LED poultry light

Poultry farmers should consider changing the lighting in their sheds to enable their birds to see and perform better, according to a specialist in poultry photobiology.

John Matcham, technical sales director at AgriLamp, has mapped the spectrum on which chickens see, and developed LED bulbs to meet the birds’ needs.

“Poultry vision is very different to humans’, not just in colour perception and visual responses, but in physiological responses through hormone changes and behaviour,” he says.

See also: Tips on ventilation to aid layer performance

“Chickens get very little vision from an incandescent light bulb – it looks like a barcode with half the information missing. Combined with its low frequency this causes stress, as the bird is having to use its brain to guess the missing information.”

Colours of the rainbow

Research by Nottingham University showed changing to the AgriLamp Induction System (Alis) reduced mortality by 29% and carcass rejections by 48%, with water use dropping by 53.5%.

“One of the key results of stress is increased water consumption,” says Mr Matcham. “If the birds aren’t stressed, they won’t drink so much, which means drier litter.”

The colour of light also influences bird behaviour, with red light encouraging aggressive pecking and green light proving calming. The Alis bulbs therefore reduce the red end of the light spectrum.

“Chickens get very little vision from an incandescent light bulb – it looks like a barcode with half the information missing. Combined with its low frequency this causes stress, as the bird is having to use its brain to guess the missing information.”
John Matcham, Agrilamp

The location of lighting is extremely important, as it affects how the birds behave in the house, including floor egg numbers, roosting, and feed and water consumption.

“We design lighting to encourage birds to move around,” says Mr Matcham. In one unit in Europe, changing the lighting helped reduce floor eggs from about 1,400 to 20-40 in just a few weeks.

When planning the lighting in their sheds, farmers should be aware of any natural light. “And it’s not just about lux [light intensity],” he adds. “If you have a thin bulb lens the light goes straight down, whereas a thick lens disperses it.”

Anyone using fluorescent light tubes should replace them immediately, warns Mr Matcham. “They’re designed for humans, not poultry – they just see light and dark stripes.”


Another concern is the safety of such bulbs. “Fluorescent bulbs contain methylmercury which is carcinogenic,” he says. “If you break one you have to evacuate the house immediately for 15 minutes, and dispose of the bulb as hazardous waste.”

Although producers could buy conventional LED bulbs from the supermarket, they are not designed to the chickens’ light spectrum, adds Mr Matcham.

“Dust, ammonia and moisture can also get inside the bulb and cause it to fail.” As it is completely sealed, the Alis bulbs simply click onto the light cable, and should be used with a symmetry dimmer, not a leading-edge or trailing-edge dimmer.

By using well-designed poultry-specific lighting producers can better control bird behaviour and productivity, while also reducing energy costs.

“You need to phase the lights out from the floor area to the boxes at night, as birds will naturally follow the light to bed. But you need to do it fairly quickly so their eyes don’t get accustomed to the dark – you have to keep them moving.”

John Matcham and John Widdowson were speaking at the WCLA conference in Devon.

Case study: Fewer floor eggs and a ‘kinder light’

John Widdowson

John Widdowson

John Widdowson has just finished replacing all the lighting in his free-range sheds at Stoodleigh, Tiverton, Devon, and has noticed a considerable improvement as a result. “We realised our old electrics needed rewiring,” he says.

“The sheds are much brighter with an even, kinder light, and we can wash down properly rather than dodging the electrics.”

Mr Widdowson chose to use Alis LED bulbs alongside a symmetry dimmer. “We have full control of the lights, starting with the scratch area in the morning and ramping them up over 15 minutes, and then turning them down at night,” he says.

“Before, the birds were really noisy as the lights went off. Now they are quieter and calmer – they know when roosting is happening.”

Rather than 60W bulbs, Mr Widdowson uses 9W LED bulbs, making for massive energy savings. “We have four houses of 4,000 birds each, and it cost £1,650 for the lighting looms and panel. We were forever changing the tungsten bulbs – these are much more reliable. It’s a no-brainer, really.”

Before changing the lighting, he considered up to 200 floor eggs acceptable, with a bad flock peaking at up to 400 eggs. “Now my acceptable mark is 100 and the worst flock would be 200 at peak floor egg time – which is much shorter now as well.”

The first flock to complete a cycle with the new lighting averaged 305 eggs a hen housed to 72 weeks, and 5.1% mortality. “Given we run a multi-age site with 25-year-old sheds, I’ll settle for that any time.”