If you decide to buy grown hens, you’ll take what you can get. Most people start with chicks, so today we’ll talk about buying chicks!
“Straight run” vs. “Pullets”
With most breeds, you can buy chicks “straight run” or as “pullets.” If you buy chicks straight run, it means you’ll get about half hens and half roosters–just whatever happened to hatch with that group of eggs! If you buy pullets, it means a special scientist has looked at the chick’s tiny chicken-parts under a magnifying glass and has sorted the birds so that you should have hens only, with no roosters. This is a fairly difficult task, even for professionals, so if you buy enough pullets you will still get an occasional rooster.
Since sorting baby chickens is so tricky, breeders sometimes crossbreed chickens to create “sex link” chicks. On these special birds, the females and males are different colors when they hatch, so they are much easier to sort. The most common example is probably a “Red sex-link” hen.
Where can you buy chicks?
We have bought birds from four different types of places:
A Country Store
The first time we bought chicks, we got them from our local country store (called “IFA”). Every summer, our local country store sells chicks for a few months. The birds are always very young; they get regular shipments, so you always start with chicks that are a couple days old. Our country store carries about 10 different breeds of chicks. Some are “pullets only” and some are “straight run.” Our country store also sells turkeys and ducks, although for shorter periods of time. If you live in a city, you will probably need to look in nearby areas that are more rural to find a country store like this.
Someone who raises birds to sell
When we wanted hens, we found a lady who has hundreds of birds at any given time, in many different breeds, and she just raises them to sell. We bought hens from her, and since then I have also bought chicks a couple times. I found her on our local classified ads online, but she also has a business website.
Someone who has extra birds
There are also people that occasionally have birds to sell. Some of these people hatch eggs as a hobby, or just have more birds than they need. Sometimes people will buy a certain number of chicks, expecting some to die, and then they won’t lose any birds after all. So, they’ll have chicks that are a little older, and they sell those. These are also usually listed on classified ads, or on a board at a country store.
This year when we were ready to buy chicks, we couldn’t find the type we were looking for locally. The stores were done selling birds, and none of the local people had the breed we wanted. So, I ordered chicks online. The way this works is, you find a “hatchery” online, and order however many birds you want. You select a hatch date, and then they will ship them the day they hatch. The place I ordered from had a minimum order of 25 chicks, so I ordered 25 and sold the extras. The nice thing about this is, the hatcheries online have pretty much any breed you could want. The downside is, you don’t get to select the birds individually, but you can choose “straight run” “pullets only” or even “roosters only,” if you want. They ship chicks through the United States Post Office, because they are the only delivery service that will ship live poultry.
How to prepare to buy chicks
If you’re getting chicks from someone locally, take a box with you to pick them up. It’s nice to put pine shavings in the bottom and you can poke some air holes in the side.
You will also want a larger box to put them in when you get them home. Little chicks need to be kept warm, so a heat lamp is good. A desk lamp is an okay substitute. Aim the light into a corner of the box so that the chicks can choose to be right in the warm area or they can move away from it if they get too warm. Put pine shavings at the bottom of the box.
The birds will need feed. Chicks eat “grower mash” which is crumbled chick feed especially for baby birds. You can choose to buy medicated or un-medicated feed. If you feed them from a chick feeder (which is a container with holes they can peck into), they will waste less of their food. You could also just put food out for them in a dish low enough for them to reach, and I’ve done this before, but they tend to climb into the food dish and kick it around, and make a wasteful mess.
The chicks will also need water. They will spill the water and walk in the water and make a mess of their box, so a chick waterer will keep things cleaner. A dish with water in it will also work.
When you actually choose your birds…
Choose chicks that seem really alert and lively. Small birds look cute because they are little, but fatter birds will be more likely to survive to adulthood, so pick the fattest, most active birds that you can. If you have neighbors, you will probably want to buy “pullets only.”
I think that’s about all there is to buying chicks! Next time we’ll talk about chicken coops.