Whether you’re ready to fill a chicken coop for the first time or you want to add to an existing flock, now’s the time to plan. Sourcing your chickens can be tricky, but only because there are so many options. Here’s the scoop on some of my favorite ways to grow my flock family.
With just a few clicks of the mouse, you can order chickens online from a hatchery website. With so many hatcheries to choose from, it’s probably best to order from one closest to you, rather than from one clear across the country. The less time the babies are traveling, the better.
The best reason to order from a hatchery is the selection of so many rare and endangered breeds, many of them rare and/or endangered. If you’re into keeping chickens for pets or eggs, ordering from a hatchery is well worth the high cost of shipping.
Early in the year you might be shocked to see mandatory minimum orders of 15 chicks or more. Until spring, it’s too cold for the chicks to retain enough heat inside the shipping container unless there are enough of them to warm each other to survive 24 to 72 hours in transit. In the winter months, only larger orders will do. For those of us in smaller urban environments, setting up shipment for spring and early summer works best. Many hatcheries will ship as few as three chicks to your post office during the warmer months.
Consider that sometimes a baby chick doesn’t make it, even when the circumstances are exactly right. Adding an extra chick or two to your order helps ensure you’ll get as many chickens as you need, as losses can’t be predicted. Between accidents with the package to unforeseen health or developmental problems, your order is at the mercy of many random variables. However, know that the U.S. Postal Service has been shipping baby chicks through the mail for more than 100 years. While accidents can happen, USPS does its best to handle live animals with great care.
2. Local Farm-and-Garden Supply Stores
A great time to pick up chickens at your local farm and garden supply centers is early spring. Not only can you pick these babes up for “cheep,” the store has been caring for them, so they aren’t likely to be day-olds when you bring them home. That means they’ve survived those first critical days of life, and those that would die probably already have. While you’re there, any chicken supplies you might still need to collect can be purchased when you buy your chicks! It’s a one-stop-shop.
Breed and sex choices might be limited, unless the store sourced them from a hatchery and they know exactly what they’re selling. It’s possible they’ve ordered a variety, and even a straight run (males and females) to reduce costs. Ordering only females comes with a surcharge.
If the chicks were sourced locally, the chicks might not be true breeds, but mixes of many breeds. Raising mixed-breed chickens can be fun, and full of colorful surprises when the birds feather out and begin laying eggs. Plus, mixed-breeds are more genetically diverse than true breeds, which can help protect them from disease.
Later in spring, some of these stores even sell pullets. Pullets are young hens under a year old. These birds will be considerably more expensive than baby chicks, because the store has raised them for you. But, this saves you from investing in a brooder and other supplies you’d need to raise chicks yourself.
Sometimes people bring home chicks from farm-and-garden supply stores right around Easter because they think they’ll make fun pets from the Easter Bunny. It doesn’t take long for them to realize the Bunny’s generous gifts poop without abandon, constantly double in size, and require more care and shelter than they can provide.
After Easter is a great time to check out online classified websites like Craigslist, your local newspaper’s classifieds (either in print or online), and even social-media groups related to backyard farming. Sometimes people move and can’t take their established flocks with them, they’re transitioning out of the hobby, or they’re breeding chicks at home.
4. Your Farmer
If you’ve gotten to know your farmer at the farmers’ market, ask if they or anyone they know breed chickens for sale. It’s likely that some farmers near you hatch their own chicks to keep costs down and to supply backyard chickens to keepers in their communities. If you don’t know your farmer, look for websites and social media pages for farmers near you.