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Where Can I Get Baby Chicks? How to Plan for Backyard Chickens
Best Places to Buy Baby Chicks
Spring is almost here - it's time to plan where to buy your baby chicks! March through May is the best time to start your chicks if you're going to raise them outdoors. The winter cold has left the ground at its cleanest, mostly free of germs and parasites, and the mild temperatures won't stress them with cold or heat.
If this is your first flock, you may be wondering where to buy chicks. How can you find the breeds you want? How will the chicks get to your house? Will you need to hatch eggs, or can you buy live chicks?
There are a lot of possible ways to buy chicks for your flock. Some of them you may never have thought of! I've explained the pros and cons of each source, and given you links to find places to order chicks.
The vintage-style tin sign at the top of this page illustrates the days when all chickens lived in the backyard, close to the family. In modern times we can choose from many ways to form our flocks, but memories of the old ways still have charm! [Buy Girl and Chicks Tin Sign]
Top Rated Egg Incubator
An excellent table-top incubator for hatching out a small flock. Far superior to the old styrofoam incubators! Rocks from side to side to to gently turn the eggs.
Fan automatically circulates air, and reservoirs maintain humidity.
Continually monitors temperature.
Insulated and easy to clean.
Holds up to 24 hen eggs, with dividers for other egg sizes.
Chicks From an Incubator
Incubators are a popular choice for raising a lot of chicks at once. You can order hatching eggs from online hatcheries or small breeders, and incubate them on a table top. Incubators are compact, sanitary, and convenient. The newer ones maintain perfect temperatures and humidity automatically, as well as turning the eggs.
- You can have hatching eggs from rare breeds shipped to you.
- Watching the eggs hatch is educational and fun for children.
- You can hatch repeated batches of eggs, and don't have to wait for a hen to go broody.
- The chicks aren't stressed by shipment after hatching.
- The chicks will never have been exposed to other birds, thus decreasing the risk of disease.
- Hatching eggs are fragile. Rough handling during shipment can leave them infertile, even if they're unbroken.
- A good incubator is a substantial investment.
- You'll need to commit to cleaning and maintaining the incubator, and to being home to take the chicks out when they hatch.
Find Hatching Eggs
- Buy/Sell/Trade Chicken Hatching Eggs
Buy hatching eggs from small or hobby breeders.
Wisdom from a free-range chicken farmer on how to choose a hatchery and chicks, and how to brood and feed your young flock. There are more choices than you might think possible, and advice from a seasoned expert can make your plans much easier.
Chicks Mailed From a Hatchery
Did you know that new-hatched chicks can survive for two or three days on the yolk in their abdomens? That makes it possible for hatcheries to ship them Priority Mail all over the country. A few decades ago, country people routinely ordered large shipments of chicks in spring to raise for the year. My mother remembers how the Post Office would echo with the chirping of thousands of chicks!
Tip: Before you order, find out from your postmaster how you can be notified when your chicks arrive at the Post Office (or who you can call to check). Get a tracking number from the hatchery when they ship, and track the shipment online. That way you can arrange to pick up the chicks as soon as they arrive, and get them out of the box several hours sooner.
- You can choose from a larger range of breeds than you may be able to get locally.
- You can order large numbers of chicks and have them arrive quickly.
- You can order the sex you want, and they'll be professionally sorted (which isn't always perfect, but better than most of us could do!)
- The chicks can be vaccinated for common poultry diseases before shipment.
- You need to arrange to pick them up as soon as they arrive at the post office.
- Extreme temperatures can be dangerous to chicks in transit - be wary of long shipments before March or after May.
- There's always a risk of some of the chicks being killed or injured during the shipment.
- Hatcheries breed for quantity, and their chicks may not be up to the highest breed standards.
- Any bonus or "packing peanut" chicks will likely be roosters.
Find a Hatchery
- Mail-Order Hatcheries
List of reputable large hatcheries from which you can order online.
If you only get one book on raising backyard chickens, get this one! Gail Damerow is immensely experienced with every aspect of small-scale chicken keeping, from hatching eggs to butchering, and from controlling disease to building coops. Plans, recipes, methods, charts - it's all here at your fingertips.
Chicks From Heritage Breeders
The modern Leghorns and Cornish Crosses are super-chickens, spitting out record numbers of eggs or growing giant breasts in mere weeks. But you can still get older breeds, bred for hardiness or broodiness or beauty, that may be more suitable for the backyard.
Large hatcheries do carry heritage chickens, but they breed large numbers quickly, and may not maintain the best breed standards. If you're looking for certain traits, or want to raise show chickens, you'll want to buy from a heritage breeder.
- You can get birds that are truer to breed standards.
- You can get better birds for showing.
- Breeding heritage birds helps preserve rare or endangered types.
- The chicks will be more expensive - maybe much more expensive - than hatchery chicks.
- You may have to wait for chicks to be available.
- The breeder may not ship - you might have to pick the chicks up.
Find a Heritage Breeder
- Local Breed Clubs of America
List of breed clubs compiled by the American Poultry Association. Find fellow fanciers of rare and heritage breeds, and buy rare eggs and chicks.
A complete guide to incubating, hatching, and brooding your baby chicks. Specifics for hatching a variety of poultry breeds.
Chicks From Local Breeders
If you don't want to have your chicks shipped, you can buy from a local breeder. This can be as casual as picking up a few chicks from a friend, or as serious as locating a specialist breeder of heritage or show birds.
- You can pick up the chicks, so they won't be exposed to the stress of shipment.
- You can see where the chicks were raised, and verify the sanitary conditions.
- You can inspect the chicks' ancestors and siblings for health and breed characteristics.
- Small hobby breeders may not follow any particular standards. They may inadvertently sell chicks with illnesses or genetic defects.
- Visiting other peoples' birds puts you at risk of carrying diseases between flocks. Cover your shoes and wash carefully before and after handling their birds.
- Keep any birds you buy quarantined from your flock for 30-60 days, to make sure they aren't sick.
Find a Local Breeder
- Chicken Breeders & Hatcheries
Discussions and review of large and small breeders. You can post a request for help finding breeders in your area.
A much safer and cheaper way to keep your chicks warm. The traditional 250-watt bulbs use a lot of power and are a constant fire hazard. This brooder won't set anything on fire and the chicks love huddling up under it.
Chicks From a Feed Store
Every spring feed stores, co-ops, and farm suppliers around the country put out large tubs filled with live chicks for their customers to browse. With all the necessary equipment in one place, and the chicks, too, you can get set up for chicken-raising in one stop.
- You can buy exactly the number you want – ideal for small purchases.
- You can choose your chicks and take them home right away – instant gratification!
- You can see what shape the chicks are in, and pick out the liveliest and largest.
- The chicks have been handled by customers, and may have been exposed to disease.
- The breeds and sexes may have been mixed up by customers or employees.
- They’ll likely cost more per chick than buying from a hatchery.
Find a Nearby Feed Store
- Feed Store Search
Enter your zip code and the term "feed store" into Google, and you'll pull up all the nearest feed stores, plus maps and reviews.
Ideal private, washable nest box for broody hens.
Chicks Raised By a Hen
Mother Nature is still the best! If you have some heritage-breed hens that will still brood, they'll do all the work for you. You can breed them with your own roosters, or slip hatching eggs or new chicks under a broody hen, and let her raise them.
Tip: If you want a hen to brood somebody else's chicks, give a her few days sitting on some nest eggs to get thoroughly "in the zone". Order your chicks as soon you're sure she's committed to brooding. When they arrive, go out well after dark with a red light, so you don't wake her up. Slip the nest eggs out from under her, and put the chicks in their place. By the time she wakes up in the morning, she should be used to them.
- The hen will keep the chicks warm, help them find food, and herd them away from danger.
- The chicks will stay close to mama, and have less risk of escaping, getting wedged under the fence, etc.
- The chicks will grow up as part of the flock, and are at less risk of being killed by the adult hens.
- The hen will sleep on the ground or floor with the chicks for the first few weeks, where they are at greater risk of being taken by predators like rats or snakes.
- Chicks raised by a hen may be warier of humans than those raised by hand.
- You may need to change the flock's diet while they have chicks.
Find Broody Hens
- Chicken Breeds
Search breeds by characteristics, including degree of broodiness.
Hens and Chicks
These are some of my hens with their chicks. Buff Orpingtons are a hardy, heritage breed with gentle personalities and a strong brooding instinct. This flock lived in a large pen and took afternoon strolls outside to graze on insects and wild plants. The hens take great care of the chicks--it's funny to hear one mother cluck and everybody's chicks run underneath her, so that she's sitting way up on a pile of babies!
After reading the options, how will you get your chicks this spring?
How will you get your chicks?
© 2013 Valerie Proctor Davis