The days are getting shorter - learn about preventing a drop in egg production!

Discussion in 'Sponsored Content, Contests, and Giveaways' started by JenniO11, Nov 19, 2013.

  1. JenniO11

    JenniO11 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Jan 11, 2012
    This article is brought to us by sponsor Yeti Solar and is a revised and expanded version of a post that has previously appeared in the Backyard Chickens Forum, and on the Yeti Solar blog (www.yetisolar.com/blogs/news).

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    Well, it's definitely that time of year. The days are getting noticeably shorter. In addition to making it harder for us humans to get up in the morning, this makes hens lay fewer eggs. Why? Decreasing day length causes hormonal changes in hens, which reduce or stop egg production. This effect is widely documented by university cooperative exchange programs, and in scientific literature going back to at least 19561. What is the solution? To quote the Oregon State Small Farms Program2:​

    Preventing production losses due to changes in natural day length requires artificial lighting. To maintain production, day length must increase or remain constant at more than 12 hours per day; a 14- to 16-hour day is typical. Light needs to be just bright enough to read a newspaper, and the type of bulb does not matter. If a lighting program is started, it must be continued. Even a 1-day lapse can have a negative impact on egg production.

    A common question that people ask is whether reduced egg-laying in winter is natural? If so, by extending day length using supplemental (artificial) lighting, are we interfering with a natural rest and repair mechanism in chickens? To be natural, we would want to treat chickens like their wild ancestors (red junglefowl3), whose habitat is near the equator. To junglefowl, 12 hours of light a day throughout the year is more 'natural' than the variable day lengths of more temperate latitudes, which is an argument for winter supplemental lighting. However, chickens have been domesticated for at least 5,000 years, so I would argue that trying to return them to a natural state for health reasons is a bit like thinking it would be healthy for tiny lapdogs to form packs and hunt down caribou like their wolf ancestors.

    Setting aside natural, what do the experts say about supplemental lighting for chickens? Recommendations from some organizations are pretty complex4, but the University of Connecticut boils it down to these two rules of thumb5:
    1. “Never increase the intensity or duration of light during the growing period.” They consider chickens to be in the growing period until 9-12 weeks of age. You can start with near constant light in an incubator and reduce light exposure gradually.
    2. “Never decrease the intensity or duration of light during the production period.” In other words, once chickens start laying, use supplemental light to either extend their days or keep them from getting shorter.

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    Besides egg-laying, light can have a positive effect on chicken behavior. According to the University of Connecticut, blue light has a calming effect on chickens, and red light can discourage cannibalism and feather picking. Light in the blue to green range stimulates growth, while light in the orange to red range stimulates reproduction/laying4. There is one more, very compelling reason to have a light in your coop. When (not if) you have to go check on the ladies in the middle of the night, it's nice to be able to actually see what's inside your coop!

    All that covers why supplemental lighting is important. But how do you light up a chicken coop? There are basically three options:
    1. Extension cable along the ground: This is pretty common, and not recommended. Connections between extension cables can get wet and short out. An extension cable will also get walked on, scraped up, and likely pecked at (if your chickens are like the ones I know). This can expose the inner wires, again causing a dangerous short.
    2. Trenching/armoring: You can run wires through pipes, or bury them deep in the ground. This is much safer than option 1, but more expensive. Also, you either have to rip up your backyard, or build a wall going from your house to your coop.
    3. A self-contained lighting system: The system must generate and store its own power, which means you need space to mount a solar panel on the outside of the coop, but this is otherwise as easy as Option 1 and less expensive than Option 2.

    There's been a lot of interest in solar lighting for chicken coops lately. One of the fun things about designing and manufacturing solar lighting systems has been the interesting and often unexpected uses people have found for our products. We've learned as much from our customers about chicken coops as we have taught them about solar lighting.

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    Recent installations of our systems (thanks again to Mia and Spence for the photos!)​
    A lot of people have emailed us with pretty similar questions, so I’m just going to post some of the details here that everyone wanted to know:

    Our LED lights produce light in a spectrum that is similar to daylight, and thus contains a full range of colors. Our recommendation for chicken coops is our LightPassage ($150) in combination with a digital programmable timer ($40). The LightPassage can do 400 lumens (about 1/2 the output of a 60W incandescent bulb) for 4 hours a day, given a good spot for the solar panel. If you need a bit more oomph, check out the LightPortal ($250), which has a larger solar panel and a larger battery, and can do 1600 lumens for 4 hours a day, or 800 lumens for 8 hours a day, given a good spot for the solar panel.
    In addition, we can do custom work: the second LightPortal system shown above (second and third photos) was customized to have a low setting of 400 lumens instead of 800, which means it can run for 16 hours a day instead of 8 on the low mode. We also worked with a client to design a system that included a fan to keep the chickens cool in the summer. Lastly, we can create unique, custom-designed light diffusers:

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    Turn that chicken coop into a chicken palace,
    through interior decorating!
    A lot of people have also asked about running electric heat off of a solar lighting/power system. I like to use the analogy of burning copy paper to stay warm; it's possible, but not cost-effective. The simplest solution is passive solar heating through good window/eve placement. If you want more heat for your chicken coop in the winter, you could use solar heating, either solar hot water or solar air heating. You can buy those things, but if you want to save money you can also build them yourself from scratch, unlike solar electric power. You may also want to check out this thread, on how much heat your chickens actually need.
    If you have further questions about solar for chicken coops, or custom needs, please shoot us an email at [email protected].

    Rustom Meyer and Jon Meyer
    www.yetisolar.com

    References/Footnotes
    1. Short day-length and egg production in the fowl, "A. H. Sykes", The Journal of Agricultural Science, Volume 47, Issue 04, 1956, pp 429-434, DOI 10.1017/S0021859600040582
    2. http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1957/20763/pnw565.pdf
    3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Junglefowl. The similarities and differences between these guys and chickens are kind of fascinating.
    4. For example, Oregon State University encourages supplemental light, but recommended that hens should be exposed to 6 weeks of short days in their second fall/winter of life to encourage a complete, or “hard” moult. During moulting, egg production will be reduced drastically or all together, but the hens will undergo a general rejuvenation. Other sources on chicken moulting do not consider this necessary. Given the uncertainty surrounding some of these recommendations, it's probably best to rely on the care instructions specific to the breed(s) you are raising. If you do want short days for 6 weeks for moulting purposes, you can still extend egg-laying with supplemental lighting throughout the rest of the fall, winter, and spring.
    5. http://web.uconn.edu/poultry/poultrypages/light_inset.html#ii
     
    3 people like this.
  2. Brandi Leigh

    Brandi Leigh Chillin' With My Peeps

    Very interesting article.
     
  3. Apdeb

    Apdeb Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Jun 4, 2013
    Woodbridge Ct
    Thanks this is great!!!!
     
  4. SoManyHats

    SoManyHats Chillin' With My Peeps

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    May 9, 2013
    Winchester, VA
    Despite the domestication, chickens still natually decrease egg production during the winter. We aren't trying to return them to a wild state, we are allowing them to cycle their egg laying as their body does naturally. And to get a break they need and deserve. If people want to breed for winter egg laying, by all means. But don't force the ones who aren't biologically made for it.
     
    2 people like this.
  5. Im Barred up

    Im Barred up Out Of The Brooder

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    May 6, 2012
    New Brunswick
    This article claims that light is beneficial, but I've also read that artificial light causes ovarian cancer; light that has a flicker to it (that may not even be noticeable to humans) will drive them crazy as their eyes are much more sensitive to light. It's the equivalent to a disco ball going all the time! I used light last year before I could make an informed decision, and couldn't stop mid season as it may cause a sudden molt, but this year I'm going to let my chickens be natural! That's why I got them, for healthy birds that aren't forced to lay! Right?!
     
    1 person likes this.
  6. MusiGal

    MusiGal Out Of The Brooder

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    Mar 1, 2013
    Chesapeake, VA
    SoManyHats, I'm with you. The article is interesting and informative, however, I found it peculiar that with all of the domestication that has been done with chickens, that the author would go back so far to justify his determination of what's "natural" for today's chickens. For me the chickens we have today have become accustomed to the lengthening and shortening of days as the seasons come and go. It seems to me the whole reason most of us got chickens in the first place is to go back to some sort of natural way, so why would we want to make artificial light just so they could lay eggs year round? Wouldn't that be just as bad as a production house (only on a smaller scale)? If a person decides that's what they want to do, then more power to them, it's their prerogative, but for me, I'll let nature take its course.
     
    1 person likes this.
  7. chickies123

    chickies123 New Egg

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    Nov 20, 2013
    I think leaving the chickens in their natural state is beneficial rather than leaving the light on to increase their egg production. Chickens need a break in the winter.
     
  8. skippyscage

    skippyscage Out Of The Brooder

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    Nov 25, 2012
    yup same here - I have one that has completely stopped and one that just started laying every single day. They do what they do.
     
  9. ghostwolf211

    ghostwolf211 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Aug 21, 2013
    Ringtown, Pennsylvania
    I have actually thought a lot about this....This being my first year with Chickens and my first winter....I'm going to allow nature to keep it's course and not add any lighting....
     
  10. PurplePoppiPpl

    PurplePoppiPpl Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Mar 31, 2012
    North Western Wisconsin
    I haven't been getting any eggs for a month or two and cant figure out why they haven't started up again... They did molt but how long until they will start to lay again?
     

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