Why hatch chicks in the fall?
This year I want to raise my own replacement egg layers. Laying hens usually start laying eggs when they are about 6 months old. We anticipate that the fall hatched chicks will reach maturity in the lengthening days of spring. Chicks hatched in March, mature in the September; shorter day length results in hormonal changes which limits egg production. Even though I extend the egg laying season with artificial lighting in the coop, I would rather have a whole summer season to select my best layers for overwintering.
Until now I have purchased hybrid layer pullets (a young hen, ready to lay) from a nearby supplier. The hybrid pullets arrive with trimmed beaks; this keeps the birds from pecking each other in crowded conditions. Although hybrids have managed well, our hens have plenty of space so beak trimming is unnecessary. The hybrid pullets also have larger combs and are subject to frostbite in the winter, which can limit the hen’s vigor. The Dominique chicks we are hatching have smaller combs, more suitable for a Pennsylvania winter.
Another reason to raise my own replacement hens is more “observational”. The livestock that thrives here is livestock that I have raised or is from farms utilizing similar management practices. High quality feed, plenty of space to move and the company of the flock, selected for calm temperament, builds a foundation for productivity and thriftiness.