Hello from the HillTop!
Life has been very busy this year and has gone faster than expected this year. I see the signs of fall coming in quickly and I feel as if I’m rushing against an ever ticking timer. The leaves are beginning to change, the weather is cooling off, the days are shorter, molt is in full affect (chicken feather loss), and the yard clean up is in full swing.
These signs are not typically synonymous with raising baby chicks. In fact, adding baby chicks are often thought only available during the spring. Spring is seen as a time for new life in nature. While that is true, the reality is, adding baby chicks to your home, farm, or homestead this fall has many benefits and should be considered.
Eggs in the Winter
What many first time chicken keepers don’t realize is your chickens will molt at around 18 months old. If you have raised spring chicks before, a molt is not even on your mind the first year. However, your second fall season is another story. Molt comes in FULL affect in their second year.
Molting is shedding of hair, feathers, antlers or an outer layer. In the case of chickens, it’s their feathers. When you get spring chicks, the molt typically will not happen the first fall, the pullets will go through two small molts that are the growth of adult feathers. However, you will be shocked to walk into your coop or run in the fall of your second year to see what looks like a massacre. Feathers are everywhere and the chickens are darn near naked.
Do not worry, this is a natural occurrence. It does stop egg production for a stint, in some cases the whole winter. If this bothers you, adding chicks in the fall is a great way to have egg production kick back up mid-winter.
Most chicken breeds begin to lay around 20-24 weeks old. Getting chicks in September will have them laying between late December and mid January. It is a wonderful winter treat to go into the coop and find an egg when production would be almost nil.
Not to mention the new pullets will continue laying until your hens’ production kicks back up.
One benefit to waiting until the fall to obtain baby chicks is breed selection. If you are hunting for a specific rare breed, you will find more availability in the fall. The standard is to order chicks in the spring. Since Covid, acquiring chicks has become even harder than before in the spring months. Everyone decided to raise chickens!
Hatcheries sell out quickly and local feed stores could not guarantee chicks would be there by the time you arrived. Some hatcheries had wait lists and increased minimums to help keep up with the demand.
Raising chicks in the fall will allow you to have a larger variety of breeds to chose from. While the variety may not be as strong as the start of a year, they demand tapers out at the end of the summer allowing for a healthy array of options.
Avoiding High Heat
While baby chicks do need ample heat in the beginning, under a heat lamp or broody hen, I have personally found raising chickens in the fall is easier for weather purposes. You won’t have late snows, heavy spring showers or dips in weather near as much.
About six weeks old, your chicks will transition to outside accommodations. During the fall the days are still quite warm, but allowing them to begin to acclimate to cooler weather at night. Dealing with moving chickens from a brooder to a coop, plus dealing with cleaning the coop, is a bit uncomfortable in the heat. The cooler temperatures of fall make for a comfortable introduction to backyard chicken keeping.
Living in Pennsylvania, we can have rather harsh winters. When buying any breed of chickens we typically aim for breeds that deal better with colder climates versus hot climates. Our zone deals with significantly colder days than warm.
With that, the high heat tends to play havoc on our chickens. They acclimate to the cold weather much quicker than they do to the high heat of late summer. Cooler days for 50-70 degrees is more comfortable for a chicken than the high heat.
As chickens grow, they go through various designated food stages. In the height of their growth, they are in a heavier protein stage. If your chicks are old enough to be merged in with your existing flock, you can bring your older hens back down a bit to the protein feed. (You never want to accelerate the younger hens up sooner than they are ready.)
A short stint in the protein feed will not hurt the older hens, especially if they have already hit their molt by the time you have incorporated the new hens. Hens need lots of protein to boost past their molt. Protein is the main need to regrow feathers. That month the younger ones are in the protein feed, the whole flock will benefit.
Project Load is Winding Down
Our family at times has not only spring laying hens, but simultaneously raising meat chickens. This year, as our kids are growing so quickly, we actually raised two rounds of meat chickens. It makes for a lot to handle all while dealing with prepping the garden, coop fixes, mowing the property again, winter cleanup (fallen branches), splitting wood and other projects.
Fall chicks allow for many of your time consuming projects to be winding down for the colder seasons. It allows us time to enjoy and bond with the growing chicks more. Not to mention, the extra time bonding with some of your older flock members too!
Spring chicks are wonderful and really give out the feel of winter turning to spring. Yet, out of all the years I have added to my flock, the fall chicks that we have raised have always been less stressful and a highlight of the year. They are enjoyed more because is gives us something to look forward to in the downtime.
If you are looking to add to your flock, or start a flock, consider the fall for your chicks. You may realize it is the best time of year to “fall” for chicks!