For a lot of us, the mere mention of spring conjures up images of bunnies, pastel colors, baby chicks, chicks and more chicks! And while those who raise chickens will usually restock their coops with baby chicks in the spring, you may want to consider the fall season as well.
“A lot of people give me a weird look when I suggest they restock their chicken coops in the fall,” says Martha Page, IFA Assistant Manager (and baby chick expert).
“Restocking chicks in the fall can really be viewed as a cost saving strategy in a way. We know the chicks aren’t going to be laying eggs for about 20 weeks. So many people believe that “down” time might as well be in the winter when egg production is down anyway. Then as soon as spring hits, bam! Your chickens will be laying eggs.”
Page says buying baby chicks in the spring is very popular, but that means you’ll be feeding the chicks (i.e., pullets) throughout the spring and summer … and just when they start laying their eggs, the colder weather sets in and egg production naturally drops off. And speaking of winter, just like you and I need protection from the cold winter months, your chickens need to be protected too (especially for maximizing egg production).
While much of it may seem like common sense, some of these steps may also be easy to forget. So just in case you need reminding:
Chickens need extra protein during stressful times—which the cold months often are—to keep them healthy. IFA expert Page recommends a 20% protein feed.
During summer months, chickens will peck on the ground, picking up bugs that add protein to their daily intake. Feeding a 20% protein feed makes up for the missing protein your chickens get by eating those little critters. Talking with a chicken feed expert at your local IFA Country Store can help determine exactly what feed your chickens need, depending on their size, your location, and weather.
Chickens naturally lay fewer eggs in the winter, but there are things you can do to maximize production. Many people assume production goes down because of the cold—but actually, a bigger reason is that there are fewer daylight hours in the winter. It takes 14-16 hours of daylight to produce an egg.
So we need to provide the chickens more daylight than there naturally is. Simply put a light in the coop—not a heat lamp. Set the light to come on very early in the morning … as early as 2 a.m. … and have it go off when the sun comes up. That will give your chickens the supplemental lighting they need to produce their eggs.
Winterizing Your Coop
The first thing you need to do is put some kind of plastic or tarp along the outside (not the inside) of your coop to keep the draft down. Make sure you don’t close off the ventilation because you don’t want the coop to get moist inside. The coop needs to be dry inside with no breeze, and your chickens will get along just fine.
Fresh water is key, too. Obviously, chickens need water. And, if it freezes, you won’t have healthy birds. We offer several inexpensive ways to keep the water from freezing during the coldest months. If your method is a version of hoping and praying, do your chickens a favor and check them out.
If you have any question about winterizing your chickens or what kind of chicken is best for you, just ask one of the experts at your local IFA Country Store.