PRODUCTION

Keeping and Raising Chickens in the Fall


August 23, 2021

Chicks in the leaves and grass

Autumn is a wonderful time of year full of colorful foliage, cool breezes, and playful chickens. Raising backyard chickens in the fall is easy and fun for homesteaders of all skill levels. All you need is a bit of preparation in the late summer to have a healthy and happy flock all year long.

Prepare ASAP

Before the summer fun ends, take some time to go through a fall chicken care checklist. Ensure your backyard flock has a cozy and clean home.

Late Summer Prep

Ideally, you want to start thinking about your flocks’ autumn needs in the late summer or earlier if necessary.

Why?

Prepping in the summer allows you to take full advantage of the warm and pleasant weather. Get all your cleaning and repairs done early before the weather gets colder. Give yourself plenty of time to fall-proof your coop and run.

Ready to give your flock a home fit for chicken royalty?

Here are some of our favorite fall care tips.

Health Check-Up

Come fall and winter, your flock is going to have to adjust to the chill and darkness. Prepare for the oncoming changes by giving them a top-to-bottom health check.

Catching health issues early on can give them their full bill of health so they can prepare for the windy and cold weather.

Healthy Chicken, Happy Coop

Above all, always make sure you see the classic signs of a healthy chicken:

  • Strong eggshells
  • Steady egg production
  • Dark golden yolks
  • Sturdy and shiny feathers
  • Vibrant color combs
  • High energy levels

Check for everything from digestive issues to weight level to eating habits. Giving them a full check-up can get them ready for the fall and winter ahead.

Molting

Flock of chickens

Most homesteaders start raising chicks in the spring. By late summer, your chickens will be at their peak egg production capacity. When the summer daylight gets shorter, your chickens will start laying fewer eggs and undergoing some physical changes.

Usually, these shorter days are a signal for your chicken to start the molting process. During this transformation, chickens will lose their old feathers and grow new and sturdy ones for the cold hard winter.

During their “vacation,” chickens reduce their egg production and focus their energy on feather regrowth. Expect the molting process to start when your birds are about 18 months old. Molting occurs every year.

How to Help Them Grow New Feathers

During these 8 (sometimes up to 16) weeks of feather regrowth, help them keep up their strength. Here are a few tips to keep them healthy throughout the molting process:

  • All that energy spent on the loss and regrowth of the feathers requires extra protein, a vital nutrient needed during the molting process. While the egg-laying season requires a higher intake of calcium for strong shells, molting season requires more protein to produce strong feathers, which are made up of 80-85% protein.
  • During the stressful molting process, you want to minimize stressors. For instance, the area where the feather shaft meets the skin is extra sensitive, so handle with care. If possible, give your chickens fresh and clean bedding so they can relax in luxury. In addition, give your chickens plenty of room in the coop with clean water, good ventilation, and a complete layer feed.
  • When your birds are done with the molting process and ready to get back to laying eggs, you’ll need to switch your layer feed back to one with the nutrients you need for healthy eggs. Ideally, you’ll want to gradually transition from the protein-heavy feed to the normal complete layer feed over the course of a week or a week and a half. A slow transition can go easy on their digestive tract.
  • Provide an area where your chickens can take a dust bath. Dust bathing prevents mites and other parasites from harming your birds, especially during their most vulnerable time during the molting process.

Lumino Dusting Bath Powder, 6 lb.

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Protein Power

Baby chicken in women's arms

Protein is a critical nutrient when keeping chickens in the fall. On top of a complete layer feed, give them high-protein snacks and treats for variety and fun. Mealworms are an especially favored treat full of protein.

Boredom busters such as Purina Flock Block or a tasty peanut butter snack can keep your birds entertained and satiated, especially when they are confined to the coop during extra windy and wet days.

Purina Flock Block Poultry Supplement, 25 lb.

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And, always remember the 90-10 rule: 90% layer feed and 10% snacks. Feeding your chickens too many treats, high-protein or not, can impact the amount of nutrients your birds absorb and their overall health.

Purina Farm to Flock Protein Blend Hen Treats

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Purina Farm to Flock Larvae Hen Treats

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Fresh and Clean Water

Hydrate your flock with fresh and clean water throughout every season. Fall is a great time to prepare for the coming winter freeze. Chickens can’t drink frozen water and won’t touch it if it’s nearly an icicle.

Little Giant Double Wall Metal Poultry Fount 2.5 Quarts

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How to Keep Them Hydrated

Take preventative measures to give your flock fresh, room temperature water on-demand:

  • Insulate your stand-pipe and keep the hosepipe inside at night.
  • Store a large freeze-resistant plastic container with water above the ground. Keep it covered to prevent it freezing over or just keep it inside at night.
  • Use an electric plate to heat the metal waterer (not plastic).

Heated Poultry Fount Base

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Pest and Predator Protection

Rural farm with flock of chickens

Now that the temperatures are lower, the days are darker, and there’s less food, pests and predators are looking for warmth and food. During the cold seasons, predators wish they could feast on the entire flock and eggs for a nice hearty meal. Try as they might, there are simple ways to protect your flock from the fall and winter predators.

  • Predators come from all angles: high, low, and side to side. To protect your flock from burrowing predators like rats, foxes, and other larger predators install or repair a wire mesh floor below. A fence around your perimeter can keep predators out.
  • For the ultimate layer of protection, a poultry electric fence keeps your chickens inside and protected and predators far from the chickens’ home.
  • Check around your coop for holes and other entry points. Openings of all sizes without the proper chicken wire or panels are an open door for predators to wreak havoc on the cozy and tranquil coop.

Fall Cleanup

Spring cleaning is good and all, but fall cleanup is just as important. During the fall (or a little before), give your coop (and run) an exhaustive clean-up. Spray and scrub the entire coop to get rid of the accumulated droppings, gunk, and debris.

Make sure to remove all the poop on or under the roosting bars and clean out the nesting boxes of broken egg yolks, feathers, and other debris.

Once it’s clean as a whistle, add a fresh and clean layer of bedding to keep your flock comfortable and happy.

Even your chicken run could use some TLC. Sprinkle some diatomaceous earth across your run to repel lice and mites that can affect your poultry in the fall. Diatomaceous earth’s drying power makes these pests shrivel up and turn to dust in the fall wind.

Ventilation, Drafts, and Leaks

Ventilation

Summer isn’t the only time when ventilation is critical. As the weather gets colder, proper ventilation can help offset many of the issues that can pop up during the fall. Without proper ventilation, the excess moisture and ammonia build-up from the droppings can create a stale and harmful environment for them.

Poor ventilation can contribute to respiratory issues and even frostbite on feet, wattles, and combs. For proper ventilation during the fall, adding windows with predator-proof screens and ventilation fans can keep fresh air circulating and reduce wet spots inside.

Drafts

While ventilation is key to a fall-ready coop, you don’t want it to be overly drafty. Check up on your chickens during an especially windy day to ensure there aren’t any excessive chilly drafts and they are warm.

Leaks

Any unintentional openings could also let water from rain leak through and create excessive moisture which could lead to frostbite in the winter. While your chickens can regulate their temperature to accommodate the hot and humid heat or the cold and drafty winter, they still may need some help.

Plant a Fall Garden

Don’t stop the summer outdoor fun just because the leaves have started falling. Fall gardening is entirely possible, although it may require some minor adjustments for the crisp weather. A vegetable and herb patch can be ready for harvest as the fall comes to an end.

Veggies such as radishes, broccoli, cauliflower, garlic, cabbage, and cucumber are excellent and hardy vegetables that you and your chickens can enjoy when it starts to get chillier.

Just remember, make sure to protect your garden from your curious flock. A raised garden bed or a protected garden can keep your chickens and other pests away from your delicious veggies.

Pumpkin Treats

During the pumpkin patch season, there’s no better treat for your chickens than pumpkin and pumpkin seeds. It’s a seasonal delicacy that they’ll love to forage for.

Some studies have even shown that pumpkin seeds may help chickens get rid of worms. Although it’s not proven, the studies show pumpkin seeds can do only good and no harm.

Pumpkin seeds are a high-quality source of the extra protein your flock needs. Plus, they’re packed with Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, beta-carotene, and potassium, a helpful energy producer for the feather regrowth phase.

As the bugs become scarce during the fall, your flock will love and appreciate these supplemental treats. Finding free or discounted pumpkins from local farms, neighbors, and friends can save you money and give your chickens a full stomach.

Heat and Light: Do You Need It?

Short Answer: No

Long Answer: Chickens are incredibly adaptable and resourceful creatures capable of regulating their temperatures for extreme cold and hot temperatures. As long as your coop is free of drafts, has proper ventilation, and is protected from predators, you won’t need extra heat or light.

Heat

Extra heating should be reserved for critically cold temperatures, which are rare. Finding creative ways to keep them warm such as making the coop smaller or insulating it can be effective ways to avoid using additional and potentially dangerous electrical heat sources.

Thermo-Poultry Brooder

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Lighting

Similarly, lighting is not needed. Some backyard chicken owners may use lighting to extend the egg production but others prefer to let them molt naturally. Lights can be helpful when completing evening upkeep. Your chickens may produce eggs at a slower rate, but it’s a natural part of aging.

Raising Chickens In The Fall

Mother hen with baby chickens

Spring chicks are the norm but there are some unique advantages to raising baby chicks in the fall, too! Raising chicks in the fall will require you to maintain appropriate environment and temperature levels during the transition from chick to pullet.

Benefits

Fall chicks have a different timeline than spring-hatched chicks. Spring chicks reach egg-laying maturity in late summer. Peak production won’t come until they’re about a year old.

Fall chicks, however, reach maturity in the middle of winter. Since the days will still be dark and dreary, pullets will hold off on laying eggs until later.

Since fall chicks have more time to mature before laying their first eggs compared to chicks in the spring, they’ll start laying them as soon as the daylight gets longer. These mature birds will usually produce large and strong eggs and skip the awkward small-egg and weak-shell phase.

Tips & Tricks

Here are a few tips to raise baby chicks in the fall:

  • Vaccinate all chicks for Marek’s disease
  • Buy or build a brooder. Temperatures in the brooder should be between 90-95º F for optimal chick growth. Anything from a used aquarium to a big cardboard box can be used as a warm DIY brooder.

Little Giant Chick Brooder Kit

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Double-Tuf Beginner Poultry Kit - 6 piece

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Standlee Flock Fresh Bedding, 2 cu. Ft.

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Have Fun!

Keeping your chickens healthy and happy during the fall is easy for any chicken owner. Make sure to spend quality time with them early on since it’ll be too chilly for you to hang out with them once winter hits.

Apart from the functional and practical tips we provided, the fall signals the holiday season. Add a playful fall wreath and some autumn flowers around your coop and in the window boxes for a pop of color and personality.

For all your fall care tools and supplies, shop Wilco farm stores. We’re with you through every chick-raising season.

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