Every year around Easter, I’ll start seeing advertisements with fuzzy little chicks. I couldn’t tell you what they’re trying to sell as my brain seems to switch into ‘awww’ mode. Apparently, cuteness can override rational thought.
But it turns out, the desire to buy a box full of fuzzy chicks in late spring isn’t all bad.
If your goal is to eat delicious farm fresh eggs that come from your own flock, then starting chicks in late spring is optimal as it generally takes around 6 months for chickens to mature enough to begin laying.
Be advised, however, that this 6 month lead up time, depends on the right conditions.
For example, if you bought a batch of chicks in July, then it might not be realistic to expect eggs at Christmas – especially if you live in northern latitudes. The reason for this is sunshine.
Chickens are incredibly in tune with the seasons. In mid-summer, when the days are longest and the forage is most plentiful, egg production can be as much as 1 a day, per bird. But that production can drop as low as 1 egg for every 3 days in the middle of winter, when the days are short and the ground is covered with snow.
### Personal Example ###
This year, we purchased a mixed batch of 15 chicks (free shipping) that arrived on June 3rd. We lost one chick for health reasons and harvested four for the freezer. As of today, Dec 6th, out of our current flock of 10 birds, only two are laying – our two Barred Rocks.
The remaining two Orpingtons and six Easter Eggers have yet to provide us with any eggs. And with the days still getting shorter and foraging limited, I honestly don’t expect to see everyone else laying until mid-March – well beyond the typical 6 month standard.
Can You Buy Chickens Year Round?
Sometimes, the itch to purchase a batch of chicks can get pretty bad. And I know that I’m not the only one to suffer from this.
Reputable online hatcheries can offer both chicks and 6 month old chickens for purchase year round – though there are generally quantity restrictions involved on the chicks.
So to recap, if you have the desire, then it is completely possible to buy chicks in February (or any other month for that matter). But there is a difference between what is possible and what is feasible or even advisable.
Chicks are unable to maintain body temperature until they are fully feathered. This generally occurs around 8 weeks of age. So, if you get your chicks in the colder months, you will have to provide them with supplemental heat.
For the record, providing them with heat is the easy part. Keeping them contained in a clean brooder is MUCH more difficult.
Baby chicks don’t initially go anywhere nor do they make much of a mess. But that changes very quickly.
At three weeks of age, they will be hyper enough to jump a 2ft brooder wall. And don’t even get me started on how much poo a chicken will produce at 8 weeks of age.
I can tell you from personal experience, that getting chicks too early is going to make life difficult for you and for your flock.
### Important Note ###
If you choose to order your chicks online (which I highly recommend) then you would be wise to put your order in, well ahead of time.
People get the ‘itch’ for those adorable baby chicks and while they are wise enough to wait for delivery, they will place their orders well in advance. It is not unreasonable to order your flock as early as 2 months before you need them. Otherwise you run the risk of running into an ‘out of stock’ situation.
What Do You Do With Chickens In The Winter?
For a lot of us, colder temperatures are a reality for several months out of the year. Christmas tends to be white, with any memory of warm summer days gone by February. And as chickens are happiest when they are scratching and pecking at the ground, then having several months of snow cover is sure to frustrate your flock.
In fact, a chicken’s dislike of snow is so strong, it coined the phrase, ‘all cooped up’. Because of this, effort is required on the part of a flock owner when caring for their birds.
There are two main areas of a chicken’s life that needs special attention during those long winter months: physical needs and behavior.
The best way to care for your flock during the winter is to provide them a sizable dry space, that is out of the wind and has lots of stimulation.
As a rule, chickens really don’t like snow. For example, on our very first snowfall, this past November, the chickens refused to leave the coop for two days. And the only reason they left then was because I kicked them out, in order to clean things.
But, after the initial introduction to this cold white stuff, the flock soon made use of the paths I had shoveled to various trees around the run. This allowed them to be outdoors and hide under low hanging branches.
I also set up bales of hay, as a wind break, with lengths of particle board across the top as a makeshift roof to keep them dry.
My goal was simple, build situations outdoors that will protect them the elements and allow them to be somewhat active chickens.
How Cold Is Too Cold For Chickens?
Understanding the physical thresholds of a chicken, depends greatly on the breed of chicken that you have. Some breeds are capable of withstanding a great deal of heat, while others are better at dealing with the cold.
The right breed of chicken can survive sustained freezing temperatures. This is because they are fully feathered and have the metabolism to maintain body heat. So long as they are dry and out of the direct wind, your flock should be able to handle the winter’s worst.
Our Barred Rocks, for example, showed no signs of stress during this last polar blast, even with the temperatures being right around 0 degrees.
But it’s important to note, that your birds will need ample amounts of quality feed, as well as access to water, in order to survive. Their bodies will be working quite hard to stay warm, so calories and hydration are crucial.
If you live in an area with long cold winters, then I highly recommend that you choose a breed of chicken that has ‘cold hardy’ as a characteristic.
Raising a flock of chickens can be an incredibly rewarding and empowering experience. It is one that we stumbled into by accident (as some of the best things in life generally are).
If you are considering a flock of your own, whether for meat, eggs, pest reduction or just something fun, please read Raising Chickens: 5 Easy Steps for the 1st Timer.