If you want a head start on your spring egg production, now is the time to raise chicks! Follow these simple tips, and you’ll enjoy fresh eggs from your backyard flock in early spring!
Did you know that you can raise chicks in the fall? After replacing a large amount of my flock with new chicks this September, It is now my favorite time to add to my laying flock! Starting chicks later in the year allows the birds to reach maturity through winter, so when spring does roll around you’ll have an abundant supply of fresh eggs.
Before we get into everything you need to know about raising chicks in the fall, I thought I would share why I decided to add to my flock later in the season this year.
This year, I decided to sell extra eggs from our backyard flock on our farm roadside stand this summer. The stand is well established and gets a lot of traffic, and while I was expecting to be able to sell some eggs, I wasn’t prepared for the customer response and interest in farm-fresh eggs. Adding eggs to the seasonal veggies we have always offered was an immediate success, and I had difficulty keeping up with demand.
My flock is made up of a mix of hybrid and heritage chicken breeds, with many of my birds past their prime egg-laying stage of life, and egg production is not as good as it could be. I knew that if I wanted to keep selling eggs on our roadside stand next year, I would have to add younger hens to my flock. Mid-summer, I decided to rehome older egg layers when the weather turned cooler, and I placed an order for a mix of colored egg layers and production layers to arrive in late August.
Why Replace Older Egg Layers?
As chicken keepers, we put a lot of time, energy, and resources into our backyard chicken flock. Rehoming or removing a non-productive hen can be a tough decision to make but is an essential part of flock management if you want a healthy, productive flock. Your hens won’t lay well forever. Though a hen may live for 12 years or longer, she will only be productive for the first few years. If egg production is important to you, plan on keeping your hens for 2.5-3.5 years before you need to replace your laying flock.
Of course, if your chickens are pets, keep them as long as you’d like – be mindful that your egg production will decrease significantly after the first few years.
Purely from a production standpoint, Keeping layers longer than three years is not very practical or cost-efficient unless you need them for breeding or brooding.
If your main goal with your flock is to raise eggs, and you have hens that aren’t laying very well, then that hen isn’t fulfilling her purpose. You want to identify unproductive hens and remove them from the flock. Keeping good records will help you identify poor layers and will help with decision-making later down the road.
Also, keeping unproductive hens means resources, space, and feed that could utilized by more productive hens are not. Giving the better laying hens more space and easier access to food by removing the non-producers will likely make them even more productive.
Replenishing An Egg Laying Flock With Young Pullets For Spring Production
Because the roadside farm stand worked so well to sell fresh eggs, I wanted to ensure a large supply of eggs as quickly as possible come spring.
Timing your hatchery order or hatching your eggs for early spring production isn’t an exact science. My goal is to have my pullets fully feathered before the first frost, and begin laying between the end of April. This means they will reach maturity during the shortest and coldest days of winter, around late December. Because the number of daylight hours affects a chicken’s reproductive cycle, the young hens will not begin laying until daylight reaches 14 hours per day during early spring.
Then they will quickly shift into maximum production, laying an egg almost daily as soon as the days get longer in the spring. Because they are more mature, they will also lay larger eggs from the start so that you won’t see many teeny tiny eggs. Raising chickens in the fall means you’ll have a large supply of eggs come springtime from mature hens.
While, spring chicks cease producing eggs seemingly as soon as they start laying as the days grow shorter later in summer. When spring comes around again, and the days grow longer in April, the birds are already a year old, meaning we’ve missed their most productive first year.
So what do you need to know to raise chickens successfully in the fall?
If having a supply of farm fresh eggs from mature hens in early spring is something that interests you, raising chicks later in the year is very similar to raising chicks in the spring, here are a few points.
- Day-Old Chicks will be more difficult to find- Usually, by late July, the farm supply and feed stores have stopped offering live chicks in their stores, but you can still order from large hatcheries, hatch fertile eggs, or buy chicks from a local chicken keeper.
- There will be limited breeds of chickens available- Most hatcheries sell chicks year round, but in the fall, they typically focus on breeds and hybrids considered utility birds. These chickens are efficient at producing meat or eggs. The breeds available in fall are tried and true, hardy, and productive. If you are looking for a rare or unusual breed, you will likely have to wait until spring, But if you want to get a head start on next year’s egg layers, you can’t beat fall chicks!
- Caring for fall and spring chicks is essentially the same. While caring for the chicks is about the same, you will want to figure out when your first hard frost will likely happen, so the young birds can be feathered out and better able to regulate their body temperature. A good rule of thumb is to have a chick order arrive at least six weeks before the first hard fall freeze. That way, the babies will be well-feathered when frosty nights arrive.
- They can spend time outdoors in a protected area earlier. During the day, the early fall temperatures are still quite warm in Upstate New York. I love getting the brooder chicks outdoors for short periods starting around three weeks. They love spending time on the lawn, pecking at the grass, and chasing bugs.
Raising chicks in the fall is like raising spring chicks, although I do find that I am able to turn off their supplemental heat source during the day if the weather is warm and only run it during the night, when the temperatures tend to drop significantly and it turns cool and damp.
Preparing for a Hatchery Order
You can go about sourcing young birds for your flock in many ways: local specialty breeders, online swaps and sale postings, fertile eggs for hatching, and day-old chicks from hatcheries, but I have the best luck getting exactly the breeds I want when I order from out of state hatcheries.
About a week before you are expected to get your chicks delivered, contact your post office and let them know you are expecting a shipment of live chicks. My post office took my name and cell phone number, so they could contact me to arrange a super quick pick-up. It’s also a good idea to ask the post office when the delivery truck arrives. My post office gets their delivery early morning, around 6:30 am. I like to know roughly when the post office might contact me so I can make final preparations before I head out to pick up the birds on the day of delivery.
A week before delivery is also a good time to pick up non-medicated chick feed, and electrolyte and vitamin supplements for Poultry, brooder bedding of your choice, wood shavings, paper towels, or puppy pads are all great options, and artificial heat sources and any feeders you may need.
Once your chicks arrive, unpack them from the shipping box, checking each one over for signs of injury or illness. As you place them in the brooder, dip their beaks into the water, so they know where to find a drink. They will likely be slightly dehydrated from their journey, so make sure they have plenty of fresh, clean water available to them. You can even add electrolytes to help them bounce back a little faster.
Your chicks will also need a warm place to stay. A heat lamp or brooder plate to help keep them warm is essential. For their first week, you will want to keep the brooder around 93-95°F. After the first week, you can plan on dropping the temperature of the brooder 5 °F every week until the chicks are fully feathered.
While the chicks are in the brooder keep an eye out for pasty butt, and signs of illness or stress.
Adding New Birds Into A Existing Flock
Baby chicks who are being brooded away from the rest of the flock, must be raised on their own to an absolute minimum age of six weeks old before being introduced to the rest of your flock. If possible, wait until your pullets (young, non-laying hens) are 8-12 weeks old before making the introduction.
Chickens are extremely territorial and often injure or even kill newcomers if an introduction isn’t done properly. Keep in mind that every flock has its own social structure, and when it comes to accommodating new members—even a well-behaved flock can be ruthless when it comes to bullying newbies (after all, the phrase “pecking order” exists for a reason.) In some cases, the older hens intimidate new baby chicks so badly that they can’t adequately eat and drink.
How To Safely Introduce Your New Pullets
Even though introducing new birds to your flock might sound intimidating, when the time does come to move your pullets to the coop there are several steps you can take to make sure the introduction to the rest of the flock goes smoothly:
- Introduce three or more new chicks to the flock at a time—they’ll be able to support each other and will hopefully prevent the older chickens from harassing them too much.
- A gradual introduction is a good idea—put your young pullets in a pet carrier or enclosed run on the other side of the fence so the older chickens can get used to their sight and smell, which often makes the transition much easier for all.
- Consider an after-dark placement when it’s time to put the new pullets in the same coop as your older hens. If you introduce the newbies after your older hens have bedded down for the night, their presence in the morning won’t be such a shock.
- You may also want to consider putting your older hens in a separate enclosure for a few hours during the day so the younger chickens can find the food and water without being chased off and intimidated. Doing this can make the transition easier when it’s time for them to spend all their time together.
Preparing Your Coop For Colder Months
Even if you aren’t adding new birds to your flock, the fall season is a great time to do general maintenance and upkeep on your coop. It’s important to consider winter preparations for your chicken coop as temperatures drop. Chickens need a warm and draft-free place to sleep during the colder months, and predators become more emboldened as food sources become more scarce. Here are some tips on preparing your chicken coop for winter weather.
–Add more bedding: This will help insulate the coop and keep your chickens warm. Adding more pine shavings or a nice thick layer of straw is a great way to insulate the floor of the coop.
–Take care of any structural problems with your coop. This summer was particularly harsh on the outside walls of my coop, and several pieces needed to be replaced where boards had started to rot. I like to address these issues before the snow arrives.
–Make sure there is plenty of ventilation: Chickens need fresh air, but you don’t want drafts. Make sure the coop is well-ventilated without being drafty.
–Use the deep litter method of bedding management in the coop. The deep litter creates a small amount of heat to keep the coop warm naturally.
–Secure weak areas in your fencing and predator-proof your coop. As the weather gets colder, and food is harder to come by, predators will become more desperate and may try to break into your coop. Ensure all weak areas are secured, and there is no way for a predator to get into the coop.
If you’re thinking about raising chickens this fall, I hope this blog post has been helpful. It’s a great time to start this backyard farming project, and come spring you’ll enjoy a bounty of fresh eggs!
If you still have questions about the best way to add new chicks to your flock this fall? Reach out, and I will do my best to answer your questions!