Decreasing daylight and its effect on laying hens
In the late fall and winter months, egg production may drop off due to decreased hours of daylight, but there are strategies you can implement to keep hens producing.
Raising chickens for egg production can be rewarding and challenging. The amount of daylight hours affects a chicken’s reproductive cycle. Hens will begin laying when the amount of daylight reaches 14 hours per day during early spring. Maximum egg laying will occur when the day length reaches 16 hours per day. This biological marvel is perfectly designed so that chicks hatch in spring and develop and mature during the warmer summer months.
Poultry owners can manipulate the egg laying cycle to increase egg laying in their flocks by providing artificial lighting in coops. Supplemental lighting should be at a low intensity level, just bright enough to be able to read a newspaper at bird level, and applied in the morning hours so that birds naturally roost. Lights should be placed above feeders and waterers and there should be few areas in the hen house that are shaded from the light.
The type of bulb that poultry owners use to provide artificial light is an important factor to consider. Florescent bulbs may be less expensive to operate in comparison to an incandescent bulb; however, fluorescent bulbs are more difficult to maintain in dusty hen houses and their intensity is more difficult to regulate. Also, fluorescent lights may not turn on to full strength in cold weather.
If you decide to use a fluorescent bulb, choose a “warm” wavelength bulb, which appears as an orange or reddish light, as a “cool” wavelength bulb will not stimulate the hen’s reproductive cycle. Incandescent bulbs can have an effect on your electric bill; however, their intensity is much easier to regulate with the use of a dimmer. LED bulbs are a good choice as they are more energy efficient than both incandescent and fluorescent bulbs and more reliable in cold weather than most fluorescent bulbs.
After pullets have reached 16 weeks of age, the maximum of 14-16 hours of artificial light can be applied without harm. When implementing artificial lighting, begin by increasing light exposure by 1 hour each week until you are up to the maximum of 14-16 hours of light per day.
As always, hens should be managed appropriately as other factors such as nutrition and overall health also have an effect on egg production. For more information and resources on egg production and hen management, visit the Small and Backyard Flock eXtension webpage.