Table of Contents
What Month Should I Buy Baby Chicks?
Keeping chickens is easy! At least, that’s how we think about keeping full-grown adult chickens. Once your birds are all grown up and happily clucking around their coop, you’re on easy street.
But getting to that point is a real challenge. There is a ton of planning that goes into getting your chickens. You’ll have to plan and build a coop, for starters. And then there’s the process of raising your chicks into adults.
Like with any big enterprise, the best time to start is now. But there are better and worse times to actually get your chicks (or eggs) to start raising your hens.
In this article, we’ll lay out a timeline to ensure a healthy flock of adult chickens. And if you’re lucky, how to even get eggs within the first few months.
Benefits of Spring
The short answer to “when should I get chicks?” is spring. Go figure, there’s a reason that animals tend to have babies first thing after winter!
Depending on whether you’re starting with live chicks or fertilized eggs, this might vary a little. But the general consensus is that April is the best month to getting your baby chicks delivered.
In fact, there are quite a few benefits to starting your home chicken operation in the spring. Here are a few:
Availability of Fertile Eggs
For starters, reproductive hens lay the most eggs in the spring. It’s true that we’ve hijacked the chicken’s reproductive cycle to get them to lay year round. But the winter can still be stressful, and reproductive hens will lay more eggs in the spring.
In addition, if you’re looking for a specific breed, particularly some of the “fancier” breeds, you may only be able to get chicks in the spring.
This isn’t to say it’s not possible at other times of the year. But you will have a much easier (and cheaper) time finding viable eggs or chicks in the spring.
Once the stress of winter fades, chickens start to divert all of their energy to making healthy babies. So spring eggs get the lion’s share of their mothers’ nutrition. This results in more viable eggs.
And there are even more health benefits to being born in the spring for chicks. For example, the cooler temperatures will help kill deadly diseases while the chicks immune systems are still weak.
So you’ll get more viable eggs, and more of those eggs will produce chicks that will survive to adulthood. This also reduces the likelihood of an infectious disease killing your whole flock, which is catastrophic, and can sometimes happen.
Better Light and Temperature Conditions
Another benefit of spring chickens is that the lighting conditions outside are ideal for new birds. Depending on where you are, you won’t need to give them artificial light if your chicks were born in spring or summer.
Once you move them outside, it will be warm enough for them to stay comfortable. The cooler night temperatures will continue to keep infectious disease at bay. And the warm days will reduce any stress and encourage them to socialize.
More Bugs to Eat
Chickens are natural omnivores that will go after just about anything. And while their main diet will consist of whatever feed (or insect based protein) you plan to feed them, they also like to peck at bugs.
In the spring, local insect populations go through a small boom. They emerge and reproduce, filling our yards. Your chickens will take advantage of this by snapping up insects like crickets, beetles, and grasshoppers. If you move your chickens outside in the spring, the booming insect populations will give them a little nutritional boost and some fun entertainment to enjoy.
Eggs By Winter
Most chickens take about six months to reach maturity. From hatchling to egg-laying adult, you’ve got half a calendar year. During that time, your main concern is getting them to adulthood intact.
The timing of winter can interfere with this. For example, if you get chicks in August, they should be able to lay eggs by January. But the stress of colder temperatures will sometimes cause your chickens to put off egg laying until the next spring.
However, if you start them early enough, they will reach maturity and go straight into egg laying as winter comes on. Once they’ve started, they will continue laying through the winter.
So getting chicks in the spring can give you a quicker “return” on the investment of your time and money, in addition to everything else.
Fall and Winter: Planning Your Setup
Let’s say it’s fall. How should you spend your time until you’re ready to get your chicks in March or April? Easy. Plan your chickens’ coop!
There are a million ways to set up a coop. Some folks like to take the easy route and repurpose scrap materials into a chicken coop and run. Nothing wrong with that, chickens aren’t picky.
Other people prefer to spare no expense, framing and building a forever home for their feathered friends. No wrong answers here either. Whatever you can do to increase your chickens’ happiness is worth it.
But either way, you’re in for a project. We’ve covered how to build a chicken coop in detail before [link to DIY chicken coop article], and it takes more than a little lumber.
You need to lay out around 150 square feet bare minimum for a flock of around 10 hens. This includes room for an enclosed run and coop. Your coop needs to have room for the birds to sleep, as well as nest boxes for them to lay eggs in.
You’ll also need room for a dust bath and water trough. Where does it all go? Some states require chickens to be a certain distance from your house. Fall and winter are ideal times to research, plan, and design your chickens’ happy little house.
Once the ground thaws, it’s time to get to work. If you’ve got a lot of time before next spring, it’s wise to knock this part out before winter. Building a coop can take a lot of work.
But either way, you want to have your coop and run set up and ready to go by the time you get your chicks. Once you have them, they will take up all your attention for about six weeks.
Getting Your Chicks
Let’s say it’s spring. Your coop is sitting under a thin blanket of snow, daylight saving time is finally over, and it’s starting to get warm. All over the world animals are waking up, trees are budding, and chickens are laying good fertilized eggs.
Time to get started.
If you’re starting with eggs and an incubator setup, you’ll want to start a little bit earlier. You can find fertile eggs at local poultry farms. Or, if you’re lucky, you might be able to find someone in your area who has chickens and sells fertile eggs.
We’ve already covered how to raise chickens from an egg with an incubator. The incubator just does the job of keeping the temperature up and turning the eggs. After a few weeks, you’ll have newborn chicks.
The goal should be to have your chicks in April, so we recommend starting your eggs in the incubator in early-mid March.
Raising Live Chicks
If you’re starting with live chicks, you’ll be starting with the brooder stage. This period takes a lot of attention.
You need to watch the baby chicks’ behavior to see if they’re too hot or cold. If the chicks group up under their heat lamp, they’re cold. If they spread out too much, they’re too hot.
You also need to be checking them for signs of disease. If your chicks get sick in the first couple weeks, the disease could easily spread and kill your whole flock. It's also important to prevent chicks from pecking each other. They'll often do this, unknowingly that it can harm their siblings.
Things to watch for include lethargy, coughing, and wheezing. These are sure signs of something being wrong with your chicks. You should also check them for “poop butt.” Poop butt happens when the chicks’ droppings plug up their cloacas.
You can treat it by running their bottoms under warm running water until the poop begins to soften. Gently coax the mess out of their feathers and they should be fine. If left untreated, it’s almost always fatal.
The other crucial factor is cleanliness. You should be switching out your chicks’ water whenever it looks dirty. Change their bedding often, and maintain clean conditions in general. Most diseases happen because of unsanitary conditions.
Last, we recommend using medicated chick feed. This special feed includes low grade drugs that can ward off lots of deadly diseases.
The First Year
Your chicks will need to live in the brooder for about six weeks. They are weakest and most vulnerable right after they hatch. As they grow, they will become stronger and more independent. But that doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods.
If you’ve timed things right, your chicks should be moving to their outside enclosure in May. The springtime temperature fluctuations will help keep them healthy and build strong immune systems.
Ideally, we’re looking for daytime temps in the 70s and nighttime temps above 45F or so. Warmer is obviously better. If it’s colder than this at night, you can always give them a heating element to help keep them warm.
The longer daylight hours will encourage them to explore and socialize, which is crucial. Your hens are building lifelong bonds with each other at this point.
You’ll be surprised at how quick your chickens grow once they’re outside. They’ll move to adult food and should take to their new home quickly.
At this point, your main goal is to keep them safe from predators and make sure they’re warm enough at night. Safety from predators is something you’ll have to think about as long as you have chickens in your yard.
Deterring predators mostly comes down to building a bulletproof run. We recommend surrounding your run in a double layer of thick-gauge chicken wire.
It’s wise to set it up so that the chicken wire extends underground to prevent burrowers like skunks and coyotes from getting in. You’ll also want to create a chicken wire roof to keep hawks and owls out.
Until they’re adults, your chickens look like a perfect snack to every predatory animal in the neighborhood. Stay vigilant.
Let’s fast forward a bit. Your chicks made it through their first summer and are now happily clucking through the fall. At this point, they should be getting ready to start laying eggs. A few of them may already be laying the occasional egg.
To encourage them to start laying, make sure you have nest boxes properly set up in the coop. Nest boxes should be roughly one cubic foot and contain a bedding material like hay for them to nest in.
Once they’re ready, they’ll start laying. And since you timed it correctly, they will keep on laying straight through the winter.
By winter, your chickens will be adults. They’ll huddle for warmth at night, and spread out during the day. Adult chickens are surprisingly hardy and do well in lots of different conditions.
If you live in an especially cold place, you might consider building a coop with extra insulation. The goal is to keep your girls happy. Happy chickens lay more eggs.
But at this point, you have essentially made it to the finish line. Your chickens are at a perfect age to handle the difficulties of winter, and you’re well prepared to keep them healthy until spring.
From here on out, your main goals are to keep them happy, watered, fed, and safe from predators. Keep an eye out for social squabbles, make sure everything is clean, and keep your chickens fed. Your chickens will slip into a happy rhythm, laying eggs and clucking through the seasons.