Access to adequate light and periods of darkness are necessary for meat chicken welfare, as they encourage natural behaviours including appropriate physical activity and rest.
In conventional commercial systems, meat chickens can be housed in tunnel-ventilated sheds without access to an outdoor area, and usually don’t have access to natural light. In these systems artificial lighting is provided.
Some farms will keep birds in long periods of bright light to encourage more feeding. Where birds are provided with coloured lighting (e.g. red or blue lighting), birds can experience increased fearfulness or reduced activity levels.
Chickens require a certain amount of light to encourage normal behaviours and improve health. In the absence of natural light, artificial light needs to be provided at an appropriate intensity and duration. Periods of darkness that encourage birds to rest are also essential.
What are the benefits of access to natural light?
When meat chickens have access to natural light, they appear to be more active and perform more normal behaviours such as walking and ground-scratching, which in turn leads to better leg health. Natural light also creates variety within the environment, which can enhance enrichment for birds. Natural light is brighter than artificial light, has lower environmental and economic impacts, and provides some variation in the environment.
Birds that have access to an outdoor area will have access to natural light for at least part of the day. However, whichever system they are housed in, most meat chickens will still spend the majority of their time indoors. Improving access to natural light in indoor climate-controlled sheds in Australia is a complex issue. To be successful will require innovative shed design and construction in order to maintain optimal shed conditions including temperature and humidity.