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Cold Climate, Starting Chickens in the early fall?

 
Seth Madore
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Hello fellow permies, new member here from Maine!

Got a question for your consideration:

After dealing with heat stroke, predators, culling of roosters, My flock of 14 is down to 7. I'd like to add to the flock. However, I (and my family) are going on a weeks vacation end of August and I don't want to burden our house sitter with taking care of very young chicks. I was thinking I could get them on order to come in as soon as I get back in the states, which would be the first week of September.

I live in New England, we have cold enough winters. Would they be able to survive the winter, or should I be better off waiting until spring? My thought is that by the time spring rolls around, they would actually be able to start laying. This last batch I raised up in the spring, they started laying, it got cold, then they shut down for a while.


Looking at Buff Orpingtons, Barred Rock, Brahmas, Americaunas, perhaps 6 of each, 24-30 total

The current chickens I have are kept in a large (8' x 8') coop that I built last year, and I had been letting them free range, chicken tractor, etc. I did just get some portable electro-net fencing, I'll be installing that this weekend, hopefully. Paddock shifting is going to be a lot nicer than tractor moving.

I DO have a garage that I keep at 50 degrees when I am not in it. When I have work to do, the heat goes up to mid 60's. I COULD keep them in there longer if that would help.....
 
R Scott
Posts: 3305
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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It makes sense to me. They should be ok by the time it gets really cold, but you may want a hover in the coop just to help them stay warm. Simple as a cardboard box upside down with part of one side cut out. Just a small space the can huddle and keep warm. Big enough they won't crowd and smother, though.
 
Craig Dobbelyu
pollinator
Posts: 1250
Location: Maine (zone 5)
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Would you consider buying older birds?

You can order older birds from most hatcheries so that you don't have to deal with all the baby baggage. So much easier but much more expensive.

 
C. Kelley
Posts: 31
Location: zone 4b/5a Midcoast Maine
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Hi Seth,

What I've found starting chickens year-round in Maine is that as long as they're fully feathered and have a decently sheltered place to get out of the wind & wet, a hardy breed should be just fine. They may not hit the same full adult size as spring-hatched chickens, but they'll lay just fine by and large. Giving them an extra-sheltered place in the coop as someone else upthread mentioned can also help, especially if you're starting them late in the fall. Your best bet may be to see if you can entice one of your existing hens to go broody and raise them herself - hens are almost always better than people at raising chicks.

I would suggest shying away from hatchery stock, however, especially if you're looking for hardy birds for the Maine winter. Hatcheries list several breeds known for cold hardiness, but with their common practices of climate-controlled barns, all-in-all-out stocking, and outcrossing to Leghorns or similar high-production breeds (all they care about is selling chicks, not preserving breed characteristics other than color), you often end up with a much-depleted specimen of the breed you were after. Much better, if you're able, to find some quality eggs from someone who is breeding a true line and keeping up with the traits you're looking for. I've experimented with almost every large hatchery, several small ones, and privately acquired stock from breeders (and regular keepers). Hands down, the breeder and/or backyard birds have been hardier, healthier, and much more productive in a permaculture setting of forage, free range, etc.

In the spirit of the sharing economy, I have several incubators and would be happy to help you source some quality eggs of the breeds you're looking for and hatch them for you, if you're anywhere near Searsport/Belfast. The incubators aren't doing anyone much good sitting on a shelf in my office, and I find hatching to be immense fun.

Cheers,
C.
 
Cj Sloane
pollinator
Posts: 3646
Location: Vermont, off grid for 22 years!
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I always wind up with lots of "free" chicks my hens have hidden and hatched. The ones hatched late seem to vanish. Last year we lost some pullets due to the extreme cold. When I found my first dead one, I captured the ones I could and stuck them in my hoop house. Mostly they did fine but there is one that lost it's feet, due to frost bite, I presume. He seems to get around fine and I don't feed a heck of a lot in the summer. He's 3rd generation born here and I've only pick hardy breeds but he's a mix so I'm not sure about his genetics.

So I'm not really sure young chicks will be OK even in a regular coop and you'd have to think long and hard if you want chickens in your garage all winter.
 
Seth Madore
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C. Kelley, sent you a PM.


A lot of what I've read comes down to "leave them in the garage until fully feathered and then a bit longer if possible". That is what I think I will do. It does have a few spots in Jan/Feb where it drops down to zero and sometimes a bit below, but last year was mild until December......
 
John Polk
master steward
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I would suggest shying away from hatchery stock, however, especially if you're looking for hardy birds for the Maine winter.

I agree. Besides using climate controlled buildings, many/most hatcheries out-source their chicks.
I know people in Michigan who intentionally ordered from a major hatchery in Wisconsin so that they would have hardy birds. When the chicks arrived, the box was clearly labeled as having been shipped from Texas...not what they had expected.

Most off-season orders will be shipped from a southern state. AR, MO, TX, AL supply chicks for many 'northern' hatcheries. Many northern hatcheries heavily cull their flocks before winter sets in. It is cheaper for them to restock each year than provide feed and heat year round.

 
Emily Wilson
Posts: 28
Location: Atherley, Ontario
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I agree that hatchery stock is best avoided, however sometimes it's your only option, so you may have to make do. I have a friend who runs a CSA and each year does exactly what you are describing: she buys the last batch of hatchery chicks in late August or early September, raises them all winter and then they come into lay right around the time she needs the extra eggs for her CSA. We live in Orillia, Ontario, so it gets chilly up here.
 
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