What Should I Do?

Chick in Brooder: Phil Williams

How to Order and Choose Chicken Breeds

First steps in raising chickens
Monday, March 24, 2014, 4:38 PM

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.

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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.

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14 Comments

Woodman's picture
Woodman
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 26 2008
Posts: 1028
ordering chicks

Nice photos and tips!

Last time I ordered from McMurray Hatchery we got about 30 chicks and sold half on Craiglist with no trouble at all.  Nice way to meet other folks with similar interests. 

m0rtal's picture
m0rtal
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 25 2014
Posts: 1
no pictures! :(

no pictures! :(

lunableu22's picture
lunableu22
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 19 2011
Posts: 41
Pick a Docile Breed if you want a "pretty" flock

I got 17 chicks from the local feed store (sexed, not straight run).  All were hens.  I chose Buff Orpingtons.  They are a lovely larger breed that establish their pecking order and don't constantly reinforce it by asserting their dominance all day long.  This means the birds keep all their feathers.  Buffs lay large brown eggs.  The earlier chicks (Feb/Mar) reach full egg size by fall.  Later chicks (Apr/May/June) will reach full egg size the following spring.  (Chickens start out laying "pee-wees", that gradually grow to smalls, to mediums, to larges, and sometimes, jumbos).  The other breed I really like are Black Australorps.  They are really pretty large black hens, also docile, large brown egg layers.  Their eyes are black, instead of yellow or orange, so they look like they have extra big eyes.

Rhode Island Reds are wonderful layers (brown eggs) and horribly aggressive.  Your RIRs will be ugly and most missing a lot of feathers.  If they don't like the rooster, the poor thing will be half-naked and very skittish. Or you can end up with a super aggressive, quite vicious rooster who will attack you and abuse the hens, and fight (quite often to the death) with any other roosters.

Pick the right breed and you will really enjoy your flock. :)

Lnorris's picture
Lnorris
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 28 2011
Posts: 105
We ordered from

We ordered from MyPetChicken.com. There minimum is three for those that have city ordinances requiring a limit less than 25.  We had a good experience with the three day old chicks being shipped to the post office. They wee in good health and have thrived over the past two years.

Thetallestmanonearth's picture
Thetallestmanonearth
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 28 2013
Posts: 320
Just ordered chicks

We just ordered 26 chicks today for delivery at the end of april.  We live in rural area and the neighbors have suggested free-ranging over confinement because of the risk of coyotes, eagles and hawks.  Apparently the losses are lower if they are able to evade predators since a hungry coyote can get into just about any chicken run.  (We have a coop that I am cleaning up and getting ready for our new arrivals.)  Does anyone have experience with this or thoughts they can share? We have a little shy of three acres of formerly goat pasture that is partially fenced and backs up to the woods. 

We have no experience with chickens and I realize that 26 birds is a lot to take on, but we have several friends who have expressed interest in buying our eggs.  We also expect some predation given our location and if it turns out to be too many we can always harvest them for meat and freeze them for later.

Adam Taggart's picture
Adam Taggart
Status: Peak Prosperity Co-founder (Offline)
Joined: May 26 2009
Posts: 2933
expect attrition

Going from no prior experience to 26 chickens a big step. You'll be fine, but just be aware that's a lot of birds for a first-timer to take care of.

I free range my birds (and close them up in a coop inside a run at night) and my main advice is to plan for attrition, as it sounds like you are.

I keep a smaller flock, between 5-10 hens, and have gotten used to adding a few birds each year, expecting that a few others will get picked off, sick, etc.

Your coop/run security will improve with each invasion. You'll find after a while that you've pretty much shored up the weaknesses of the system after repeated breaches, but the learning process will cost you several birds.

Same thing on the free-ranging. At first, you'll lose a bird or two and it suddenly will feel as if someone just blasted a "Send-all" email out to every predator in your neighborhood. Turns out, almost every animal Mother Nature created loves the taste of chicken. Your losses will likely accelerate for a bit.

But eventually, your flock will develop better predator awareness and smarter self-preservation behavior. The savvy survivors will eventually bring the mortality baseline back down below where you started.

Of course, you can make additional investments, like getting an outside dog, that will help decrease the threat of night raids from the start.

Good luck!

lunableu22's picture
lunableu22
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 19 2011
Posts: 41
Predators

I have a secure night-time area.  It was a dog-run in its first incarnation.  Cement flooring (easy to clean) and chain link fence.  I secured the top with a double layer of 1" chicken wire and built them a roosting grid (1" x 1" x 36" square lengths about 18" off the ground.  The square shape is easier for their talons to grasp than the rounded dowel-type wood).  I have lost zero hens at night.  However, I found that the daytime predators are my problem.  I lost one hen to a coyote when the hens decided to be free-range (they were still light-weight enough to clear the fence) and 5 to really large hawks that just swooped into the daytime pen and carried them off.  (My hens are penned in a separate area from where they sleep).  If you have the type of infrastructure where you can have a light sensor attached to some kind of door that will automatically close at dusk and open at dawn, you'll save yourself a lot of worry and your hens will be safe from nighttime predators.  Livestock guard dogs are pretty handy, too.  They'll also keep deer out of your garden. smiley

Quercus bicolor's picture
Quercus bicolor
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 19 2008
Posts: 456
no predator losses so far.

I live in an area with lots of predators: fox, coyote, fisher, hawks, owls, etc.  We haven't lost a single bird to predators in almost 3 years.  They're in a secure coop at night.  During the day, about 50% of the time they're in a 1200 sq. ft. fenced in area (6-7 feet high either chain link with 2" chicken wire on top or 6' welded wire.  There are several shrubs/low trees that provide lots of cover from hawks.  Nobody has every tried to dig under it.    Our soil is full of pebble and cobbles - difficult to dig, bug doable by a determined predator.  Maybe more trouble than it's worth.  The rest of the time they free range.  By day, we've never had a ground predator chase a bird.  The birds are extremely wary for the red-tailed hawk that comes by every week or two.  They always run for cover, then hang out under or near the cover until the hawk leaves.  Maybe our good luck will change but so far, so good.

Our losses from an initial 10 birds: two roosters that we slaughtered and ate ourselves, one from sickness last fall and one that was sick last spring, recovered (mostly - enough to lay anyway), but wasn't quite the same, so the winter has taken quite a toll on her.  She probably won't be around much longer.  4 more chicks are comming in a month (2 black australorps and 2 anconas).

Phil Williams's picture
Phil Williams
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 14 2009
Posts: 337
Predators

A movable electric poultry fence is not a bad option for predators. Premier fencing sells a good poultry fence. Also, if you move your chickens and coop around, predators are concerned about the change and less likely to attack.

Another option is a livestock guardian dog like a Great Pyranees, which is a good idea for large free ranging flocks.

I use the poultry electric fence, and I leave their coop open at all times.

 

lunableu22's picture
lunableu22
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 19 2011
Posts: 41
Broody Hens

When your little chickies grow up and start laying eggs, at least one will want to raise her own babies.  If you do not want more chicks, or you don't have fertilized eggs, you will need to stop her broodiness at the very start.  If broodiness is allowed to continue, it can be a behavior that persists regardless of lack of chicks after all that setting; like the hen's whole life.  (Broody hens stop laying eggs, so you are keeping a "non-productive" bird on your payroll). So, when you notice broodiness, take Henny Penny off her nesting spot and put her in a cage with a wire floor with air circulating beneath it.  Give her food and water. This isn't punishment; just changing behavior. (Rabbit hutch is perfect).  The broodiness persists if the breast area stays warm, so if air circulates under the hen, the breast area cools off, which "breaks" the broody cycle.  Should only take a couple of days...to a week with a really persistent hen.

If, on the other hand, you want more chicks and you are willing to risk a whole potential batch of roosters, a hen is the perfect incubator and she is the best for raising up a happy, healthy bunch of chicks.  Much less work for you.  She keeps them warm (no lights or thermometers), she teaches them what to eat, and socializes them to your flock and protects them.

Have fun.smiley

grandefille's picture
grandefille
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 11 2010
Posts: 35
YES to portable electric fencing

I've used it for my chickens for three years.  It is reliable and does a good job of keeping predators out.  There is a learning curve, however: I mow  a path for the fence when it's placed in an area with tall vegetation, and it needs to be moved fairly often to prevent the run becoming a "scorched earth" area.  Also, watch out for "hot" horizontal wires to slip down onto the metal feet of the post and cause a short.  Easy to fix if you know what you're looking for, but figuring out the problem was very frustrating.  I use a solar fencer when the chix are on pasture and it works very well.

Julie

Don35's picture
Don35
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Jul 4 2012
Posts: 43
my chicks

My first chickens were two Barred Rock hens purchased locally. Once I was comfortable with them, I added several Buff Orpingtons including a rooster. That produced only 1 chick so the rooster became stew (and was delicious). I had a wonderfully broody hen that saved me the trouble of doing it, but several chicks were too weak to break out of the shell. Maybe bad genetics?

Purchased 10 more buffs locally hoping to replace my rooster. I've now ordered 50 cornish game hens chicks online for the freezer. A neighbor will help process them and we'll share. We are also sharing two hogs, and gardening and canning together. I have the land, they have more manpower! Nice arrangement where everyone benefits. Also working on a deal with a beekeeper to share. I use the electric poultry netting and love it. Only downside is an expected 5 year lifespan.

At the moment I have a few chickens fenced in my garden to till the soil, eat the pests and drop manure. I'll move the girls into my orchard in the fall to clean up. Exploring building a chicken plucker. Love having chickens!

Phil Williams's picture
Phil Williams
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 14 2009
Posts: 337
I agree
grandefille wrote:

I've used it for my chickens for three years.  It is reliable and does a good job of keeping predators out.  There is a learning curve, however: I mow  a path for the fence when it's placed in an area with tall vegetation, and it needs to be moved fairly often to prevent the run becoming a "scorched earth" area.  Also, watch out for "hot" horizontal wires to slip down onto the metal feet of the post and cause a short.  Easy to fix if you know what you're looking for, but figuring out the problem was very frustrating.  I use a solar fencer when the chix are on pasture and it works very well.

Julie

Julie,

Great tips, I can certainly relate to all those issues. Snow is also a problem, if you get more than a couple of inches, and frozen ground can make it difficult to move. Also, making sure your charger has enough charge. If you get vegetation on the fence, or no sun for an extended time period, the batteries may have to be charged from the wall. I use a trickle charger for those occasions.

Phil

 

 

Leolog's picture
Leolog
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 14 2014
Posts: 3
Favorite breed

I've raised several hundred chickens, and find the best layers are Barred Rocks and Delewares. The problem with the Barred Rocks is they can become vicious. Going after other chicks. I also find the are rather prejudice, and like to stick to themselves.

The Delewares are great layers, but do get large, (Used to be the most popular meat breed) and I've had some that get broody.

My best are the Golden Sex Link, but they are not an actual breed. Piles of eggs, they like to stay out of trouble, and are small, so they have a good egg production to feed ratio.

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