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Getting Started: Buying Your First Flock Of Baby Chicks

You've decided you want chickens and have picked your breed(s)—but how do you actually get baby chicks? Here are some pointers for starting your flock.

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by Ana HotalingMarch 3, 2021
PHOTO: Stefano Zocca/Unsplash

After numerous discarded lists and many hours of research, review and discussion, you have finally settled on the breed (or breeds) of chicken for your backyard flock. Breathe a sigh of relief. For many (including yours truly), this is the most arduous preliminary task. Next step: getting baby chicks.

This can be a breeze. Or it can be just as daunting as the previous one. It really depends on your choice of chooks.

If you’ve determined that a couple of Barred Plymouth Rocks and Buff Orpingtons meet your poultry needs, you’ve got an easy road ahead. But if you’ve set your heart on frizzled Naked Necks or on the exotic Ayam Cemani? Be ready for a little more legwork to determine reputable sources for these breeds.

Here are four suggestions for where to buy your birds.


Read more: Why get chickens? They’re great therapy animals, for starters.


 

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Local Farming Stores

Each spring, feed shops and farm-supply stores usually celebrate “Chick Days.” During this time, you’ll hear the peeping of baby chicks throughout the premises.

These businesses typically receive weekly orders of chicks from hatcheries for approximately a month. Massive brooders typically take center stage in the store.

National chains like Tractor Supply Company and Rural King can be counted upon to carry such popular breeds as Buff Orpingtons, Barred Rocks, Golden Comets and Isa Browns. While the breeds sold at chain stores tend to be selected by corporate headquarters, feed-shop owners choose the chicks they sell for themselves.

Ask your local feed-shop owner about placing a special chick order for you. If the breeds are available in their hatchery catalog, all you need to do is pay and wait for your future flock’s arrival.

Local Breeders

If you live in or near a rural or agricultural area, chances are that your baby chicks are just minutes away from home. Before buying locally, however, consider these three factors.

  • Not all poultry farmers breed chicks. If their main focus is egg production, losing a hen to broodiness and chick rearing affects their product availability.
  • Those who do sell chicks may do so on a set schedule or on the whim of their hens, so their chick availability may not match your desired time frame.
  • Finally, not all chicken farmers know what kind of chicks they are selling. Many allow all their breeds to intermingle, so the chicks they sell are a “barnyard blend.”

Unfortunately, some farmers buy their birds from questionable sources. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen Araucana and Ameraucana chicks for sale at local farms—and, sadly, at farm-supply stores—only to discover these were actually Easter Egger babies.

Before you buy, contact the farm, check out their Facebook page, and ask questions before committing to a purchase.


Read more: Here’s what you should know about poultry associations.


Specialty Breeders

If you have chosen a more exotic breed of chicken or decided to raise endangered breeds of birds, your sources may be rather limited. But the internet is your friend.

Search for the name of your breed and either “national club,” “breeders club” or “association.” (Example: “Serama national club”)

You”ll likely pull up the link for your chosen breed’s national organization (in this case, the Serama Council of North America).  Most poultry-breed organizations feature a breeders’ or members’ directory on their site. Check here to locate breeders close to your home. These birds will be more acclimated to your region’s weather than those from a breeder located halfway across the country.

Be aware that chicks ordered from specialty breeders cost more than your farm-store chick and that shipping costs will be high. (Live chicks must be sent via express delivery.) Stay ready to dash to the post office to pick up your package upon arrival, then offer your new babies chick electrolytes and lots of TLC as they recover from being shipped.

Hatcheries

Hatcheries remain the tried-and-true method of buying baby chicks. These companies make chick sales their primary business and, as a result, offer an expansive variety of breeds.

Many offer gendered chicks for a slightly higher price, which is a bonus if you can only keep hens.

The only drawbacks to ordering from a hatchery is that they sell out quickly. Place your order early in the year. You can select your desired delivery date.

Hatcheries also often require a minimum number of baby chicks for shipping, so you may need to team up with a friend or two to place an order in case the hatchery’s minimum is beyond what your local ordinance allows.

Finally, beware of temptation. The vast assortment of chick breeds listed on a hatchery site may cause you to waver from that list you worked so hard to draw up.

Stand firm! Submitting to chicken math now will affect the type and amount of equipment you’ll need to purchase for your flock. (We’ll discuss equipment in the next Getting Started column.)

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