At this point I’ve hatched chicks a couple of times, both on purpose and by accident. I’ve tried it with an incubator, and I’ve had Mumma Hen hatch them. I’ve hatched them in the spring, and I’ve hatched them in the autumn. This year I’ve seen a lot of people online hatching their own chicks and ducks in the spring and summer, but winter chicks aren’t very popular – and with good reason!
But, I know the idea of hatching chicks sounds appealing to many. My first duck, Bob, was a complete whim after saying I babysat a pet duck when I was in my teens. That lead to a friend of ours giving me a few duck eggs, and the rest is history. So I get it, it might not necessarily be a full plan to hatch chicks, the opportunity will arise and it’s too good to turn down.
Anyway, my original point is spring and summer chicks are what we all think of when we hear “chicks”. Chicks can and will hatch all year round, if you let a hen go broody especially. If you have the knowledge, resources and supplies to do this in autumn and winter, go ahead, but be warned it comes with a higher mortality rate.
Things you should know about hatching winter chicks
Higher mortality rates
Chicks are tiny little things when they hatch, and they’re a little gooey or wet. This means until their feathers fluff up, they’re more prone to get cold. If you can be – and if you’re hatching chicks you should be free from other obligations – then you should be present while they hatch. Don’t interfere unless absolutely needed, but I’ve had all sorts happen from ripped “belly buttons” to shell’s sticking to the chick as they dried out too quickly. Both survived, don’t worry.
So if that happens even in spring and summer chicks, imagine what adding extreme cold to the mix would do. Having their first months of life be so cold, also means that until you reach Spring you’re on constant watch for the weather forecast. Even once they have their proper feathers it’s risky.
More work is involved – and more expenses
To keep the mortality rates down, you need to work extra hard. It also makes you spend a little more money that what you might do with spring and summer chicks. Insulating the coops, bedding up more regularly, more food – we give them 20% more in winter, 40% if below freezing – and general wear and tear tends to be higher because of the wind and rain.
You worry more
This kind of ties in with the above point, but with winter chicks I definitely worry a hell of a lot more than I do with Spring chicks. I wake up every morning worried I’m going to find they’ve frozen in the night, even though the coops are well bedded up and insulated.
Predators become more of a risk too. If there’s no other food about, then they’re going to come after your chickens. Chicks are quite noisy and will attract foxes and rats – yes, rats will kill chicks if they have no other food source. Check over your coops at least twice a day, and make sure all doors are shut when they go in for the night.
If you’ve never hatched chicks before, don’t do it
If you’ve never hatched them before, don’t do it in autumn or winter. Inexperience and not knowing what your doing or knowing the warning signs can make the difference between your chicks surviving or not. Wait until Spring or Summer, and do it then.
Do your research on the subject, read as many books and websites as you can. Get the equipment you need to do it all properly – we’ve been caught off guard by a broody hen and had chicks live in our living room before. There’s plenty you can do in autumn and winter to prepare for your new fluffbutts, which will make hatching even easier.