I love winter now! I used to hate it when we lived in the suburbs, because it was dark and cold with no redeeming qualities once Christmas had passed. But now I see it as the time of hibernation, renewal, rejuvenation and planning! After Christmas, all of the catalogs from the seed companies and the hatcheries start to arrive. We start flipping through them, trying to decide between the thousands of different varieties of heirloom vegatables and the dozens of varieties of chickens, turkeys, geese and ducks. We even dream about someday having peafowl, partridge and quail.
My daughters choose four varieties of chickens to order. The only real requirement I place upon them is that they must choose dual purpose breeds -- those that produce roosters big enough for a good dinner AND hens who are decent egg layers. A century ago, most breeds were dual purpose, but with the advent of factory farming, the best egg layers produce scrawny roosters, and the best meat chickens are dreadful egg layers.
Although I am in no hurry to get chickens, the girls are! For their chickens to be competetive at the 4-H Fair in July, they need to be hatched NOW. If they are hatched in March or later, they won't be fully developed in time for the fair, and they will not place well, simply because they are not mature enough. The only problem with this is that chickens are purchased through the mail. Yes, they are mailed to us from the hatchery. The only year that we got chicks in February, half of them arrived dead -- froze to death -- but my daughter placed first in the fair. The lady at the post office said it really depends on the truck driver -- if he's smart enough to put the box of chicks in the cab with him, they'll arrive fine, but some of them will put the chicks in the back with the other packages, where temperatures are just too cold. Using the postal service to deliver chicks is a double-edged sword. Without them, many breeds would become rare or non-existent, at least in certain parts of the country. But by shipping chicks this way, you are going to loose some of the individuals. Is it worth it? The poultry industry thinks so.