I’m interested in raising chickens, and I’m also looking into getting other types of poultry. When’s the best time of year to buy baby chicks?
You can buy chicks and other baby poultry throughout the year, but there are several things to consider. In spring (February through June), you can find the broadest selection of breeds from breeders and hatcheries. Also, baby chicks need a warm space that’s dry and free of drafts, so late spring and early summer are optimal times to start chicks. You still need to provide additional heat for the chicks, but you’ll use less energy if you wait until the weather is milder.
For egg production, the earlier you start your chicks, the sooner they will begin laying. (Hens start laying eggs when they’re 18 to 26 weeks old, depending on breed and environment.) However, hybrid meat birds are ready for harvest in six to eight weeks, and high heat stresses them as they grow. Starting meat birds in late summer works well, because they mature during cool fall weather.
After hens start laying, the number of eggs they lay typically follows a cycle: It increases for a month or so before it peaks, then gradually declines. (This cycle is affected by environmental factors, too, of course.) If you want to keep production somewhat even throughout the year, you may want to start several batches of chicks at different times. When outdoor temperatures are cooler, you simply need to ensure that your brooder stays warm and free of drafts (chilly chicks can die quickly).
Although a few types of ducklings may be available all year, most breeds of ducks, geese and turkeys are only available during spring. The hatcheries don’t receive enough orders at other times to justify the cost of manipulating lighting and other environmental factors necessary to force these birds to lay fertile eggs in the off-season.
Sometimes you can find great bargains if it’s not peak season for baby poultry. I know that Sand Hill Preservation Center in Iowa offers autumn specials, and it’s worth looking around for similar deals. Before you purchase any assortment from a hatchery, read all the details. Some assortments are great deals, but others might offer disappointing surprises, such as a collection of cockerels (males) from lightweight egg-laying breeds that won’t produce much meat. Also, find breeds with our Directory of Hatcheries.
— Troy Griepentrog, senior associate editor
Above: For the widest selestion of chicken breeds, purchase chicks between February and June. Photo by Dusty Boots Photography.
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