You don’t have to put on your red light…

First off, this is not a story about ladies of the night, but a story about my own personal harem.
(Cue the song by the Police: Roxanne…you don’t have to put on the red light; those days are over you don’t have to sell your body to the night)
Yes, I have chickens. 14 laying hens to be precise. I really enjoy having laying hens, they give me true “farm fresh eggs.” If you are able, I would strongly encourage you to keep hens. Many cities are allowing chickens now, assuming that your neighbors approve. Madison Wisconsin is one local town that allows hens. I hear that even New York City allows people to keep hens, although I have no real knowledge to back this assertion.

This am I went out to feed my ladies their warm gruel. When it’s -20F, like it has been here the last few days, they really appreciate a warm breakfast. My husband grumbled as I went outside with my steaming pot, “those birds eat better than me!” to which I flippantly replied, “yes well they give me a nice little treat almost every day.”

Unfortunately, when I got out to the barn, I found that one of my little ladies had frozen to death over night. The red heat lamp which hangs in their coop had burnt out overnight, and all the chickens were huddled together for warmth in a corner of the coop. The poor Buff Orpington which was against the outside wall was frozen. I gave the warm gruel to the rest of the hens, who were quite grateful, and removed the poor little Buff.

This calls for a trip to Blain’s Farm and Fleet! My favorite place! When we moved out to Rural Wisconsin, I was a bit concerned about the lack of stores in the immediate vicinity. When we lived in Milwaukee, one of the largest malls in the state was just down the road. Not that we went there very often, mind you, but it was reassuring to have it near by. When we moved here, there was a mall, which had one tiny little department store and the Farm and Fleet. The department store shall remain nameless, as it is pitiful, but the Farm and Fleet! My husband said, well if you can’t get it at Farm and Fleet, you don’t need it! Right you are!

I found the heat lamps there, and there were two varieties in 250Watts: the clear glass and the red glass. The clear glass bulb cost $3.99 but the red glass bulb cost $7! Goodness! Considering that I have to replace these bulbs about once a month in winter, it makes sense to find out why I wanted to have the red glass bulb. My father used to tell me when I was a kid that the red glass allowed the chickens to rest during the winter, since it would provide heat, but not induce the chickens to lay eggs when it wasn’t natural for them. Of course I believed him then, but my Buffs and Araucanas still produce eggs, even though I have been faithfully giving them red light all winter. Does it really make a difference if you provide red light or white light to your chickens? I needed to find out!

The guy at the farm store told me to buy a red heat light for the chicks. He said the white lamps caused the chicks to see spots on the other chicks which they would peck trying to see if it was food. The red lamps apparently don’t do that. Sounds plausible, as the baby chicks seem to peck at anything that looks like it might be a bug. Why a white light would cause the other chicks to have spots, I can’t explain.

I’ve had other people tell me that the white light on 24/7, as we have it on in the dead of winter, causes the chickens to go a little batty, but that the red light doesn’t cause the same problems. It’s possible.

I’d really like to have some sound scientific evidence. Guess I’ll just have to keep looking.

Update: I have bought Storey’s Guide to Raising Poultry and have found some more information here about lighting and chickens. I highly encourage you to consider this book if you have interest in raising your own chickens. It has practically everything you need in order to have your own flock of healthy birds.

There are three things to consider with light: wavelength, intensity and duration. Wavelength is the color. Chickens see better at 580 nm, which is the red end of visible light. intensity varies depending on the age of the bird and the ultimate purpose. I won’t bore you with details of this. Duration is more important, or better understood, especially as how it relates to egg production.

During the first 4 days, assuming you’ve bought day old chicks, you’ll want to leave on the light for 22 hours. This is to allow the babies to learn where to find the heat, water and food. After that, you want to be careful about day length. If you artificially give the birds light and expose young immature females to increasing day length, then they will mature sexually at too young an age, giving you smaller and fewer eggs. If you expose mature laying hens to a decreasing day length, they will produce fewer eggs. One might argue that the laying hens need that break from egg production in the winter, but we’ll save that for another time. The book has a good explanation of how to light your coop if your interested in that sort of thing.

The light stimulates the pituitary gland through the eye, which in turn stimulates the ovary through hormones to produce eggs. If you want eggs in winter (or any time the day length is less than 15 to 16 hours) you’ll need to provide supplemental light. This light can be a compact fluorescent or incandescent, up to 60w.

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