It’s that time of year. You’re kicking back enjoying the outcome of your hard spring, summer and fall work. You think it is time to let things coast for a while.
But then you realize, it’s time to start thinking about next year’s chicks! Isn’t it too early, you might ask? Not really. Depending on where you get your chicks from, you might want to be placing an order already. And even if it is not time for you to order, it is still good to have a plan with your chicks in a row, because once springs comes around, you are going to be busy!
Here are some options for making sure you have new chicks next year:
If you want to order your chicks from an online company, then you may need to order your chicks now, especially if you want unusual or very popular breeds.
How it works. Ordering chickens online and picking them up at your post office seems wrong, somehow. But that is how it works! You pick your chicks online and based on what you have selected and their predicted hatching dates, the company will specify potential delivery dates. The chicks are packed as soon as they are born and are delivered overnight or in two days, depending on the transit time and method of delivery. They are sent right to your post office. Last year I felt very conspicuous when I went to pick ours up and heard the peeping as soon as I walked into the building. But everyone was very friendly and even said they were going to miss hearing them.
Research the company. There are a number of companies advertising live chicks online. Read the reviews and policies for each company to determine which one is the right one for you. We have gotten chicks from myPetChicken.com and ducks from eFowl.com, and have had great luck with both.
Benefits. The major reason we started using an online company is that we had very bad luck with the gender of our poultry (see below). I should never gamble, because the odds are always against me! When you order online, you can pay a little more to choose the gender of your chicks. Females generally cost more than males. If you don’t care about gender, then order “straight-run” chicks and pay a little less. Determining the sex of day-old chicks is not perfect, and mistakes can be made. But myPetChicken.com even has a gender guarantee. If you report the error during their required reporting time (10-17 weeks of age for a standard bird) then they will refund the cost of the chick or send a free, equivalent chick on another order.
The birds we have received from online companies have been very healthy – healthier than animals we have obtained from other sources. myPetChicken.com has a 100% live arrival guarantee.
Drawbacks. If you like to see your birds and pick out the ones you like, then online ordering is not for you. You also need to be prepared to run to the post office when your order arrives. You don’t want your chicks hanging out without heat for too long. During peak order times, most online orders require a minimum number of chicks per order (you can mix breeds). If you only need a few birds, this can be an issue. Or you can team up with a neighbor and place an order for both of you.
Ordering online can cost a lot in shipping. Depending on where the company is located, you might need to pay for overnight, expedited service to make sure your chicks arrive safely. During off-season times, shipping may be free.
You have to place your order early. Popular or unusual breeds can sell out very quickly – even now many breeds on myPetChicken are unavailable.
For a few weeks every spring, local feedstores often offer poultry for sale. This can be a convenient way to pick up a few more birds, although they also have a minimum number of chicks that must be purchased (usually less than what is required for an online order, though).
Benefits. Buying at your local feedstore is very convenient (almost too convenient – you may end up with chicks when you’ve just run in for some feed). You also have the added benefit of picking out your chicks. Chicks at feedstores are generally less expensive than those you can buy online, especially if you factor in shipping.
Drawbacks. The window of chick-buying opportunity is small at feedstores. If you plan on adding to your flock this way, make sure you know when your local feedstores will be getting chicks.
If you buy chicks at a feedstore, you are at the whimsy of the supplier. Orders usually arrive weekly, but often the store does not even know what they are getting until they arrive. You can’t specify breeds or gender. So unless you buy chicks that contain sex-linked down color (males are one color, while females are another) you could be buying all roosters when all you want are hens!
If you really like to be able to pick your chicks out, but are disappointed by the selection at a feedstore, you can shop around at local breeders. They can be found through craigslist or word of mouth.
Last year we got some chicks from a breeder that we met at the Springfield Poultry show. For us, this was probably our least successful batch of chicks. Although we were assured of breed and gender, neither were correct. Here is a picture of the chick we bought that was “going to be a great layer:”
He’s a really good crower 🙂 Between the feedstore and a local breeder, we ended up with 8 roosters last year!!!!
One of the chicks also developed a condition called wry neck as it got older and didn’t make it.
In the future, I would probably only buy from a breeder that I know really well or who has already been vetted by a friend.
Benefits. When you go to a local breeder, you are supporting your local community and other farmers in the area. You can pick out the chicks you like and check out the conditions in which they are kept. You can be more specific about what you are looking for and often have a wider variety than in feedstores.
Drawbacks. You have to find someone you trust. If you are new to the poultry world, it can take a while before you know the places you need to avoid or the secret gems in the area. Prices are not standardized like they are online or at a store. And even though you might think you are purchasing from a local breeder, you might not be. Some people order large batches of chicks from online companies and then resell them.
Raise Them Yourself
We haven’t raised chicks from our own eggs (yet). So I can’t give you firsthand knowledge about this, but I can tell you what I’ve read.
How it works. Raising chicks from eggs is tricky. You can purchase already fertilized eggs from online companies or through breeders, or you can collect them from your own chickens (provided you also have roosters, like us). You then need to incubate them either with an incubator or with a good broody chicken. Keeping a constant temperature (99°-102° F) is key to a successful hatching. Even under the best conditions, you might only expect about 50% of the eggs to hatch. Abnormalities, such as splayed leg, are not uncommon in self-hatched chicks, so you need to be prepared to deal with this.
Benefits. Hatching your own chicks is an accomplishment in self-sufficiency. Kids will love to see the chicks emerge and it is a great teaching tool. If you use a hen, there is nothing quite like the site of a proud mama with her chicks all around her.
Drawbacks. If might take a while before you are successful at this, and you need to be ready to deal with unhatched eggs or physical abnormalities. If you collect the eggs from your own hens and have a brood of mixed breeds, you will not know the genetics or breed of your chicks. You will also be playing gender roulette.
You have many options for new chicks. Do some research and figure out which one works best for you. Or be like us, try them all (eventually)!