Avian Aqua Miser: Automatic, poop-free chicken waterers

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Supplemental light in the chicken coop

Supplemental coop lightWe put a light in our chicken coop for the first time this year.  You're probably aware that you can boost egg production in the winter by keeping "day length" 14 hours or longer.  The flip side of that coin is that your flock has to deal with laying extra eggs during what would naturally be more of a rest period, so your hens may get sick and/or wear out sooner.

In the past, I've decided the extra eggs weren't worth the wear and tear on our flock (and increased electric bill), but shortening days arrived this year before our spring pullets started to lay.  A young hen (pullet) can start to lay eggs after she's five to seven months old, but she might put laying off until the next spring if she doesn't get started by early fall.  Our oldest pullets hatched on April 20, so they're due to start laying anytime, but I think the shortening days put their biological clocks to sleep.  Anticipating a winter nearly without eggs was enough to make me lower my standards and hook up a light.

Supplemental light doesn't have to be fancy, but it should be consistent.  You'll need a timer to turn the light on and off --- 14 hours of daylight is the goal, which currently means turning on the bulb for three hours in the evening.  Many folks recommend adding your extra lighting in the morning so that the chickens don't get caught on the ground when the light flicks off, but if you keep your light relatively dim, your chickens will spend most of that additional daylight on the perch anyway.

The type of bulb doesn't seem to be all that important either --- we used a fluorescent for the lower electric bill, but some people suggest even LED Christmas lights or nightlights might work.  The rule of thumb is that good egg-laying breeds will respond to 5 lux, which is a light intensity at which the average person can just barely read a newspaper.  Heavier breeds need 50 lux to keep production up --- equivalent to the lighting in an average family living room.  (This is still considerably less light than a very dark, overcast day or office lighting.)

I have high hopes that the extra light will have our Black Australorps laying shortly.  I'm ready to stop rationing eggs!

Our chicken waterer keeps the flock well-hydrated with POOP-free water.

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I would suggest that you use incandescent light, REGULAR LIGHT BULBS, it gives off the broad spectrum of light, ultra violet to infrared, which is necessary for the chicken or any body to absorb calcium. You need vitamin D to act as catalyst for the body to absorb calcium. No D, you could consume a salt block of calcium and it would just pass through the system. The best source of vit. D is natural sun light or cod liver oil. Incandescent light is the closest to natural sun light we have. If you can find broad spectrum florescent lights, good luck!I even use a soaked in milk cheap dog food with cod liver oil mixed in as a supplement. Just to be on the safe side. Once a week give or take. Amazing what little meat eaters (well, most cheap dog food is mostly grain, but!)chickens can be. Just something I was taught years ago.
Comment by Anonymous late Saturday afternoon, October 29th, 2011
The fluorescent seems to be working like a charm --- our flock started laying within a week or two of installing it and are giving us plenty of eggs now. Sure, incandescent might be more helpful if the birds weren't exposed to natural sunlight, but since they play outside all day, I figure it's better to save the energy and use fluorescents.
Comment by anna late Saturday afternoon, October 29th, 2011
I thought the hours of day light you are aiming for is 12 not 14? If it's 14 hours the light would have to be on 9 months out of the year.
Comment by Brian late Monday afternoon, December 3rd, 2012

Brian --- Good question. The internet seems to suggest that 14 to 16 hours of light is best, with this data from the Nebraska Extension service:

"The avian reproductive cycle, which is how a hen produces eggs, is stimulated in poultry by increasing day length. As day length approaches 14 hours per day during early spring, chickens begin laying eggs, gradually increasing their production as the day length increases. They will reach their maximum egg laying potential when the day-light reaches approximately 16 hours per day....

"Approximately 14 hours of light per day is required to stimulate a hen to lay an egg. Anything below that will cause her reproductive cycle to shut down, triggering the hen to cease egg production until spring when the natural day length will increase to sufficient levels once again. Artificial light needs to be applied when the day length approaches 15 hours per day."

On the other hand, I'm getting the impression from some scientific articles that the change in light levels is also important --- slowly increasing the amount of light is a cue to chickens to start laying more. So it might be better to mimic spring by increasing day length a bit at a time rather than jumping straight to 14 to 16 hours?

Comment by anna at teatime on Monday, December 10th, 2012
That's interesting info. At our latitude we only get 14 hours 31 minutes June 20th (longest day of the year.) Nebraska gets 15 hours 6 minutes. I wonder if the research was based on chickens that are kept indoors? We will be increasing our lighting in 15 minute intervals as you suggested but I think we will probably just max out at no more than 14 hours. Thanks for the info!
Comment by Brian late Friday evening, December 21st, 2012
To insure that no one end's up on the ground or coup floor I added a night light that is not plugged into the timer and turns on just as soon as the timer shuts the primary lights out. This allows enough light for everyone to find their favorite place on the roost.
Comment by Scott McMillin at midnight, November 16th, 2013

Hello all,

I am curious as to how chickens absorb light, in this case to increase egg production. Since a chicken is well covered with feathers, what mechanism do they use to take in the light? There is only a small area on the face and the eyes that expose their skin.

Thanks, Daniel

Comment by Daniel Wednesday afternoon, November 4th, 2015
Daniel --- I've always assumed this was a simple matter of waking up when the light comes on (the same way we wake up when light streams in our bedroom window even though our eyes are closed) and then going to bed when it gets dark. A chicken doesn't need to "absorb" light for it to affect her egg laying. A change in her circadian rhythms should be enough.
Comment by anna at lunch time on Monday, November 9th, 2015

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