Artificial Lighting To Increase Egg Production

Free Ranging and Training Chickens...

“I’m trying to decide whether or not we want to use a 40 watt bulb inside the coop during the shorter days of fall/winter. My “chicken teacher” told us at her excellent 3 hour Adult Ed class that her practice, in order to get eggs in winter (We live in Maine) is to keep a light in the coop for 14 hours a day during that time. But another person who keeps chickens said that chickens have only a certain number of eggs in them, and we’ll get them all eventually anyway, so she doesn’t add artificial light.

Yet I also learned from a Cooperative Extension mini course I took that egg laying decreases by 20% each year. Aren’t those two ideas contradictory? My (adult ed) teacher says if the chickens lived in southern climates they’d be producing so why the hesitation to use artificial light? Could you give us your insight on all this?” ~ Elaine McGillicuddy from Portland Maine

Elaine, I’m so glad you wrote.

I want to first commend you for educating yourself regarding the care of your chickens. Knowledge is always a good thing.

Your question about artificial light is interesting and you have been given correct information. The determining factor has more to do with how you feel about your chickens than factors of a hen’s reproductive system.

For the sake of simplicity, I’ll compare a hen’s reproductive life span to that of a woman.

You see, it is true that a hen has only so many ova. Depending on the breed and age of the hen, she will ovulate as often as every 28 hours. Where as a woman, depending on her age, will ovulate once monthly. She also has a limited number of ova.

A hen will ovulate resulting in an egg with or without a rooster. The only difference is whether the egg is fertile or not. Only a fertile egg has the possibility of hatching a chick.

Not that this is news to anyone but for the sake of continuing our comparison; a woman will ovulate with or without a man. Only a fertilized egg will result in the birth of a baby.

When a woman has a baby, she nurses the baby for a period of time. This gives her body time to rest between pregnancies. The hen also has a time of rest when she starts setting and hatches a clutch of chicks and the subsequent weeks of caring for them.

A hen, by way of annual winter molting has an additional time of reproductive rest. The molt brings on a significant reduction in egg laying. Upon its completion, the hen will resume more frequent egg laying.

A woman’s reproductive abilities slow as she ages. A hen’s does the same. When a woman is in her early years of reproduction, she is very fertile. The first season of laying is the most productive for a pullet. As the hen ages, her ovulation slows, thereby reducing frequency of egg laying. As a woman ages, the likelihood of her getting pregnant diminishes.

Eventually, reproduction stops for both the hen and the woman.

I don’t believe either the hen or the woman “run out of eggs,” but that age is the determining factor for both.

So Elaine, your decision to use artificial light has more to do with your purpose in keeping chickens.

If I was keeping chickens for the purpose of egg laying only, perhaps as a business venture, I wouldn’t hesitate to increase their daylight hours to increase production. In this model, I’d likely only keep the hens for a few years because my profit margin would decrease as their egg laying slowed with age. I wouldn’t be worried about the toll artificial light might take on the number of years the hens continued to lay.

If I was keeping chickens as pets with the pleasant by-product of egg laying, I’d probably keep them until they died of old age and wouldn’t care how many eggs they laid.

Around here, we fall somewhere in between.

We tend to lean toward the side of original design when it comes to our animals. I believe that it can be harder on the hens to increase their daylight hours in the winter simply because it goes against the original plan of rest. This is especially true if your hens are not accompanied by a rooster because they do not get rest when they start a family.

My last three children were born 16 and then 17 months apart. That’s three children in 2 years and 9 months. Even though I nursed, they came quickly. My body was tired so I sort of feel for the chickens.

We let the hens lay in their own natural rhythm but will only keep them for 3-4 years.

We enjoy our chickens and take good care of them but they are working animals. At our place, EVERYONE contributes. The children learn to help out from the time they can toddle across the floor and we believe elderly people have more wisdom to pass along than most of the elite in the world of academia. We don’t have any goldfish swimming around doing nothing but creating more work and expense. I’m sorry if I’ve offended any hamster lovers out there.

So again, the use of artificial light to extend daylight hours and thereby keep production higher is a personal choice based on your circumstances. I hope this information helps you reach your own conclusion Elaine, thanks again for the question.

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