Is it *really* unnatural to add light?

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by Momo, Dec 5, 2009.

  1. Momo

    Momo Songster

    Mar 16, 2008
    Nelson BC
    I didn't add light last winter and so far I've been one of those who thinks it's better to let the girls have a break if they need it. But I'm hardly getting any eggs, feed is costing a lot of money, and my resolve is weakening. So I got to thinking ... chickens are descendants of equatorial birds, right? The red jungle fowl isn't a temperate zone bird and isn't accustomed to huge changes in length of daylight... It makes me wonder whether what's *unnatural* for chickens is the long hours of darkness this time of year in my neck of the woods. Maybe they're actually better off (more *natural* for their systems) with a bit of added light in the morning?

    I've seen posts suggesting that chickens will live longer and lay longer if they're allowed to take time off in the winter. It also seems that production strains are given added light far more often than your average backyard flock, and that production birds are more prone to reproductive tract problems, internal laying etc, tending to "burn out" more quickly than a heritage type chicken, so would this have something to do with the impression that added light shortens their lives? Just curious, trying to find out if anyone knows the science behind it ...
  2. Beekissed

    Beekissed Free Ranging

    As far as I know, it is purely a hormonal shift triggered by less daylight....I could be wrong here? By adding light, I would guess it would be like having the birds on birth control pills~in reverse! No breaks....just continual ovulation. [​IMG] A chicken is born with a certain number of eggs, from what I understand, and she will produce just that many and no more in her lifetime. I guess it's six of one and half a dozen of the other...eggs now or eggs later, you will get the same amount of eggs from her regardless.

    I have large windows in my coop and my birds free range, so I get a little slow down in the winter but still have enough to sell and feed the family. I now have 21 laying hens and am getting 9-11 eggs per day without adding lights.

    In the winter slow time I change up my feeding a little to ease down on the laying mash consumption. I add some oats, BOSS, a little cracked corn, rabbit pellets, etc. This tends to give them the variety they normally get with free ranging and stretches my feeding dollar a bit.

    Everyone feels differently on this subject, so you will get many answers. I don't add light because my gals deserve to take a break during the cold winter months, when they are using their nutrition for keeping warm and regrowing feathers from the moult. If they lay~great! If they don't~they soon will.
  3. OrpingtonManor

    OrpingtonManor Building the Castle

    Nov 15, 2008
    Martinez, CA
    I've wondered the same thing. You are up in BC, where there is much less light at this time of year than here in California. You might have to supplement your light for an hour a day for your birds to receive the same number of hours that mine get naturally. And the same goes for me. I would have to supplement in order to equal the sunlight of someone in Mexico or Central America. At what point does it become *unnatural*?
  4. Sasquatch

    Sasquatch Songster

    Dec 3, 2008
    Laying is part of my flock earning their keep. I use light. I can rationalize it when those lights are under their roost as they provide warmth too.
  5. Mahonri

    Mahonri Urban Desert Chicken Enthusiast Premium Member

    May 14, 2008
    North Phoenix
    My Coop
    I grew up with giving chickens light in the winter.

    In Ecuador, the sun comes up at 6AM and goes down at 6PM... all year long. Chickens lay year round there as natural as can be.
  6. ella

    ella Songster

    For me I consider it unnatural because we are NOT near the equator. Pushing them into production by using lights while they are stuck in the coop for more hours, having to use their energy to keep warm and being unable to get fresh greens and roam far and wide is not good for my flock.

    I know it because I've seen it. Feather picking and fighting, egg eating and egg yolk peritonitis. Emergency trips to the vet and costly battles with cancer and infection.

    Wild chickens that live in tropical parts do have more sunlight all year round, but they do not lay the 200+ eggs a year that our genetically modified breeds do. Laying is very hard on them physically, there is no getting around it.

    Even the best hen can only lay about 280 eggs a year and that only during her first year. Her production will slow down after that. If my hens want to take their 100 day (or more) break during the winter, that's what I'll let them do. I know it's better for them, I've done it both ways and lost 20 of my original 26 the other way.

    Another thing to think about is that no matter what you do, there will be times when your flock will not be producing. The only way to get around it is by having a commecial production set up. Continually raising new pullets and butchering the 'old'.

    If you only have a small flock and don't plan on replacing every year you are going to see more health problems by using lights, in my experience it costs more to raise this type of flock on lights.

    If your hens are pets and you want them to be around a long time, I would suggest not supplimenting light in the winter.
  7. deerman

    deerman Rest in Peace 1949-2012

    Aug 24, 2008
    Southern Ohio
    Yes as far north that you are would give them more light. You can alway give them a few weeks rest, then back to more light. Hens will cut back on eggs production after 18 month, but will produce for many year with more light. Egg every other day. Lot of today chicken breeds have been bred to produce more eggs than the wild fowl.
  8. digitS'

    digitS' Songster

    Dec 12, 2007
    ID/WA border
    There in Nelson, your birds will be sitting in the cold and darkness for over 16 hours out of every 24 if you do not put a light in their coop. If there is higher ground to the east and west of you (I know Nelson, there is) you will have even less hours of daylight. It is only 3:15 pm here right now and my neighborhood is completely in shadow.

    All the chickens' activities will be compressed into about a 7 hour day. How can this be considered a more healthy life for them?

    Some believe that it a "lay now" or "lay later" situation with chickens because they have a limited number of eggs in their ovaries. What is limited for a chicken are the days it will be young and productive; and the days it will live. A female chick hatches with about one-half million of early stage ova (oocytes). That is far more than the number of eggs she can possibly produce in a lifetime. Germ Cells in the Developing Female Chick (you can click on "Full Text")

    The birds will become post-reproductive for some other reason than that they have reached the end of a supply of ova. I wonder what sitting around in the cold and dark for 16 or 17 hours every night does to their potential to lay eggs or live out their lives.

  9. fiberart57

    fiberart57 Songster

    May 31, 2009
    Could there be a happy medium here? In Colorado, where I live, the sun comes up around 9-ish and goes down at 4-ish giving them eight hours of decent sunlight. I imagine in BC it's considerably less. I have the Rocky Mountains to the east so it comes up a bit late.

    This is their first year of laying, they're only seven months old and only four out of six are now laying. I don't light, but feed extra protein, and I'm averaging three eggs a day.

    The recommended light amount for maximum production is 14 - 16 hours, I believe, could you light for 8 or 10 and see what happens?
    Just a thought.

  10. ella

    ella Songster

    Digits, they are not 'sitting around in darkness for 17 hours' they are sleeping and conserving energy as their bodies tell them to. My flock is quite happily sleeping right now, snuggled up to each other with their crops full. Believe me they are happier and healthier with their winter break. I should know I've been taking care of them for 6 years.

    By your own admission you don't keep birds for more than 2 years. For those of us who keep their birds as pets for their natural lifespan it is heartbreaking to see them suffer through cancer and egg yolk peritonitis and to spend hundreds of dollars on vet visits and medical treatment, to give daily antibiotic injections, all because I was too impatient for eggs.

    I don't expect to get tomatoes out of my garden in January and I don't expect to get eggs out of my hens. Eggs are seasonal, simple as that.

    It ALL depends on WHY you have your flock and how long you're going to keep it. If you replace them every year then it doesn't make sense not to add light. If you plan to keep them long term it doesn't make sense to add lights.

    If you find it works different for you then, great, go for it. But that's been my experience and as a public forum that's what BYC is all about. [​IMG]

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