Many of us in rural areas are keeping chickens or other poultry these days. The excitement of different breeds and feather colors often draws folks in to raising birds in the spring. Those birds are reaching maturity as we enter the fall, giving new owners reinvigorated excitement over raising birds: the first egg!
The amount of light a bird receives is important to the egg laying process. Light stimulates the production of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) in the bird, a hormone necessary in the bird for growth of follicles on the ovary which will eventually produce the yolk of the egg.
Light hits the eye of the bird and that signal is passed along to an endocrine organ in the brain called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus then “talks” to the pituitary gland (also located in the brain). The pituitary gland will then release FSH which travels to the bloodstream and migrates to the ovary. This process then initiates development of the follicles which will produce estrogen. Estrogen released from follicles stimulates development of the oviduct of the bird, and eventually allows the yolk to pass through, leading to egg formation further down the reproductive tract.
One of the challenges of egg production going into fall and winter for mature birds is the decreasing daylength. Eleven to twelve hours is the bare minimum amount of light needed to stimulate production of FSH necessary for egg production. However, this amount of light, or the lesser amounts in December and January, are not enough for continued high egg production rates.
Knowing that we are only getting about 12 hours of light this time of year, how do we increase the light to the bird? The good news is this can be done with incandescent or warm fluorescent bulbs and a timer. The ideal amount of light for egg production is about 14-16 hours. More isn’t already better either: light beyond 17 hours may actually decrease egg production.
The trick here is to not abruptly change your bird’s light all at once though. This is where a timer comes in handy. A timer allows you to have supplemental light on before sunrise, off during natural daylight, and on again after sunset to achieve your desired total “daylength”. It is recommended to increase the total amount of natural and artificial light birds are receiving 15-30 minutes per week until you reach the desired amount of light each day. Also, remember that in the thick of winter natural daylength continues to decrease until December 21 with only nine hours of daylight, so timers may need to be adjusted periodically.
When you add the light on to the day can change when eggs are laid, so you can use this to your advantage. If you want to make sure that the majority of your eggs are laid in the morning hours, you might want to add the daylight before the natural sunrise. However, this does mean that eggs are at risk of freezing if you don’t provide supplemental heat, and birds need water (not ice!) shortly after the lights go on.
The other good news is that the lights don’t need to be super bright, and in fact, you don’t want bright lights that can cause nervousness in bird that may lead to detrimental behaviors. For most home flocks, one 60-watt bulb per 10 foot by 20 foot area. If the coop area has a tall ceiling (over 10 feet) a 75-watt bulb may be needed.
There is a good publication from the University of Maine Extension at https://goo.gl/vwC4hN that discusses in detail the lighting requirements of birds and how to meet those requirements.
Note: This article originally was published in the Marquette County Tribune, Waushara Argus, and/or the Berlin Journal. This article was written by Lyssa Seefeldt, UW-Extension Agriculture Agent for Marquette County unless otherwise noted.