Yes, @Birdrain92, that's absolutely the best way -- you and @KsKingBee are smart not to introduce light that artificially lengthens the day light hours. The little (not so little anymore) spalding hen managed all winter with no light and no heat -- quite nerve wracking given that she's a spalding and our nights get pretty cold -- but she only went in her box when the weather was truly awful, spent the rest of the evenings on her carpeted perch outside. No eggs from her.
Unfortunately, because my twisted tibia male cannot cover his feet very well with the bad leg, I feel as though it is not safe for him to be without heat. If that bad leg gets frost-bitten, he's done for. The heat lamps keep the coop just above freezing (or barely below) on our coldest nights, and he does okay with that. He's not looking great this year, but he's managing. He uses a lot more energy just trying to get around every day. Next year I am hoping I will have a better heat source that doesn't also put out light. Even with the red bulbs, I think there is just too much light in the coop at night. Everybody else is in there with him. Both the BS hen and the not-so-little anymore opal SP hen have been laying since just after Christmas.
BTW, I think it is not just hours of daylight -- perhaps part of the trigger is the INCREASING hours of daylight. In other words, there may be something in the rate of change rather than just the straight day length involved. That might explain why we hear about some northern birds laying earlier than some southern ones... the day length varies more dramatically (and more rapidly) up there. It's clearly not just temperature -- I'm not sure if temperature is even a factor. These hens have been laying in January (or even December) here for the last two winters and it was getting down to just about freezing in the coop for many of those nights. But the eggs kept on a comin'. Anyway, I think things will go more traditionally once I have a darker solution, lol.
Maybe do a small heater in the coop or heated roosts? In my house we have small heaters and they can warm up an closed room in just a few minutes. And the heater has a thermostat built into it, Temperature can have a little bit of an effect to it. I agree with what you're saying about the daylight but I think there could be more. I think it's not just increasing but also decreasing. If the daylight is increased faster it triggers a part in their brain to start putting out hormones like, "Hey it's summer you need to start breeding." Then when you take them off so quickly the bodies says, "What just happened?" Then it throws them out of order and then they have to find balance again. I'm sure that if you did it in a steady increase and decrease, getting closer to the sun's cycle you might be able to get them back to where they naturally are. This is more of a feeling, educated guess from things I've learned. I know there's a part of the brain that when daylight is extended it believes it's closer or is summer and then the body does what it usually does in the summer. I definitely agree with what you're saying.
That's what I figured. Light 24/7 doesn't help with egg production. You can only increase daylight hours for so long before the body doesn't care. With chickens, you can only the daylight about 16-17 hours to promote egg laying. If you go over then I believe the body ignores it, kind of, like it knows that there's more daylight but kind of like the body remains unmoved by it. No increase in hormones.
Not saying it's bad. I'm just saying with 24 daylight it won't effect their breeding cycle.
Birdrain, you are right, I think, but it might make more sense if we took it apart a little bit farther. I suspect there are a number of factors that affect when peahens begin laying, whether they continue, and when they stop. In addition to light/daylight, there are also social cues and behaviors -- it seems to me that in any lekking bird, survival of the species depends on dispersed groups coming together at the same place (the lek) at the same time, in condition to reproduce (fertile).
When I think about the daylight piece of it, I almost visualize it as a math problem. We can look at the daylight factor in several ways: (1) by hours of daylight per day; (2) by changing hours of daylight each day (i.e., days getting longer or shorter); and (3) the RATE of change (i.e., are the days getting longer in larger or smaller daily increments?). When one lives near the equator, daylength doesn't change much, and the day to day change is minimal. When one lives up near Canada or Alaska, the day length varies a great deal from summertime, when the sun barely sets, to wintertime, when it barely rises. The number of minutes the day gets longer or shorter is higher than if one is living in South Texas or Florida. The rate of change is higher, the farther away from the equator.
Now if someone just happens to have light on in the coop 24/7, that's a situation the birds will get accustomed to, and as you say, may not affect breeding cycle. Yet when I have my heatlamps on 24/7, my hens start laying and my males start calling.... Here's the difference: in my case, I don't leave the heatlamps on all year. I only start running them once it begins to get very cold at night -- down to freezing or below. Before that, the days have been getting shorter and shorter. Then I turn on the lamps and leave them on 24/7, because that way the coop stays warm better -- the wood shavings absorb a lot of heat. From my peas' perspective, the days got shorter and shorter. Then the days suddenly get a lot longer -- and it happens overnight, so at a huge rate of change. As far as their bodies are concerned, they went instantly from "days are getting shorter" to "days last forever." The rate of change was enormous. The past two years it has triggered y hens into laying (not on purpose, of course), and it triggers my males into cherchez la femme mode....
It's a topic worth discussing... more later
Could be age, nutrition, hormones, or your hens just don't feel like laying yet. I hope my hens will hold off until April 10. Because I leave next week for spring break and then I get a week at home and then I leave for 4 days for FFA competition.
Here's another 2016 egg(s!) photo Happened to catch the BS hen off her nest today and got a screen shot from the webcam (two shots, really):
(Note that the small, dark eggs are ceramic, but she still loves them...) I think she has been grabbing some of the little SP's eggs for her stash too! She's doing a really good job of sitting so far.
Here's a current shot of everyone hanging out for the evening. The little SP hen will hop up on the perch in a little while... BS hen will keep sitting on her treasures till tomorrow's chow break:
BTW, the hens really calmed down after I got the webcam -- my frequent trips outside to the pen were disturbing them and throwing off the laying.