When is the Best Time to Start Chicks?
Waiting until spring for the best time to start chicks, can be too much to handle. Nothing starts a severe case of chicken fever like a brooder full of baby fluff butts. Chicks are extremely susceptible to the cold weather and unless you live in an area that has warm weather year round, It can be much easier to wait until close to Spring. Here are my reasons for waiting for the best time to start chicks.
Baby chicks are mailed from hatcheries soon after hatching. They are mailed out via priority overnight mail and usually picked up at the post office by the customer. The minimum chick order in the winter months can be as many as 15 chicks. The hatcheries do this to help maintain warmth for the chicks during shipping. If your chicks are delayed or the weather turns extremely cold during shipping, the chicks may become chilled and be less likely to survive.
The first few days at home
After you retrieve your chicks from the post office, or hatchery, you must keep the chicks warm in a brooder for the next several weeks. The temperature in the brooder at first should be 100 degrees F. As the chicks grow, the temperature can be lowered 5 degrees a week until they can tolerate room temperature.
As we know, chicks outgrow the brooder long before they are ready for the great outdoors and the fluctuating temperatures. If you start the chicks during January or February, your chicks will be very large before spring arrives. What will you do in this interim period? Most people don’t have heated chicken coops. Transferring the young birds to an unheated coop in early March can lead to chilling and death.
Starting chicks in the winter requires more equipment and longer time in a heated area
So, as the saying goes, timing is everything. Jumping into a chick purchase in the winter can lead to heartbreak IF you are not prepared to give special consideration to the chicks needs as they grow and transition to an outside coop during the chilly early spring. Often, winter chicks require more time inside the house or heated garage and a large grow out pen in the heated area. How much space do you have to care for the chicks as they grow?
Starting Chicks in Summer and Early Fall
The last few years I have delayed my chick order. I found that starting chicks in the late summer and early fall is much easier with our weather and seasonal considerations.
Here are a few points I have discovered while brooding chicks later in the season.
- Much less electric heat is required. The weather is usually so warm by late July that the chicks spend most of their time moving around the brooder, eating, socializing and getting exercise. Compare this to February or March chicks that huddle together under the warmers, dash out for a bite of food and run back to the warmth.
- Less “poopy butt”. Now that is a good reason right there! I have not cleaned a summer chick’s poopy butt in two years. Other factors may come into play here, such as breeds, hatchery choice, and feed used. But I am going with the fact that it is warmer, the chicks eat more and drink more from the day they arrive.
- Faster growth. I am amazed at how fast chicks grow anyway you look at it. But the chicks from my late summer starts have surpassed other chicks in growth rate. Results may vary. But this is the result I am seeing.
- Perhaps the best result from starting chicks in the late summer or early fall is egg laying. My summer chicks begin laying before the holidays arrive. Most of us chicken keepers know this as the time of year when we get few to no eggs due to seasonal lighting and recovery from yearly molting. Last year my summer chicks began laying eggs in early November and didn’t take a break all winter. They continued into the spring and summer without a break! Happy egg customers!
My method of timing the chicks arrival
We purchase chicks from a local farm supply store or order by mail for specialty breeds. Here’s some ideas of breeds to order. Obtain your chicks during early spring. I usually choose late March.
Make sure you have the appropriate brooder set up at home with a heat lamp or electric brooder. You will need:
- an enclosed plastic storage tote
- pine shavings
- water fount with warm water
- chick starter feed and chick sized grit
Keep the chicks warm and dry while slowly decreasing the temperature in the brooder during the next 8 weeks. Enlarge the brooder area as necessary while the chicks grow, keeping the recommended temperature range. Once the chicks are large enough to be taken to an outside coop set up, they will be transferring during middle to late May. Usually our nighttime temps are warm enough during this time, that the chicks will transition easily and without too much stress.
Use a Super Simple Formula to Determine the Best Time to Start Chicks
It’s disappointing when new chicken keepers don’t realize how fast the chicks will grow. They will order a dozen new chicks and enjoy them for a couple of weeks. Then the chicks begin to grow, fly out of the brooder on test wings and become crowded in the small box that was roomy just a couple of weeks ago. The uninformed chicken keeper might assume that because they are getting big, the chicks should go outside. This often leads to chilling and death for the young chicks who are still regulating body temperature. Until the chicks are fully feathered and have lost the downy covering, they are susceptible to chills if left in an unheated area. Spring weather is unpredictable and often the night time temperatures dip quite low.
Please note that this method does not apply to people who live in year round warm climates. We are located in the mid-Atlantic region and I feel that this method is the best plan for our area and other seasonal states. In colder areas, you may want to wait even longer into the spring. Timing is everything and once the cute little peeps begin to grow into teenage chickens, you will want to put them outside.
Are you ready for the Super Simple Formula for Timing the best time to start chicks?
The Formula for Choosing The Best Time to Start Chicks
Think ahead to when your outside temps at night, will be consistently warm enough and count back from there 8 to 10 weeks. This will be the ideal time for you to start your baby chicks.
Did you get that? It’s so simple! Here’s an example. If you want the chicks outside after they are fully feathered by June 1 then count back on the calendar. Ten weeks would be mid March. When you call the hatchery, ask for your order to be shipped on a day in mid March.
The important part isn’t the 8 to 10 weeks. The important factor is knowing your climate, normal weather and factors affecting your chicks warmth. If you have no way to keep the chicks warm in an outside coop, then you will need to keep them in the house until they can regulate their body heat. (Here’s more info on chicken keeping and winter.) The best time to start chicks will vary for everyone. I personally believe that when the temperature cannot be kept above 65 degrees, in the coop or in the brooder, even with new feathers, the chicks will get chilled.
As far as your Chicken Fever? Pick up a copy of your favorite chicken magazine and dream on!
10 weeks. Moved to the grow out pen in the coop.
12 weeks. Quickly outgrowing the grow out pen. Almost time to brave the great outdoors.
14 weeks. Venturing outside on a warm sunny day.