It may only be January, but some of the hardier breeds of chicken may well have already resumed laying eggs - or indeed may never have stopped!
Those of you with incubators and a hatching addiction could well be feeling the pull of the 'on' switch, and there are certainly positives and negatives to early year hatching; consider the following before you fire up that 'bator!
- If you raise birds for resale, you'll also have a huge advantage come late spring when you have started birds ready for sale. You'll have pullets for laying and selling for a premium price, and extra cockerels for making up flocks - and putting in the freezer.
- There's something to be said for raising chicks in colder weather; there are fewer flies and, providing the birds are kept warm and clean, less chance of a coccidia bloom or a parasite problem.
- If you have rare breeds, where every egg is valuable, you're better off hatching them than selling and shipping them, because shipping in extreme cold is a recipe for frozen and infertile eggs.
- Fertility drops during cold weather due to extra energy requirements of birds to stay warm. Help them along with this by offering lots of 'long term' food like corn, which takes longer for them to digest, and also warm mashes, made with oatmeal and / or bran.
- Running heat lamps for birds born in adverse temperatures is expensive, increasing your power bill and thus your unit cost.
- Some people believe that birds raised in the colder weather are less thrifty than birds raised in spring due to their constantly trying to stay warm; other people report the exact opposite.
Really the decision depends on your commitment to keeping small birds warm, and your ability to do so with a closed structure and electric heat lamps. Raising chicks at any time of the year requires space and energy, but only you can decide whether your set-up has the capacity to fulfill the additional needs of cold-weather baby chicks.
Of course, with ducks and other waterfowl starting to lay around this time of year, you could always add some webbed-footed friends to your homestead - is there anything cuter than a mama duck with her fuzzy entourage?