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brown chicken

[This is part 4 of a series.  Begin with part 1, part 2, and part 3]

So, you’re going to start raising chickens!  Will you start with chicks, or grown hens? There are advantages (and disadvantages) of each.

Why you may want to buy chicks:

  • Chicks cost less than grown hens. If you’re just starting out with chickens and you want to minimize costs, buying younger birds is one way to do this.  The birds cost less, they eat less food, and you don’t need to have a coop right away.
  • Greater selection of breeds. Many places that sell chicks a variety of popular breeds, and online hatcheries are able to ship pretty much any kind of chick you would want to raise.  You can’t buy grown birds this way.
  • You can socialize them. Although we used to buy young adult birds, we have gone back to raising chicks primarily because we like our birds to be friendly.  People that sell adult birds usually have so many birds that they don’t have time to train them to like people.
  • They are very cute. (It’s true.)
  • You can raise your flock together and avoid flock-merging issues. When you introduce adult birds that don’t know each other, they may fight violently if you’re not careful (and even if you are), but when you raise your birds all together they grow up knowing they are a flock and they get along well.

But you may not want to buy chicks because:

  • They may die. Chicks are more susceptible to problems than adult hens are.  For instance, I remember my dad bought chicks a few different times, but we never actually had chickens.  With so many little kids, they got dropped, stepped on, etc, and just were not hardy enough to withstand so much love.
  • They require more attention. You’ll need to keep them warm, which usually requires a heat lamp.  Their food dish and waterer are small so these things have to be changed more often.
  • You won’t get eggs right away. It will be at least 4-6 months before you get anything for your efforts.

You may want to buy grown birds for the opposite reasons:

  • They are easier to care for. They don’t need as much special attention, and they will usually all live, unless you have a predator problem.
  • They will likely already be laying eggs. It feels very rewarding to get your first eggs.  You don’t really feel like you’re being all that self-sufficient until you start getting eggs.  So, it’s nice to start with birds that give back right away.

Or, you may avoid grown birds because:

  • You may have missed their prime. If you get birds that are a year and a half old, you’ve really only got one good year left with them, so you’ll need to buy birds again next year.
  • They may not be friendly. They may be terrified of people, or mean to your other birds.  We have only successfully bought two friendly adult birds, and it was because they were a particular, especially friendly breed.  Every other time we have bought adult birds they have been afraid of people, and a few times they have been violent with our other birds.  This may not actually matter to you, though.  If you’re not planning to interact much with your birds, it just may not really matter much.
  • Limited breed selection. You can only choose from birds that are available in your area.  In some cases there may be people raising many different kinds of birds, or you may only be able to find one or two different breeds.  It just depends.
  • You usually won’t get the best birds this way. When people reduce their flocks, they usually sell the worst birds.  This practice is called “culling.”

One way to decide whether you want chicks or adult birds is to check out what is available in your area.  It may be that you can get fantastic birds that are about ready to start laying, and that would be ideal, because you could skip the chick phase that is more work, and you would get eggs sooner, but you wouldn’t have to worry about missing out on the birds’ best years.  If you find something that will work, great!  If you don’t, then you should probably consider raising chicks.

What about buying both?

It is possible to have older and younger chickens together, but the older chickens will tend to peck the younger chickens.  So, you must wait until the young chickens are close to the size of the older chickens to introduce them.  Then, you put the younger chickens in an area adjacent to where you have your adult chickens.  They should be able to see each other, but not peck at each other.  After a couple weeks, at night when your adult hens are perched and sleeping, pick up the young birds and set them on the perch next to the grown chickens.  In the morning the older birds will think “HEY!  What are you doing here?! Hm. Well.  I guess I’ve seen you around.”  And they will integrate into the flock just fine.

This is a process, though, and it requires separate living spaces while the younger birds grow, so for your first flock of chickens it will be easier if you either start with a group of chicks or get adult chickens (which are already part of the same flock).

We still need to look at an important factor, though: what kind of chickens are the best?

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