I’d like to start some fall chicks so my birds will be ready to lay by next spring. Are there any autumn-exclusive problems or concerns I should be aware of? Will I need to change anything in the current brooder setup I’m using to help them adapt?
With the correct housing, you can brood chicks any time of year. By starting chicks in fall, you will have eggs in spring of the following year. With the right management, egg production will continue through the next year.
Because chicks are not able to regulate their body temperature for the first few weeks of life, a brooding system is required. You will need to provide a brooder for the first four weeks or so. Depending on the climate in your area and if the housing is relatively well-insulated, you may not need supplemental heat after this initial brooding period. In addition, once the chicks get older, they will produce body heat which can help keep a coop warm given the right chick to space ratio, though it may cost you more in feed.
Use your chicks as the thermometer to tell you if you need to provide additional heat: If they’re all bunched up together and chirping unhappily, you’ll need to provide additional heat, and if they’re all sitting down and panting, it’s too hot.
If you’re using a heat lamp, take all proper precautions to prevent fires. Many houses lost to fires every year as a result of improperly used heat lamps. Make sure the bulb is in a ceramic socket and that the bulb is hung securely. You can adjust the heat provided by raising or lowering the heat lamp.
Laying hens are particularly sensitive to the number of hours of light in a day. Pullets will come into production as the number of hours of light per day increases, and hens will go out of production as the day length becomes shorter. The use of supplemental light is necessary for year-round egg production. It’s important that the pullets not be stimulated to come into production too early. They should reach the right body weight before they start to lay or they may lay small eggs throughout their production cycle.
For most breeds, pullets become sexually mature at around 20 weeks of age, and you should limit the number of hours of light per day until that time. Eight hours of light is typically used in commercial operations, but if your pullets have access to the outdoors, you will be restricted by the number of hours of light in a day.
Once the pullets are ready to lay, slowly increase the number of hours of light per day through supplemental sources. You eventually want to reach 14 hours of light per day, which will bring the pullets into production. Then maintain that 14 hours of light per day to keep them producing throughout the year. This is especially important in the winter, when the number of hours of light per day decreases. Many flocks go out of production at this time of year, unless supplemental light is provided.
With the proper heat management early and light management later, your autumn flock should provide you with lots of eggs come spring time.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2016 issue of Hobby Farms.