Here Comes the Sun – and Increased Egg Production

Farm Market Report for February 16, 2016
Keith Helmuth

eggsOne sure sign that winter will soon be winding down is the bountiful supply of local eggs once again available in the Woodstock Farm Market. A few weeks back, there was a low point in the supply of eggs but that’s now over.

Fifty-seven days have passed since the longest night of the winter season. The sun is rising higher and higher above the western horizon, the hours of daylight are steadily increasing, and chickens of the Woodstock region are back in the egg laying business after a little time off.

How does this work? In order to consistently lay eggs, hens need a certain amount of daylight. Once daylight drops below 12 hours, egg production slows down and stops. It’s not the cold weather, it’s the amount of light that regulates the hen’s egg laying.

The hen has a pineal gland connected to its eyes, just like humans, through which the positive effect of sunlight is transmitted to every cell in the body. But for hens it also sends a hormone to the ovaries that starts egg production. As the days get shorter the hormone signal stops. As daylight increases, the hormone signal starts up again, the eggs start developing, and, viola, the Farm Market cooler is again flush with local, really good tasting, fresh eggs.

Paying attention to the seasonal ebb and flow in food production is a good thing. It’s good for the chickens – they need a rest – and it’s good for the local food economy. It makes us smart about how to preserve and store the bounty of local food at harvest time and it helps us become more and more attuned to local food security.

Thirty years ago hardly anybody was concerned about local food security. It was hard to imagine all that food from California, Mexico, the American South, and even Chile, Israel, and South Africa wouldn’t just keep rolling into forever.

It’s still rolling in, but a lot of people are now scratching their heads and thinking, “Wait a minute, can this really go on forever?” This whole global system is looking more and more risky, especially where food is concerned. Wouldn’t we be smarter to look local and regional for food security?”

Farm Market people have been talking like this for a long time, but, I am happy to report, this thinking has now become part of government thinking and public policy concerns. For example, I attended a budget consultation last week hosted by our riding’s Member of Parliament. I was pleased to learn he has initiated an all-party caucus on agriculture in Ottawa, and spoke with real understanding about local food production for food security.

Speaking of local food opportunities, Jennifer Battcock is now serving a Saturday lunch at the Market. She is serving soup with biscuits and baked beans. Jennifer, also known as “Lady J,” is a new vendor in the Market, building up a trade in homemade breads and pastries and the best croissants I have had in a long time.