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How To Buy Chicks

There are few things that rank as high on the cuteness factor as baby chicks. Those little balls of fluff, with their weak little chirps and wobbly demeanor will snag on the heart strings of child and adult alike. Adding to their appeal is the knowledge that spring is on the way. But just how do you find the perfect chick?

There are three main ways to buy chicks – an on-site purchase, a mail-order (online) purchase and fertilized eggs. This article will take a little time to go over the pros and cons of each method.

An On-site Purchase

Pros: Whether it’s a seed store, a farmer’s home or by some other means, when you are able to pick out the baby chick you want with your own two hands, then the feeling is just pure gold! Ask anyone who’s done it and they will tell you it’s a memory they cherish. There is so much life in those busy little brooders it’s really hard not to get caught up with excitement.

Cons: The two things that I have found to be a problem with on-site chicks are selection and quality.

When it comes to selection, it’s a matter of, “you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” Sure you got to hand pick them, but you’ll be lucky if the site has more than half a dozen different types of birds. This might not be an issue for some, but for the serious backyard chicken herder, this could be a deterrent.

With regards to quality, things can be kind of dicey. If you’re buying from someone you know, like your local farmer, then quality is probably pretty good. You should feel confident in your purchase.

Box stores, however, don’t always have the luxury of knowing the quality of their chicks – this is especially true of chain stores. Generally, these places are buying product in large volume and can even be buying from a different hatchery from year to year.

Roughly one third of all the chickens I have purchased have been on-site. But from that one-third, I’ve had more than three times the fatalities (sickness, disorders, etc) than mail order purchases.

Mail Order (Online) Purchase

Pros: Online hatcheries can have an amazing selection. These guys make their living from providing the serious poultry fan exactly what they want. It is not the “you get what you get” routine. They see it as the customer wants this and they make it happen.

Also, I have found the quality to be very good. And I think it has to be for the mail-order chick business. Repeat business is crucial for these hatcheries and it only takes one or two bad experiences for the customer to leave and pick the next chick provider – which can easily be found online.

Cons: While pricing per chick is usually compatible with your box stores, there is a shipping cost involved – which can be more than the actual price of the birds. Also, shipping has its own risks to the chicks. Nothing can be more discouraging than opening the package, with your family around, and find that one of the chicks died en-route. Because of this, the more reputable hatcheries will guarantee healthy delivery by means of replacing any expired chicks. But this doesn’t undo the mar on the moment.

It’s also worth noting that timing your order is crucial. Don’t try and order chicks in the end of March if you want them for the beginning of April, because chances are, the chicks are sold out. Best to get your order in as soon as possible. I order my April birds in the end of January.

Fertilized Eggs

Pros: Bragging rights! If you are able to take a batch of fertilized eggs and hatch them successfully, you are on a whole new level of chicken-awesome.

Cons: It’s not easy. Temperature and timing, for turning the eggs, are absolutely crucial. And those are just two of the many requirements for a successful incubation. It’s been more than once where I’ve heard an individual bemoaning poor hatching results.

Price. You would think that buying an egg to hatch on your own would actually be cheaper than buying a hatched chick. But that’s not always the case. Quite often, you will pay more for the additional risk of hatching eggs than if you just bought a baby chick.

What Is A Straight Run?

When we first got started with chickens, this was one of those details that everyone seemed to know, but didn’t bother to tell me.

When you’ve made your selection online and you get ready to select a quantity, you will see the options of male, female and straight run. So what is a straight run? A straight run simply means, they don’t guarantee the sex of the birds (think ‘you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit!’).

The very first time I bought chicks, we hand picked eight out of a bin of maybe 200. The salesman told me there ‘could’ be a male in there. This was fine to me as I thought it would be smart and frugal to simply have the birds reproduce themselves.

Fast forward two months and it was a daily death match and all day long at that. All eight chicks turned out to be males and when it comes to roosters, they live by the philosophy ‘there can only be one’.

FYI, your spouse will not find this behavior endearing! It is bloody, it is nasty and in the end, I had to just had to harvest the birds as I found it cruel to have them spend all day trying to kill each other.

When Do You Buy Straight Run?

Straight run chicks are generally cheaper due to the lack of labor when it comes to determining the birds sex. Also, there tends to be a surplus of males as they don’t lay eggs and don’t get along with each other – hence a lower demand to begin with.

However, male chicks have one redeeming feature. When they’re adults, they get big! If your buying birds to fill the freezer, then straight run is your best route. For me, the overwhelming majority of straight run chicks have turned out to be male. The few females that did show up, can be harvested at the same time or added to your flock of egg layers. Think of her as a bonus!

What Is A Pullet?

This is another term that you may hear quite often and everyone assumes you know what they’re talking about. To be honest, it was a few years before I knew that a pullet is an adult female chicken – generally less than a year old.

So why buy a pullet?

Chickens are most comfortable in a flock. If your hen loses all of her sisters, whether by predator, sickness, or simply old age, and she finds herself all alone, then you’ve got a very lonely bird! Adding a pullet at this point makes perfect sense. Do not entertain the idea of just adding more chicks as this is a very risky move. Unless your last remaining hen feels inclined, she could attack and even kill the chicks. A pullet, however, has the size and strength to be able to defend itself, giving everyone a chance to learn to like each other.

Also, pullets are mature enough to lay eggs. A hen’s egg laying capacity will slow down with age. So if you find that your flock of older birds can’t quite keep up with demand, then add a pullet or two and you’ll be back to enjoying those delicious eggs in no time.

What Is A Cockerel?

A Cockerel is a young male of breeding age. Other than the obvious aspect of breeding your hens, a cockerel can be used to help the flock. With the young male’s larger size and aggressive demeanor, a cockerel takes the well being of his hens very seriously and will fight quite jealously over them – sometimes even against predators.

It is important to note, however, that cockerel’s behavior can vary. When it comes to breeding, some will ask nicely and some will not. If the young male is too aggressive, then he could injure an unreceptive hen. If at all possible, introduce your cockerel to a sizable mature hen. She will not hesitate on educating him on his courting etiquette. Regardless, it’s always important to watch the introduction of a new bird to your flock.

# Note #

For more on chickens and how age plays a role in your flock, please read, “When Do Chicks Become Chickens?