If you are planning to start a flock of chickens or add to an existing flock, it is a good idea to do this earlier rather than later, as many hatcheries will sell out of certain breeds by spring time. If you are planning to order day old chicks, there are a few things that you should know about before placing that first order.
Roosters, Hens, Both?
First when you order chicks, you will typically have a choice to order all females, all males, or a straight run.
Red Star Chicks in the Brooder
All Females – When you are ordering egg layers, all female chicks is what you would want to order. When you order all female chicks you will typically get 9 hens and 1 rooster per 10 chicks. This could be a problem, if you can’t have a rooster crowing, or you don’t want to have to put down an aggressive rooster. If you want to be 100% sure to get all hens, order a sex-linked breed. These would be red star or black star. These breeds are docile and fantastic brown egg layers.
Straight Run – A straight run means that the chickens will not be gender identified. You will just get what you get. So if you order 10 chickens, you might get 10 roosters and no hens, or 10 hens and no roosters, or something in between. Basically, you have a 50/50 chance of getting a hen or a rooster. This might be a nice option if you want dual purpose birds, and you are planning to butcher the roosters and keep the hens for eggs.
All Males – If you are buying a meat bird such as a Cornish X then all male chicks are actually slightly more expensive. Male meat birds get bigger than their female counterpart. They both taste the same, but don’t let either get too old as the meat will get tough. Most meat birds are butchered between 50-80 days of life.
Chicks eating from feed trough
How Many To Get?
Second, it is important to know that most hatcheries require that you order at least 25 chicks. This is because they need enough body heat, so they don’t die during shipping. They are typically inexpensive at around $3 a chick, but I don’t know too many people outside of farmers that are going to be ordering that many chicks. There are ways to get around this. McMurray Hatchery will allow you to order 15 chicks, if your ship date is after April 1st. If fifteen is too many, My Pet Chicken will send as few as two. They send the chicks with a heater element that keeps them warm in their package. Another option is to just go to a farm store such as Tractor Supply and pick up whatever amount of chicks you need. The bad thing about buying from a farm store is that usually your breed options are limited. The good thing is you can tell right away whether they are healthy or not. Don’t pick a lethargic chick. Pick the most rambunctious chick.
Chicks in Brooder
Selecting A Breed:
Third, it is a good idea to know a little about some of the different breeds in general.
Heavy Breeds – These are full-size chickens that are larger obviously, but also don’t typically fly well. They are usually better suited for colder climates.
Buff Orpington Chick
Bantam Breeds – These chickens are much smaller than the heavy breed. They tend to be friendlier and fly much higher than heavy breeds. Their eggs are smaller as well.
Brown Egg Layers vs. White Egg Layers – Brown egg layers are typically heavy breeds that do better in cold climates and are poor fliers. White egg layers are lighter breeds that do better in warm climates, and are better fliers.
Meat Birds or Broilers – These are breeds such as a Cornish X or a Red Ranger that are best suited for meat.
Crested Breeds – These breeds are different in that they have a crest of feathers on top of their heads. They are typically docile quiet birds.
Cochins – Originating in China, these massive chickens have feathers covering their legs and feet. They are not typically good layers, but they do go broody often, and make good mothers.
All Grown Up!
~ Phil Williams
Phil Williams is a permaculture consultant and designer and creator of the website foodproduction101.com. His website provides useful, timely information for the experienced or beginning gardener, landscaper, or permaculturalist. Phil's personal goals are to build soil, restore and regenerate degraded landscapes, grow and raise an abundance of healthy food of great variety, design and install resilient permaculture gardens in the most efficient manner possible, and teach others along the way.