Your Chickens - - Charlotte'schickens -


Of­ten those to whom I sell eggs do not un­der­stand why my hens do not lay in the win­ter and some­times re­mark ‘oh it’s so cold, I’m not sur­prised they have stopped lay­ing’. I try and ex­plain it’s all due to the light.

Hens pos­sess a com­plex mech­a­nism. The hen’s pineal gland, part of her en­docrine sys­tem, sits above her mid­brain, be­hind the eyes. This gland pro­duces mela­tonin, which helps reg­u­late sleep and other body func­tions. As the days lengthen, her pineal gland re­sponds by send­ing a hor­mone through her body to her ovary to start pro­duc­ing eggs. As the days shorten, the pineal gland stops send­ing this hor­mone. Since the gland is light-sen­si­tive, you can fool it by in­creas­ing the amount of light avail­able to the hen dur­ing the au­tumn and win­ter.

For op­ti­mum lay­ing a hen likes 16 hours of light with only eight hours of dark­ness. Light­ing can be fixed in hen houses, with a timer, in win­ter but should be used to pro­vide ex­tra light for two or three hours be­fore dawn rather than in the evening, to al­low hens to roost nat­u­rally. As a gen­eral rule, a 40-watt bulb for each 100 sq ft of hen­house should suf­fice to keep hens lay­ing year-round. Use in­can­des­cent bulbs rather than flo­res­cent lights, as the wave­lengths of in­can­des­cent bulbs are closer to those of nat­u­ral sun­light. It must be said though that I would never use ar­ti­fi­cial light. I like my hens to have a rest in the win­ter and, since hens have a fi­nite num­ber of eggs that they will lay in their life­time, I reckon this means that they will live longer and have more of a chance to go broody, hatch some chicks and live a more nat­u­ral life.

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