Beginner chicken keepers often ask this question, probably because Spring is the most active and usual time for rearing and raising chicks.
However, there 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 purchased 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 will 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 everything you need for your chicks. Make sure you read this first.
Time of Year to Raise Chick 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 species.
Winter and early Spring can be brutal 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 they huddle together and become quieter as they expend energy. If they are not treated promptly, they will die. Even low temperatures for a few hours can be damaging.
It would help if you had 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 act and regulate accordingly.
The need for backup 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 for maintaining 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, 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.
Housepets 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 has asthma or respiratory problems, you need to know that chicks kick up a lot of dust. Their ‘fluff’ feathers will fall out and replace ‘real’ feathers, creating much irritating dander.
Chicks’ peep’ almost constantly, so put them somewhere that you can’t hear them 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 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 look at the advantages and disadvantages of raising chicks in each season.
Raising Chicks in Spring
Spring is undoubtedly the most popular time for raising chicks. After all, what would Easter be without fluffy chicks, bunnies, or ducklings?
Hatchery catalogs have a more excellent selection of chicks available in the Spring. With some incubators, 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, 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 record 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 to complete your order.
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 start 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.
Indeed, 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 out under supervision.
Even if the day is a little chilly, they can now 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 an excellent 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, ensure they have easy access to shade and water.
It is straightforward for them to overheat and suffer from heat exhaustion.
If you live in a scorching climate, you may need to limit their ‘outside’ time to early morning and evening until they get a little older and wiser.
The warmer summer temperatures 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, 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.
If you live in a hot part of the country, it may be better to raise Fall chicks since they will 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 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 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 when you have to make significant 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 the modern hen.
If you plan 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 reasonably 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.
Time of Year to Raise Chick Summary
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 excellent 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 searching for a decent meal – young and old birds are usually the first to succumb to predation.
If you raise 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 timetable!
If you get bitten by ‘chicken math,’ you may well find yourself brooding several times a year – enjoy.