Beginner chicken keepers often ask this question, probably because spring is the most active and usual time for rearing and raising chicks.
However, there really is no good reason why you can’t raise chicks year round – after all, many hatcheries have chicks available year round.
As long as you have everything you need for raising them, you can buy them when you want to. However, chicks bought and raised in the winter months will generally require a bit more input from you than spring chicks.
There are several considerations to take into account for the optimum chick raising experience, so we are going to take a look at each season and any specific needs your fluffy little friends have.
In our recent article, How to Prepare for Chicks, we published a checklist of all the things you need for your chicks. Make sure you read this first.
First Things First
Until your chicks have ‘feathered in’ around 8-12 weeks of age, they rely on you to keep them warm and safe. Some breeds will feather in earlier than others, so the 8-12 week range is quite broad to include all breeds.
Winter and very early spring can be difficult times in which to raise any livestock, including chicks, mainly due to seasonal issues.
If you live in the Northern States or Canada you are likely no stranger to power outages. An outage of just a few hours can be deadly to your chicks.
At first they will peep frantically, but as they expend energy they huddle together and become quieter. If they are not treated promptly they will die. Even low temperature for a few hours can be damaging.
You need to have a constant temperature in the brooder day and night and you should check it frequently during the first few days. 90F is the recommended heat, but watch the chicks and see how they are acting and regulate accordingly.
The need for back-up heat/light is vital for these little birds since they cannot self-regulate their body heat until around 8-12 weeks.
A backup generator would be ideal to maintain the correct environment for several hours, even days if need be. However, you can always improvise! Hot water bottles, a secure brood box beside the stove, anything that can safely maintain the warmth that chicks need. Remember, the first week or so they need a temperature of around 90F to keep them warm.
If you have to bring them inside, please ensure the area is safe for them. House pets such as the dog and cat may look upon them as toys and try to play with them. A tight fitting cover to the box is essential if you have pets in the house.
A note of caution here – if you or anyone in the house suffers from asthma or respiratory problems, you need to be aware that chicks kick up a lot of dust. Their ‘fluff’ feathers will fall out and be replaced by ‘real’ feathers creating a lot of irritating dander.
Chicks ‘peep’ almost constantly so put them somewhere that they can’t be heard during night-time hours, unless you want to be up all night!
If you’re planning to have chicks mailed to you, it’s a very risky move to make during the cold winter months.
Even if your chosen hatchery has chicks available during winter, they may not ship to you, or if they do, they’ll require large minimum orders. This is to ensure your chicks have enough warmth to make the journey.
If you’re in a cold climate, it’s wise to wait until it warms up to have any number of chicks shipped to you. It’s never fun opening a box of dead baby chicks.
So, if you do plan to raise chicks in the winter, only do so if you can pick them up directly from the hatchery, carry them to your warm car, and straight to the brooder.
So now we’ve covered the basics, let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of raising chicks in each season.
Raising Chicks in Spring
Spring is without a doubt the most popular time for raising chicks, after all, what would Easter be without fluffy chicks, bunnies or ducklings?
Hatchery catalogs have a greater selection of chicks available in the spring. With some hatcheries you can buy as few as six with no upward limit and they will be shipped to you on a pre-arranged schedule.
Farm stores start stocking chicks and ducklings in the spring, so you can pick them up locally if you aren’t too picky about the breed. Farm stores usually have a limited selection available, the usual being sex link chicks, rhode island reds, broilers and other common breeds.
If you are looking for a particular breed that you have seen in the catalog, in my opinion, it’s better to order from the catalog since you can request they be vaccinated (if you wish).
If you are interested in rare breeds from a private hatchery, you may have to wait a long time for your order to be completed. I am currently awaiting a rare breed order that has been six months in the waiting and will likely be another couple of months before they arrive! Patience is a virtue for those wanting something different…..
Tip: If you are just starting out with chicks, make sure you get an easy to care for breed. Some breeds can be difficult for beginners to deal with.
Many chicken keepers believe that the strongest and healthiest chicks are born in the spring.
Certainly it is easier to follow a natural cycle in the springtime. Once your chicks come off the heat, the ambient air temperature outside should be warm enough for them to go outside under supervision. Even if the day is a little chilly, they now have the ability to keep themselves warm.
Once outside they will have access to fresh greens, bugs and other tasty morsels which will help them to grow strong and healthy.
Raising Chicks in Summer
Summer is also a good time to raise your chicks. Power outages in summer are rare so you should be able to brood them without any problems.
Once they are old enough to go outside, make sure they have easy access to shade and water.
It is very easy for them to overheat and suffer from heat exhaustion. If you live in a particularly hot climate, you may need to limit their ‘outside’ time to early morning and evenings until they get a little older and smarter.
The warmer temperatures of summer also bring a host of flies and other undesirable pests. It should go without saying that you will endeavor to keep the chicken area as clean as possible so that you don’t get an infestation.
Adding electrolyte/vitamin powder to the water is always a good idea for the first couple of weeks or so, especially if the temperature is hot.
Raising Chicks in Fall
This is still a very manageable time of the year for chicks. Although the catalogs may not have the selection you want, there will still be plenty to choose from.
In fact, if you live in a hot part of the country, it may be better to raise Fall chicks since they will be able to acclimate gradually.
Farm stores will be unlikely to have any chicks left, but if they do, make sure the ones’ you pick out are lively. If the poor things are huddled in a corner they are not likely to do well later in life.
If you know any local chicken keepers, they may have some late chicks that they will sell to you. As always – buyer beware.
If the chicken yard they come from is filthy and covered in flies, the hens look unkempt – do not buy.
Filth brings all sorts of diseases with it which can cause trouble for your chicks and any other birds you may already have.
Fall can bring night-time lows that leave frost on the ground, so make sure your birds are feathered out before you introduce them to the world. Being raised at a time when temperatures are a bit lower, your chicks are likely to find the winter months less stressful.
If you’re lucky and your timing is good, the new pullets could be laying as early as February!
Any other good points?
They will be ready and able to perform ‘bug patrol’ at the first signs of activity and the yearly molt won’t start for them until next Fall.
Raising Chicks in Winter
Without a doubt, this is the time of year that you have to make major adjustments for your chicks so that they can thrive and survive.
Winter chicks are not known for their ‘sturdiness’. Many folks will tell you that winter chicks are in poorer general health than Spring hatched chicks.
While that may have been true in past years, it doesn’t necessarily follow for the modern hen.
If you are planning to let them outside as soon as possible, make sure they are fully feathered out.
If you buy your chicks about 8-10 weeks before your estimated last frost date, they should be outside fairly quickly.
Hatcheries will almost certainly have limited stock to choose from since they stop producing many breeds of birds in the summer, so if you are looking for something special – shop in the Spring.
So we have discovered that you can raise chicks just about any time of the year!
The usual times of spring and summer may seem more natural to us.
In the wild birds do not produce eggs and hatch young during winter for very good reasons – it’s harder to keep them warm, safe and fed.
Winter is the harshest time of the year and predators are hungry. They will take more risk in search of a decent meal – young and old birds are usually the first to succumb to predation.
If you are raising chicks inside a barn or outbuilding be alert for rats. Young chicks are a prime target for these rodents, so make sure your brooder is predator-proof.
So there you have it – raise your chicks on your own timetable!
If you get bitten by ‘chicken math’, you may well find yourself brooding several times a year – enjoy.