Mood lighting for stress-free chickens

A new energy efficient lighting system for poultry farms uses bulbs with a light spectrum specially adjusted for chicken retinas. The makers say it reduces animal pecking and crowding; making for more relaxed and happy chickens.

Many livestock farmers still use incandescent lamps in their barns, but these are designed for human eyes. Optimal light conditions are especially hard to achieve in poultry farming; too much light will cause stress to the birds, whereas if it’s too dark in certain areas they are more likely to lay eggs on the floor instead of nest boxes, making them harder to collect.

According to John Matcham from Greengage Lighting Ltd., the chicken’s superior eyesight isn’t taken into account by traditional lighting that is better suited for human sight.

“We’re only seeing about 40 percent or so of what the chicken actually sees. They see much, much more detail,” Matcham told Reuters, adding: “It’s not just about how bright the light is; it’s about light saturation, image saturation.”

Edinburgh-based Greengage Lighting Ltd spent several years developing its AgriLamp Induction System - known by the acronym ALIS - which uses up to 60 percent less energy than other common forms of agricultural lighting. The induction technology in each LED fixture means it is simply clipped onto the power cable in order to turn on. The patented system is shatterproof and water resistant, with the bulbs lasting at least 60,000 hours, according to the company.

Crucially, ALIS delivers an even spread of light to minimize ‘hotspots’ and shadows.

“Today for humans in an office we have to have between 5 and 7 hundred lux [units of illumination] of light on a desk and it must be a minimum of 200 hertz. What we’ve done here is have a system that’s operating on a system of 50,000 hertz; so there’s lots and lots of frequency, no risk of any flickering effect. And we’ve got a saturation right across the spectrum of light that enables a bird to see more detail,” added Matcham.

The ALIS lamp has a light spectrum that is much closer to that of sunlight which, Matcham said, makes it ideal for mimicking the natural influence that daylight has on a hen’s ability to produce an egg.

“We need about 14 hours a day to keep the birds thinking it’s spring and summer so they keep producing eggs for us,” he said. “So the right type of light has to do a multitude of tasks; it has to keep the birds calm, it has to stimulate all of the different glands inside of the body that work to produce the hormones that says ‘I’m going to lay an egg’; and then we get a nice egg.”

This made it a perfect option for Woodcock Farm in Derbyshire, which has been using the ALIS system for two years in its hen barns.

“I can definitely say that the chickens are moving around a lot more even; the way they perch and sleep at night, and when they move around in litter areas. And also for my staff, we’re walking the birds every day, checking them for stock and floor eggs etc. So it’s a lot easier for them because they see an even light and they see in a better light as well. So I seem to have a better, happy staff as well as happy chickens,” said farm owner Andrew Watson.

“By manipulating and moving the light - giving them the intensity and the detail of information - they don’t need to struggle for it. So there’s less stress. And the types of things we start to see and benefits are in some cases reduced quantities of water, which is often an indicator if the birds are stressed if they’re drinking an excessive amount of water,” added Matcham.

ALIS has been tested by the UK’s national measurement institute, the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), with its performance subsequently verified by an EU Environmental Technology Verification (ETV) pilot program. Greengage Lighting Ltd. says this shows that ALIS gives a high luminosity for low power consumption through a safe current.

AgriLamp says its bulbs are significantly more energy efficient than all other traditional bulbs and energy saving bulbs such as CFLs (compact fluorescent lamp) and halogen bulbs. While the LED lamps cost slightly more to buy, AgriLamp says the savings over time vastly outweigh the initial cost.

At Woodcock Farm, however, it was the effect it had on the happiness of the brood that was most enlightening.

“The difference between outside and inside is a lot more balanced. So even inside when they’re in the scratching areas; they’re very happy, they’re scratching, natural behavior from there and they enjoy it. Their eyesight is far better than ours and so they must be clearly enjoying it because they can see better,” said farmer Andrew Watson.

“And if the chickens are happy, I’m happy - it wins for everybody.”