In order to have hens lay well throughout the winter, they need to have about 12 hours of daytime. Each year, we dust off our timers and set the lights in the barn to come on at 7 AM and go off at 9 PM. This true signal of fall on Small Wonder Farm keeps things running smoothly. Some let nature runs its course and give the hens the winter off. They will still lay occasionally, but nothing close to production of longer light-filled days.
Our chickens, no matter how we revere them, are domesticated farm animals. They need us and we need their product. We feed them throughout the winter and I have no qualms about adding a little extra light to their days in order to get eggs. I think their quality of life is probably enhanced. Less time spent in the dark sitting and more time up and about doing the things chickens love to do.
Domestic farm animals are not wild animals. Over many generations, we have created symbiotic relationships with them. Farming itself, is an act with one foot in “culture” and another in “nature.” Culture, or “civilization” is the world we inhabit with it’s spiderwebs of concrete, huge box stores, climate controlled environments and the cars we use to race back and forth between these controlled environments. “Nature” is state parks, mosquitos, oceans, and all that stuff we see in on Animal Planet. Many of us that have the good fortune to live in affluent countries are so detached from “nature” that we forget our true dependance on it. Farmers have a very real idea of the paper-thin and wavering line between the two. Every time we pull a weed, plant a seed, turn a light on for a chicken, we confront that intersection of self and nature. It is exactly the active grappling with that line that makes the pursuit so fascinating to me. I know I can’t control nature. I can guide my garden, guide my livestock, and make the best choices I can with the limited resources given to me. I can use morality and common sense in caring for “nature” in a sustainable and intelligent way.
Yesterday, I stood in the garden doing the tedious work of picking raspberries. I wondered if this piece of the planet is better off due to my decision to plant those berries. The wall of green brambles is a very busy place for pollinators, is the favorite hide-out of our garter snakes, provides cover to bunnies, and is now a hangout for “wooly bear” caterpillars (saw 4 yesterday) as well as being a favorite of japanese beetles. If left to her own devices, nature would likely provide all that on her own–maybe more. I don’t think my meddling with my raspberry desires was a mistake, however. We can get all the raspberries (and more) that we could ever want and nature can feast and seek cover as well. In the case of the raspberry patch, I think I balanced the line of culture/nature quite well.
Now, if I had chosen that spot to build a mini-mart, I think we all lose. I wish every person who seeks to extract resources from “nature” would try harder to straddle that line.
As for the chickens, some extra light is a decision that, I think, works for both them and me.