We often hear of the concern of hens not laying well when the winter months creep upon us, but do we ever hear about how hens react when the daylight time increases? A question and concern that I’ve noticed from many backyard chicken groups is the fear that their hens may be laying too many eggs and they’re getting worn out. Some owners are confused as to why egg production dramatically decreases through the winter months and then picks back up again in spring and summer. In actuality, the hens are naturally adjusting to the longer days and being signaled hormonally to produce more eggs.
So, how does this work? Well… biology is how!
Did you know that chickens have a gland that is light sensitive and lets them know when it’s okay to lay?
A part of the endocrine system, the pineal gland lies behind the eyes and above the midbrain. The pineal gland is a collection of glands that play a crucial role in hormone production, regulation of metabolism, growth and development, as well as melatonin production and circadian rhythm (a natural process that regulates the sleep/wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours). In birds, a circadian clock is located within the pineal gland and can synchronize the bird’s internal biological clock, which includes direct light sensitivity (Csernus, 2009).
Should you be worried about the change in daylight?
When the day lengthens, natural lighting is increased. When the pineal gland detects light, it triggers the hypothalamus (a small section of the brain) to respond by sending a signal to the pituitary gland, which plays a part in producing hormones which activate egg production. Naturally, when the days shorten, the pineal gland stops sending this signal; however, because the gland is light sensitive, you can trick it easily by providing artificial lighting which is what many owners do during winter in order to keep their birds on a familiar schedule and laying regularly.
Hens lay more eggs during the warmer seasons like summer and spring because of the direct correlation between sunlight and egg production; however, it’s important to remember that some breeds such as the Australorp or Rhode Island Red will lay more than others because of their genetics (Oana, 2018).
Is it possible for your hen to lay too many eggs?
Like humans, poultry have a certain amount of egg yolks, or “ova,” which are in the hen’s ovary. This means that once these ova run out (no new ovum form after the chick hatches), the hen is done laying, just like a human is unable to produce a child. Within chicken ovaries, there are potentially tens of thousands of ova or potential eggs that could be laid, but most of the time, many of the ova do not develop to the point of ovulation (Girma et al., 2018). Even the best hen cannot lay an egg every day – it takes 25 hours for complete egg formation. So no, because of biology and evolution, a hen will never lay “too many” eggs.
The only time you should worry about the eggs that your hen is producing is when the quality is poor. A few indicators of poor egg quality are:
– Shell-less eggs
– Speckled eggs
– Calcium deposits
– Misshapen eggs
– Wrinkled eggs
For now, though, if you do not see any irregularities and your birds are happy, enjoy those naturally fresh eggs and appreciate the abundance that summer and spring bring! As always, remember to do multiple daily checks to your coop and ensure that your birds are drinking enough water. As the days grow longer and hotter, ensure that your birds are maintaining a healthy lifestyle and beating the heat using Chicken DeLyte – a unique proprietary blend of a natural plant extract, probiotics, prebiotics, vitamins, minerals and electrolytes. Ensure your birds drink their required daily amount and you’ll have a weight off your shoulders about what you can do to better improve their health.
Csernus VJ. The Avian Pineal Gland. Chronobiology International. 2009 [accessed 2019 May 9];23(1-2):329–339. https://doi.org/10.1080/07420520500482108
Girma, et al. “Poultry Farming.” Modern Farming Methods, Roys Farm, 11 Sept. 2018, www.roysfarm.com/poultry-farming/.
Hirsch L, editor. Endocrine System (for Parents). KidsHealth. 2018 Oct [accessed 2019 May 9]. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/endocrine.html
Oana AM. Top 13 best and most productive egg laying chicken breeds. AgronoMag. 2018 Mar 8 [accessed 2019 May 9]. https://agronomag.com/top-13-best-egg-laying-chicken-breeds/
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