Thursday, December 11, 2014

Seasonal light cycle, effects on chickens, rabbits, and work.

Light has a lot to do with how things go with livestock, and how people feel in general at this time of year, and I figured I would talk about that a bit. Some of the consequences are really obvious in that temperatures are colder, work time is shorter, and a lot of things can't be done outside in the dark and cold. Some of the things are less obvious but just as important when it comes to homesteading in particular, even beyond not having plants in the ground without a greenhouse.

The first and most obvious consequence of the changed light is that we went from having 6 eggs a day to zero over about two weeks. At this point we haven't had any new eggs for some time from our chickens which is ok for now. Obviously as the light comes back they will start to lay again. Here's a little piece on it. Essentially, chickens need 15 hours of light a day to lay, and we are getting somewhere around 10 hours of light a day at this point given our location. The official dawn today was 07:10, and dusk will be at 16:18. Living where we do dawn comes a bit later, and dusk a bit earlier which I guess puts us closer to 9 hours a day of light. We could supplement light the way we supplement our gardens through the use of a light bulb in the coop, but we have decided given the cost/benefit analysis that we are just going to not run a crazy long extension cord through the snow to get eggs during the winter, and just accept fewer eggs for now. When it would just be a couple hours a day if we need eggs we may start putting on lighting for the chickens.

This is also something that has a strong effect on the rabbits, somewhat unsurprisingly. I haven't been able to find a good scientific paper that's more recent than 1934 (Here for your reference) about the effects of lighting on rabbits and pregnancy. From our experience though, and the experience of most others, rabbits aren't as willing to breed and are less likely to produce when there is less than 12 hours of light per day. We don't breed during the winter anyhow for health reasons for our does, and for survival rates and growth rates in the kits. But if we had a bad year as we did, and didn't have a reserve of meat we would want to be breeding, and it would be much more difficult to successfully do during this dark time of year than it is normally. Fortunately not a problem for us at this point, but definitely something worth noting.
The last part of the effects of the season is on getting things done, which is mostly a problem when it comes to clearing the driveway of snow since I'm not really doing much else outside that isn't the standard routine with the animals right now. I'm not a huge fan of being out and shoveling in the pitch black with a lantern or a head lamp to shovel by. The snow blower has a headlamp that's good for what it does, but I am more likely to miss a fallen branch and blow the shearing pin with the snow blower than I am if there is light out, and I'm at work or on the way to and from work for the entire daylight period for the house at this point. On the up side, days will increase in length starting in 11 days which is something we richly anticipate. While neither of us tend towards seasonal depression, we have a lot to look forward to with the returning of the light.

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