You provide your hens with a well-balanced diet, fresh water and ensure that they are healthy. So why all of a sudden are your hens not laying eggs like they did in the spring and summer? Many hens will slow down egg production or stop producing eggs completely during the winter months. This can be a bummer if you rely on your chicken eggs or if you sell eggs. Commercial egg producers beat the winter laying reduction by adding supplemental lighting to the coop to keep their hens laying through the winter.
Understanding the hen’s reproductive system is key to understanding why supplemental lighting is important. The hen’s reproductive system is closely linked to the endocrine system, the body system that makes hormones. Hormones regulate many processes in the body, including the reproductive processes. The pituitary gland creates hormones such as follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). These two hormones tell the hen’s ovaries to start making eggs. The pituitary gland is finicky though; it only makes FSH and LH once the hypothalamus (another hormone-producing gland) to do so. The hypothalamus is stimulated by light that enters the chicken’s body through the eye. Light entering the eye set off a chain of events: the hypothalamus stimulates the pituitary gland which releases the hormones FSH and LH. FSH and LH then travel to the ovaries and wake them up to start producing eggs.
Most chickens are close descendants of the Red Jungle Fowl. The Red Jungle Fowl is found in equatorial regions, where the sun shines nearly 14 hours per day all year long. These breeds that are closely related to the Red Jungle Fowl need about 12-14 hours of sunlight each day to stimulate egg production. Here in the U.S., we may only receive 8-9 hours of sunlight at best during the winter. This often isn’t enough daily sunlight to stimulate egg production, therefore, egg production slows down or stops.
Breeds that Don’t Stop Producing
Some breeds have been developed to keep producing eggs over the winter despite the drop in sunlight. Many of these breeds were developed in the Northeastern United States where winters can be harsh and daily sunlight is hardly 9 hours per day. Breeds like the New Hampshire Red, Rhode Island Red, Jersey Giants and Dominiques are known to lay all winter long. These breeds were all developed in the far Northeastern U.S. where winters are quite cold and sunlight can be scarce.
Pros and Cons
The idea of supplemental lighting is one that can lead to disagreements quickly in the chicken industry. There are pros and cons to adding supplemental lighting to the coop like there are with many other chicken topics. You might find a similar disagreement between owners that free-range their chickens and ones that keep their chickens cooped up. Of course, there are pros and cons to both of those situations as well. It’s just a matter of determining what is best for your flock.
The pros of adding supplemental lighting are simple. If you notice your chicken’s egg production has dropped in the winter, then adding supplemental lighting will boost their egg production. You’re also probably spending money on feed for your chickens. If egg production drops or stops, you may feel like you’re throwing money away. Supplemental lighting can help your hens start laying so that you get something in return for the money you spend on feed.
Some chicken owners argue that supplemental lighting isn’t natural. There are claims that adding artificial lighting is harsh and can disrupt the hen’s natural reproductive cycle, wearing her out faster. There isn’t any scientific research that supports this claim, however. It can be a hassle turning lights on and off each day, but a simple timer can help take away that burden.
Adding supplemental lighting can be a great way to keep your hens laying over the winter and keep your egg basket full all year long.