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Monthly Chicken Care of the Backyard Flock
I’ve been keeping chickens for over decade. The last few years have been in Northern California, at 4,000′ elevation, a far cry from keeping chickens in Alaska- where I grew up.
I thought that it would be both fun, and helpful, to spell out what caring for the chickens looks like throughout the year. I want to show how things look different from month to month, including the differences in chores and egg production alike. Monthly chicken care in the big scheme of things doesn’t vary much: your birds will always need feed, water, and protection from whatever weather the season throws at you.
Monthly Chicken Care Throughout the Year
January- The beginning of the year is the middle of winter. That means we’re probably going to be getting regular snow and rainstorms, interspersed with occasional cold snaps (and even rarer warm days).
In January our chickens are laying very few eggs. From a flock of about 35 chickens (6 or so of which are young pullets) we got a maximum of 5 eggs a day this last month. There are a number of factors that decrease their laying annually- less light, molting, the weather, and stress all conspire to give the hens a break. Some people give supplemental light in order to keep production up (14 hours of light is the ticket), but we don’t. I prefer letting the hens have this seasonal break because I think that it can help them to lead more productive lives over time.
Every day we give the chickens water, let them out of the coop into their run, and make sure that the nests all have clean bedding. During storms or cold snaps, the hens are hesitant to leave the coop at all. Our ducks don’t seem bothered by any weather and will spend hours out in the snow and rain. We don’t usually let the chickens out to free range unless we’ve had a long string of good weather.
My other “big” monthly chicken chore for January is to place orders for our spring chicks. Most hatcheries will begin to take orders after the new year, and I want to have my order placed as early as possible. Due to weather constraints (and the cost of running heat lamps for months) I place orders in January, but won’t start receiving chicks until April.
February- There isn’t, admittedly, much of a difference between January and February. Some years February is much warmer, with strings of sunshine and good weather. “Faux spring.” Other years, January through March are a blur of the same.
If the weather is decent, the hens will usually pick up in their laying slightly. We’ll clean out the coop if there’s a particularly warm weekend. The birds can all be let out for free-ranging more often as well.
If February’s weather is more wintry, we’ll be leaving the chickens constrained to their coop and run most days. We’ll add additional straw to the coop and run to combat the ever-growing muck. Priority is keeping waterers full & thawed, and the chickens dry.
If the laying has picked up, I’ll usually fire up the incubator in February as well. Our March chicks will be ready to sell before most local feed stores have them. Plus our seed-starting for the vegetable garden is well under way, and keeping the brooder warm is much easier. (I have a post about hatching chicks here)
March- Where I grew up, March was predictably winter- always snow, always cold, and “spring” would visit in the form of a 2-day warm spell. Monthly chicken care there was a monolith from November to March. Down here (in the lower 48), it seems like there’s a little more variation. The warm spells in March are much longer. Long enough that I consider planting outdoors, wearing T-shirts, and adding to the flocks. And then we get a massive snowstorm out of the blue, lose power, and are launched right back into winter until mid-April.
For the chickens, this tumultuous “spring” weather is rough. In the warm spells, the chickens are lively, pump out eggs, and free-range our property day after day. When the inevitable snow finally arrives, the chickens seem a little shell-shocked- less eggs, less activity, and are left confined to the coop/run. Egg production overall in March is spotty, despite the increasing light, because of the variable weather.
Chores in March are mainly keeping the run from getting too mucky, keeping the nest boxes clean, and maybe cleaning out the coop if we didn’t in February.
The incubators will begin to peep in March as well. (This is my favorite incubator- totally worth being able to hatch your own) New life, bursting forth from the little shells is a miraculous signal of spring- regardless of the weather. Once they’ve dried, I move the chicks to a brooder in our outdoor craft room/insulated shed/grow-room. They’ll stay in the brooder until their feathers have grown and the weather is more cooperative.
April- At last, spring is here. Mostly. For the garden, the risk of frost is a present danger. But for the chickens, it’s go time.
Our chores are no longer centered around keeping the coop dry. We can just fill the troughs daily, top the feeder off weekly, and check for eggs whenever we’re outside. The chickens free-range a lot more often. The bugs are out, the grass and weeds are germinating, and there is no shortage of things to scratch and peck at. We’re usually beginning to get overrun with eggs at this point in the year. And, best of all, this is when we usually collect the first duck eggs of the year. As seasonal as chickens are, ducks are even more so- it’s a treat to have duck eggs in the warmer months. (When you find yourself at the overwhelmed in eggs time of year, it’s a great idea to start preserving them for winter. You can read about 12 different egg preservation methods here.)
On particularly warm days, the chicks that hatched in March can spend afternoons outside in a little chicken tractor. The sunshine and dirt is good for them, and will make the transition to outdoor chicken life easier.
April is also when our chicks, ducklings, and turkey poults arrive. The chicks and any ducklings we order are to replace hens we’d lost over the previous year and bring in some new genetics. Our turkey poults are destined for the freezer in October or November- but in the meantime they’ll live a cushy life on the homestead.
May- May marks the transition to a totally different list of concerns. We’d been fretting over snow and wet nest boxes just a few weeks ago- now we’re worried about running low on water and overheating birds.
May is when all of the chicks, poults, and ducklings transition into living full-time in tractors. The weather is warm enough consistently that they’ll be okay. (If we get rain in May- it’s uncommon- I’ll cover the tractors during the storm so they have some extra protection) We’ll usually have enough grass and weeds coming in that they can do a fair amount of foraging at this point as well, which is always a good thing.
Our chicken flock is in full production at this point. Eggs everywhere. I’ll usually have the incubator running through the end of May, selling most of the chicks to other backyard chicken keepers nearby. The chickens are free-ranging more days than not. But they’ve adopted a new rhythm- more activity in the mornings and evenings, more rest in the heat of the day. They’ll keep this pattern up through September or so. It’s pretty common to be watering twice a day by the end of the month.
June- The heat of summer continues to intensify around here.
Chores look like: letting the hens out, moving the tractors, watering, and collecting eggs in the morning. In the late afternoon, everything gets watered again, fed if needed, and we check for eggs. In the evening we go back out and close up the coop & any tractors that had been opened up.
The poults are big enough now to either be living alone in a tractor, free-ranging alone, or living in a section of the pasture. It depends on what’s going on with the grass/grazing and how much impact it can handle.
This is the best month (most years) to get a batch of broiler chicks too. It’s usually hot enough that they only need to be under a heat lamp for a week, and are outside full time by 2 weeks. They’ll take up residence in a different tractor than the poults or older chicks so that they aren’t subject to any bullying.
July- July is a lot like June, but more intense. Monthly chicken care in July is so different from the winter that it feels like different places. Temperatures are usually over 100*F. We do not get rain, or clouds, or any break from the heat.
The chickens need water twice a day. They don’t wander in the afternoons. By 11AM most days they’ve gone all around the property and are back to the shade of the coop or under the porch. They won’t do much until the late afternoon. Egg production in the ducks and chickens alike takes a nosedive. Even with plenty of light and all of their needs met, the weather is too big of a stress.
The birds in tractors are moved daily, sometimes twice daily. They usually have the doors propped open to allow for free-ranging, with feed and water left in the tractor. They too seek out shade and function best only at the margins of the day.
Water and shade are the biggest concerns for all of our poultry. Days of high winds can trigger power shut offs (attempting to mitigate some fire danger), meaning that we won’t have any flowing water. I’m a little obsessive about making sure that every 5 gallon bucket I can spare is filled with water at all times. The joys of living in California lately.
August- Depending on the year, August will either signal the beginning of fall, or it will serve as an intense continuation of July. I have a definite preference for a cooler August & longer fall.
The hens will usually pick up their laying- if we start getting cooler days. We continue to water twice a day, feed weekly, and let the hens out to free-range daily (or nearly daily). The coop stays nice and dry, the troughs remain ice-free, and as a whole, chores are more time-consuming, but much simpler in the summer.
Our June broiler chicks are now butcher weight. Slaughtering them will reduce the number of tractors to move, and lessen the amount of feed used significantly. Our pullets are essentially fully grown, and may be transferred into the “big coop” this month. Since they’ve been free-ranging side by side with the older hens, there isn’t necessarily a distinct transfer date. We move them into the coop after the sun goes down every night, and eventually, they’ll start to roost there themselves (instead of on or in a tractor).
September- Almost without exception, September will bring one last glut of eggs for the year. The change in the weather is significant and welcomed with open arms. If we get rain (not usually, but some years) the chickens will stay in the coop- no longer adapted to the poorer weather.
Our September chicken chores continue much the same as the rest of the summer. We water twice a day, check for eggs a few times a day, and feed weekly. The chickens still free-range most every day. Now that the days are cooler, they begin to transition away from the summer schedule (resting in the afternoons) to a winter one (active in the afternoons).
The growing pullets will finish their transition to the big coop. Any broilers left will be slaughtered. The ducks wrap up their egg-laying. And the turkeys are “finished”- given more grain to finish bulking up the last few weeks before slaughter.
October- Our year of monthly chicken care has almost come full circle at this point- October is the beginning of the end. We’ll get rain, maybe snow, and certainly our first frost will come.
This month we prep the coop for winter. We make sure that there is fresh bedding in the coop, mucking out the old stuff if needed. The extra troughs are dumped out and put up. The windows and doors are covered up and closed as needed. We’re down to watering and collecting eggs daily, instead of multiple times a day. Egg production usually starts to decrease as the month goes on.
Our turkeys are butchered this month. The tractors are put away. The extra waterers and feeders are stored in the shed. Everything is slowly settling into winters slower pace.
November- Most Novembers are warm (ish) and dry- compared to the rest of winter at least. We can get some rain and snow, frosts are common, and overall things have wound down significantly.
The chickens will continue to free-range whenever the weather allows. They’re watered every day, fed every week, and the eggs (though less are laid now) are collected every time we go outside. The pullets are totally integrated into the adult flock, and some are starting to lay eggs themselves. Weather, as usual, is the biggest variable in their production and routine.
December- December at last. The end of our year, the end of the overview of monthly chicken care. December brings snow and rain and ice and wind and all of the wonderful pieces of winter. It also brings a time of slowing and reflection. Where we reevaluate the previous busy season and plan changes for the next one.
Chicken chores in December are identical to chores in November- except with more snow and cold temperatures. We have to break ice off the surface of the troughs regularly and fill them by bucket instead of hose. We still check for eggs daily, but they’re averaging about 5 eggs a day. The concerns over wet nests, wet bedding, and a wet run have returned. We’re going through a lot more straw throughout the winter, trying to keep the chickens cozy. They won’t free-range often, due to the rougher weather and snow.
December gradually flows into January, into February, into spring and summer all anew.
A Year of Monthly Chicken Care- In Conclusion
As you can see, the basic needs of the chickens won’t change throughout the course of the year. But the efforts and methods of meeting those needs can vary a lot. It’s impressive to me that the hens can adapt and handle deep snow and cold winds. Only to have to seek out shade and live while temperatures soar to over 100*F just a few months later.
If we make sure to take good care of our chickens, regardless of the changing seasons and challenges, they’ll repay us with long, productive lives and the best eggs money can’t buy.
Thanks for reading and happy homesteading!
PS Haven’t added chickens to your backyard homestead yet? Here‘s my list of 10 great reasons to make that jump!