Karen has been after me to set up hen lights this year, after a hiatus of several years. Hens normally don’t like to lay except when the day length is increasing or reasonably long or both, and neither holds true at the end of the year. Lights have been used since the 1880s to deal with this.
There’s a lot of superstition about hen lights, ranging from the idea that it somehow uses up the hens, to the idea that hens are kept under brilliant 24-hour light as a form of torture.
Lights may have been hard on the hens in the 1880s, which was before anyone knew anything about nutrition, and flocks were generally malnourished during the winter. But the bright-light idea is just silly. Hens respond to very low levels of light, and electricity costs money. Light stimulation works at levels so dim that the hens can’t see to move around. The real problem with traditional hen lights is that they’re so dim that it’s hard for the farmer to work by them. The hens have no difficulty sleeping with the lights on.
The main purpose of the lights is to shift some of the egg laying out of the spring and into the fall and winter. At best, it increases overall egg production by 15%, which is welcome but isn’t really the point. The point is to get the kind of steady, year-round production that occurs naturally in the tropics, but not in regions as far north as I am. I’m at 45 degrees latitude, and daylight lasts only eight hours on Christmas week.
My lighting system is distinctly retro. Because I use portable pasture houses, the main feature of my lighting system is a thousand feet of outdoor extension cord going from house to house. I use a single 40-watt incandescent bulb per house. The whole thing is on a timer set to remain on from 6 AM to 8 PM, which is in series with a dusk-to-dawn sensor to turn the lights off when it’s light out. This gives the hens 14 hours of light per day, which is the traditional amount to use. Traditionally, lights are used between September 1 and March 31. I’m off to a very late start.
I will post pictures later, after everything’s up and running.