Ask anyone who has had the privilege of raising a batch of chicks and they’ll tell you just how adorable those little fuzzy cheep-machines can be. Likewise, ask anyone who has dined, for any length of time, on farm fresh eggs and they’ll ‘testify’ just how delicious the eggs from a backyard coop really are.
And while both of these concepts are well established, this does leave the potential first-time flock owner with a bit of a choice. “Do I raise baby chicks for their cuteness or do I buy a chicken that is already old enough to lay eggs?”
The choice between chicks or pullets comes down to this question. ‘Am I building a flock for the eggs or am I building a flock for more?’
Once you can answer this question, then the choice will be very easy. In this article, we will discuss the pros and cons of both raising chicks and buying established pullets. For those who planning to raise chickens flocks for any length of time, you will probably do both. But for those who are starting out brand new, there are some things to consider.
Raising Chicks: Pros and Cons
To be honest, I’ve lost track of exactly how many batches of chicks we have raised. I can say with confidence that it has been more than a few. And another thing I can say with even greater confidence is that in a few more months, I’ll be ordering another batch of chicks.
Once you get the hang of what you’re doing, raising chicks is extremely rewarding. It truly is something you never get tired of. But there is a learning curve to things. And if you don’t it right or, if you simply do it long enough, there will be losses. FYI, these losses will be felt by everyone.
Here are a few things to consider when purchasing chicks.
# Raising Chicks: Pros
- Cuteness factor – Watching those fuzzy little things hop around the brooder, scratching and pecking at everything is absolutely therapeutic. It’s a rewarding experience for us, as well as, the visitors we get who sometimes have never seen a baby chick in person. Having this opportunity to share the moment of ‘cuteness’ is almost as good as sending the visitor home with a dozen farm fresh eggs.
- Personal reward – We all have some perspective on how fast life moves (with those with gray hair claiming it moves the fastest!) But nothing puts that in perspective as raising a batch of chicks. In as little as eight weeks, your fuzzy chicks will go from fitting in the palm of your hand to a fully feathered bird that stands about as high as a crow. And they wouldn’t have gotten there without you! When you are able to release your birds into the new world outside of their brooder, you will know that you have done it right.
- Purchase Price – Chicks cost, on average, about one quarter the price of a pullet. In other words, you could get four chicks for the same money as one pullet. That can seem like a lot more bang for your buck.
# Raising Chicks: Cons
- Workload – Chicks are babies and babies require more attention as they can not do anything on their own. Point of fact, baby chicks need to be shown ‘this is water’ and ‘this is food’ – as they might not figure this out on their own.
The first 72 hours for your new chick’s life is incredibly crucial. So much can go wrong, with the risk of dehydration being at the top of that list. For this reason, I will check on my chicks every four hours until I am confident (or at least 2 full days) that they are eating and drinking on their own.
Another big problem for your chicks is temperature. Baby chicks have no way to control their body heat and as such, they are completely dependent on an outdoor temperature that is ‘just right’. You will have to provide this for them as they are guaranteed to perish if you don’t. This means regular and careful monitoring of the heat lamp.
- Brooder – You can not put day old chicks in with adult chickens as the adults are likely to kill them (a broody hen being the only exception to this). For this reason, you must have a separate area for the chicks to grow up in. This means extra investment and space requirements. For an economical way to accomplish this, check out ‘How To Build The Perfect Brooder For Less Than $20’
- Time – As mentioned above, I will check on my chicks a minimum of every four hours for the first few days after they have arrived. Baby chicks are incredibly vulnerable and absolutely can not be left to their own means. If your schedule does not allow for a few days of attentive care, it’s probably not a good idea for you to buy a batch of chicks.
Buying A Pullet: Pros and Cons
If you’ve got a hunger for some delicious farm fresh eggs and you’re looking at a batch of chicks growing in the brooder, I’m sorry to say that your ‘wait’ time is going to be fairly substantial – like in the area of 6 months. Raising chicks for eggs is definitely not a ‘right now’ sort of thing. The big hatcheries know this and have taken steps to accommodate those who aren’t able to wait.
# Raising Pullets: Pros
- Immediate Eggs – Six months can be a REALLY long time when you’re waiting for eggs. If your pullet does well in accumulating to her new environment, you could be gathering eggs from her within a week. Nothing is guaranteed when it comes to chickens, but it’s certain to be a shorter wait than six months.
- Lower risk – Your pullet is, essentially, a very young adult. They have reached the bulk of their size. Their feathers are fully formed and their bodies able to regulate temperature. They’ve worked through all the nuisances of food/water and with a few little exceptions, are basically worry free.
- No brooder costs – Because a pullet is fully mature and able to regulate body temperature, then there is no need to spend the money on a brooder. Point of fact, brooders are simply too small for an adult sized bird – at least for any length of time.
- Easier – If you are the type of person who likes to take things slow and easy, a few pullets is definitely a great way to start a new flock as they already know how to take care of themselves. All that is required from you is regular feeding and watering, as well as, providing them a safe place to live in.
# Raising Pullets: Cons
- Price – Pullets have a significantly higher purchase price than chicks. This should be understandable as roughly 6 months of feed and effort has gone into the product.
- Lack of cuteness – While an adult chicken can take care of itself, it’s the baby chicks that steal the show. They look, feel and sound completely different than an adult chicken. Even their poo is hardly noticeable when they first come out of the box.
- Flock harmony – Raising a batch of chicks together, allows them the chance to harmonize slowly as a flock. Unless raised together, pullets will not have this opportunity. They will be introduced to each other as adults. This is important as the mentality between chicks and adults is dangerously different.
A chick’s immediate concern is ‘where am I and where is food?’ A pullet’s immediate concern is ‘who’s the boss and am I safe?’
In order to understand who the boss is, there must be a confrontation. Pecking order is established through physical means – aka, fighting. This is why it is so important for you to be a part of the integration process. NEVER introduce an adult chicken to the flock and then simply turn and walk away!
### Important Note ###
Some breeds get along better than others. It’s important to know what behavioral aspects are involved when choosing a breed of pullet to get.
Chicks Vs Pullets: Do The Math
It’s always good to do your homework when it comes to deciding between a chick or a pullet. While both of them have their advantages, cost is definitely a factor.
The following is a break down of costs between chicks and a pullets. I’ve excluded the cost of a coop as this is a necessary expense for both. I’ve also the excluded the cost of shipping as this is not a constant.
Barred Plymouth Rock is the breed of chicken chosen for this comparison (as it is a really great bird for beginners). Also, I am assuming that this is a starter flock for a first time backyard owner and as such, I used 3 pullets – as this is the minimum recommended number of chickens for a flock.
|3 Chicks @ $3 a bird||$9||3 Pullets @ $14 a bird||$42|
|Heat lamp (low end)||$25||Heat Lamp||0|
|Bedding (8 weeks worth)||$15||Bedding||0|
|Feed (from purchase to 1 year of age) 1 bag of Starter 3 bags of Layer (guesstimated **)||$51||Feed (from purchase to 1 year of age) 2 bags of Layer (guesstimated **)||$24|
|Total for 3 chicks||$120||Total for 3 pullets||$66|
** The ability to free range will affect feed consumption.
As you can see, buying 3 pullets and bypassing the whole business of raising chicks is cheaper than buying the more inexpensive chicks. So…strictly from a numbers standpoint, if you are starting from scratch and have to buy things like a brooder and a heat lamp, pullets are a clear advantage over the labor intensive chicks.
However, once you have a brooder and a heat lamp, then the cost goes down significantly. At the three pullet’s $42 price tag, I could buy 14 chicks – say 3 egg layers and then 11 meat birds for the freezer. In this case, the numbers would clearly be in the chicks favor. (Don’t forget, chickens are a great source of meat!)
Chicks Vs Pullets: Personal Thoughts
Choosing between starting a flock with chicks verses starting a flock with pullets, really comes to your specific goals and situation. Not everyone will have the space to raise 11 meat birds. But room for 3 egg laying hens, can be pretty easy to come by.
If you are intimated by the idea of raising chicks and just want eggs, then pullets are a great alternative. If, however, you want the full experience of raising a flock of chickens – with both the good and the bad – then chicks are the only way to go.
For me, personally, I recommend raising chicks. It seems like, once you get past the first few days, then your concern level drops dramatically. After the first week, I really don’t have a need to check the chicks so much…I just do because I enjoy them. And watching them change so quickly is one of the highlights of having chicks.
It’s worth noting that at eight weeks, your chicks should be ready to move into their permanent home. So don’t think that you have 6 months of worrying should you decide to buy chicks. In reality, the real time for heavy concern is in the first 72 hours. (What you’re really looking for is feather development as this helps them maintain body temperature. See the progression here: Barred Rock)
Also worth noting, if you’re starting from scratch, it’s a lot easier to learn how to handle chickens when their small and can fit in the palm of your hand, as opposed to an adult that can fly and peck at you.
Whatever you decide, you are sure to be rewarded as chickens are absolute blast to have scratching and pecking away in your backyard.