Raising chicks in the fall has its advantages. Chicks have longer to prepare for egg laying, as they’ll likely surpass their expected lay time of 20 weeks and wait until spring to lay.
This allows more time for birds to become strong adults and lay good sized eggs at the best of their capabilities.
A good rule of thumb is to purchase chicks in early fall so that they’ll be at least six weeks of age by the time the first frost arrives. This will give the chicks time to fully feather in and help them to maintain and regulate their body temperature. Follow up that plan with some basic chick raising information and be well on your way to a nice flock.
When deciding how many chicks you want, keep in mind that each bird needs at least 3 square feet of interior as well as 8 to 10 square feet of exterior space. There should be at least one nesting box for every three hens.
Be sure to provide adequate roosting bars that will allow for spreading and stretching of their wings. Chickens are very social birds so having a minimum of three is a great idea. Six birds should give you a happy hen house with a steady supply of eggs.
Placing a dust bath in your chicken run will help your flock maintain clean, healthy feathers and help reduce the chance of lice, mites and other parasites. You’ll want fencing to be suitable enough to keep chickens in and predators out.
An important decision to be made is what breeds you’ll want to raise in your flock. Some things to consider are the color and number of eggs your birds will lay, their noise level, their tolerance for hot and cold temperatures, the breeds' temperament and how well they will adapt to the living arrangement you have planned for them.
Every breed produces eggs. There are many breeds that are dual purpose for both eggs and meat. Not all breeds are available in the fall, but there are still many to chose from.
Before purchasing your chicks, collect all you’ll need to get them started on the right feed. You’ll need a brooder box or container, heat lamp with a ceramic insert, a couple heat bulbs, a brooder thermometer, bedding, water and feed containers, and chick feed. It’s a good plan to have some chick vitamins and electrolytes on hand at all times but especially in the first 72 hours.
Chicks should always have access to food and water. The brooder needs to maintain a temperature of 90 degrees for the first week. Decrease this temperature by 5 degrees each week thereafter, generally by raising the heat lamp just slightly out of the brooder.
Keep bedding fresh and dry to prevent disease and feather damage.
By week six, chicks should be nearly fully feathered and the first frost should be near. With full feathers, chicks can explore the yard or run during the day and sleep in the hen house, provided they have a supplemental heat source to prevent getting chilled when the temperature drops below 55 degrees. This heat source should remain available to the young pullets until they reach at least 16 weeks of age. Secure the heat source properly and check it regularly to prevent fire and the loss of your flock.
Hens will start to lay eggs around 20 weeks of age. When raising fall chicks, birds may wait until spring to start laying eggs. By spring, your birds will be full grown adults and their eggs will be of full size. After 20 weeks, transition your birds from the chick feed onto layer feed.
Collect the eggs in the morning and again in the evening. Not all chickens lay their eggs in the morning. Eggs left in the nest are exposed to temperatures that can be damaging. This also leaves them to be trampled by other hens wanting to use that same nest. When eggs are trampled it increases their chance of being cracked or broken. If a hen were to notice a broken egg, she would likely eat it, then purposefully break eggs to consume them.
Keep a clean chicken coop and nesting boxes. Chickens will enjoy nesting in either pine shavings or straw. The interior floor of their coop should also contain pine shavings or straw. Use dirt, pea gravel or grade sand on the floor for easy cleaning. Consider tossing the manure and shavings into your compost pile to be aged, then added to your garden.