Getting chickens in the fall

When most people buy chickens, they get them as newly hatched chicks in the spring. The chicks need a warm, dry place to grow until they're old enough to start laying eggs, which can be 18 to 26 weeks old, depending on the breed. If you buy older birds in the fall, they're hearty enough to handle cooler weather. And, you won't have the work and expense of raising them through the summer.

Phil Clauer is an extension poultry specialist at Penn State University. He says to look for young adult birds. You might find some off-season bargains, but be careful.

"Most people will get them from a reputable dealer in their area that is selling pullets," says Clauer. "They're about 18-weeks of age, they'll start laying within two-weeks of purchasing them, and they're just basically raised up, ready to go to business. That's the type of bird you're going to want to get. You're going to want to stay away from things like auctions or flea markets, things like this, and just picking up birds because they tend to be someone else's trouble or excess that they really don't want for a reason."

The chicken coop should be set up as it would be any other time of year. Make sure the environment is clean and protective because Clauer says during fall, rodents are on the move looking for shelter and food sources - and chicken feed suits them just fine.

"The time of year that we always see a big mass movement into these houses is right around the first frost because what happens is all the cover for outdoor rodents disappears, feed becomes less available, so they're starting to look for a place to winter over where there's a good availability of feed," says Clauer. "And so, part of getting your birds in fall, also think of how you can make sure your coop is rodent-proof, and you don't encourage them visiting."

If you suddenly find your new birds looking scruffy and the nest boxes are full of feathers instead of eggs, don't panic. Fall is when chickens naturally molt and grow a new set of feathers.

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