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by Margaret Hartley

Greenpoint

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Snow or not, it's spring

By Margaret Hartley
Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The last day of winter had us shoveling around 10 inches of new snow. The first day of spring saw the shovels out again, cleaning up another 2 inches or so that had fallen overnight.

So what? Spring is here anyway.

I have proof. Not only is the sun a little higher every day, but the chickens have started laying again. Spring means eggs.

Chickens are light-sensitive. With no artificial light source they will stop laying in the winter and start up again in spring. In nature, this makes perfect sense, allowing chicks to be born in spring and summer when their chances of survival are far better.

For people who raise chickens, the winter shutdown is not particularly welcome. I made fun of some people I know, fairly new to chicken raising, who gave away their whole flock last month. They were fed up with the lack of eggs.

“We need a different breed,” they said, and I thought, “They need a better light.”

Maybe they’re just like us and keep forgetting to turn the light on. Or maybe, like us, they have a henhouse light that’s just not strong enough.

And maybe, being new to chicken raising, they don’t realize that even chickens who stop laying in the winter will start again in the spring.

We’ve been doing this for a long time, and most years we have at least some eggs all winter long. That’s because most years we have a good light in the henhouse and either remember to turn it on every evening or have it on a timer.

I recently read an article by a poultry expert from the Nebraska Cooperative Extension suggesting that it’s better to turn the light on in the early morning hours than in the evening, as we’ve always done.

“Sudden darkness can cause chickens to panic and pile up in a corner, which can consequently cause them to suffocate each other. By applying extra light in the morning rather than the evening, chickens will naturally go to roost with the setting of the sun,” the article said.

I’ve never had chickens panic when I went in at night to turn off the light, but maybe that’s because I always say good night to them. Maybe in the years they were on a timer they got scared when the light clicked off.

I like the idea of the morning light, and if we remember to get a timer next fall, I’ll try to remember to set it for a few hours before sunrise rather than after sunset.

Anyway, through our own poor lighting efforts, our winter egg production slowed to three or four eggs a day, then to two or three a week, then to none at all.

“The girls are on vacation,” I told my husband some time around the new year, and we had to start buying eggs. We hate buying eggs. They don’t even taste good. And we have all these chickens.

Every day we’d feed and water them, let them out to visit the ox shed, and chide them for their lack of production. “What?” I’d ask them as I knocked the ice out of their water dishes, “no eggs again?”

I do not think chickens speak English. They did not seem disturbed by my scolding at all.

But it’s spring now. We’re up to 12 hours of light and gaining. And while hens lay best at 14 to 16 hours of light a day, they started back up before the equinox.

So we are over the hump. Five eggs one day, 10 another. We’re not getting eggs every day, but we don’t have to buy any, and we even have some extra.

And because we know it’s spring, it’s easy to enjoy winter’s last blast of snow. The boy spent his snow day building forts and snowmen, and the dogs got to romp and ramble over snow berms and push their noses into snow in search of little varmints who think it might be spring. We’re planning to do some cross-country skiing this weekend, before the snow melts.

It won’t be long, not with that higher-every-day March sun in the sky. And while we’re waiting for the world to green, we are enjoying our abundance of eggs.

Last week I gave a dozen to a friend with an almost-spring birthday. I let him know it was not just eggs he was getting, but the true miracle of spring.

Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.

Have a question or a topic you’d like addressed on Greenpoint? Email greenpoint@dailygazette.net.

 
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