificial light to keep egg production up or do we allow the chickens to express their “chicken-ness” and slow down for the winter?

Do you have too many eggs in the spring?

Do you have too few eggs in the winter?

If you answered “Yes” then using artificial light might be a good plan for you.

When using artificial light, your goal is to provide 14-16 hours of light for your hens, which includes the natural sunlight hours. You can extend the day into the evening, you can start the day earlier or you can do both. No matter which option you choose, an automatic timer is a very helpful thing.

If you extend the evening hours you just need to calculate how many hours beyond sunset you need to supplement to accomplish the 14-16 hours of light. One important thing here is that you don’t want your hens to be caught off guard when the lights suddenly go out so if you can provide a dimming effect to emulate the sun setting, this would be helpful.

This is the option I typically recommend if you have roosters and especially if you have neighbors who aren’t too fond of your roosters. It’s better to end the day later than start the day earlier if you’re not ready for crowing at 3:00AM.

The second option would be to set the timer to come on early in the morning. Again, you just need to calculate the number of hours you need to supplement.

The advantage of this is that your flock settles in for the night when the sun goes down and you don’t need to worry about a transition period.

But as I mentioned above, remember that if you start the day earlier, so do the roosters.

Another consideration would be to realize that if your flock is awake at 3:00AM, they’re not going to want to wait 4 hours until you get up to eat. You’d want to provide morning provision the evening before, after everyone is settled down for the night, so that they can eat when they awaken.

The final option would be to combine both scenarios; setting the light to come on a few hours before sunrise in the morning and to go off a few hours after sunset. This method has the advantages and disadvantages of both the previous methods.

Regardless of which way works best for you, I do have to strongly recommend an automatic timer.

If your flock is accustomed to a 15 hour day, you must maintain that schedule. You cannot forget to turn on the light for a few days, few things will bring laying to a halt more quickly.

It’s not necessarily pleasant to have to constantly reset the timer as the length of the days change but it’s easier than having to remember to turn on and off the lights every single day.

You also need to understand that when a hen is in full production, her nutritional needs are very high. You can use all the light you want but if she has to go a period of time without water or sufficient food, egg production will drop. So even when it’s really cold, go take care of the chickens!

You don’t need a lot of light. The saying goes, :”Enough light to read the paper.” If the flock can see well enough to eat, drink and roost, that’s enough. The actual wattage will depend on the size of your coop. The point is that you’re not trying to replicate the sun.

Please take the utmost precautions when hanging the light. Keep it out of the reach of the chickens. Make sure it is securely fastened and that it cannot come in contact with straw or anything that is easily flammable.

Finally, if you haven’t been using artificial light but think it sounds like a good idea, please don’t go out this evening and suddenly lengthen the day.

You’ll need to build up to it. Naturally the days progressively get shorter and longer and you’ll need to mimic that. Add no more than 10 minutes per day, gradually building up to the hours needed to extend the daylight hours to 14-16.

And for those of you who think this sounds like a lot of trouble, let me reassure you that not everyone does this. We don’t.

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