Stuck planning your next order of baby chicks? Don’t despair! The bleak, cold months of winter can be the perfect time to plan out your baby chick orders for the coming spring. It can be easy to get overwhelmed with the number of varieties of baby chicks available, let alone the many hatcheries to pick from. Here are some tips for narrowing down your selections and choosing the best baby chicks for your needs.
1. Decide what your primary goal for the chicks is. Do you want white eggs or brown eggs? Do you want something to eat a lot of insects? Do want predator resistance? Birds calm enough to make good pets? All of these questions are important to ask yourself when selecting breeds (and species). Also ask yourself if it’s important for your poultry to be quality and accurate to the breed standard. If you plan to breed or show your poultry, a hatchery likely isn’t your best choice.
2. Decide if you’d rather buy straight run or sexed female chicks. If you’re buying from a hatchery, many breeds only come straight run–a mix of male and female. If it’s very important to you to only have females, buying sexed chicks from a hatchery is probably the best answer, though you should still be aware sexing is never 100% accurate and you may wind up with a few males anyway. If you’re okay with buying straight run, a general rule is to buy twice as many chicks as the number of hens you want. And always have a plan for what you will do with unwanted male chicks.
3. Think about the size you would like your grown poultry to be. It can be easy to get swept up in a breed that appeals to you, but if you plan to keep your hens in a chicken tractor, going for a gigantic breed may not be the best decision. Always pay attention to the estimated adult size of chicks, and be aware if you buy baby bantams they need extra precautions to brood them safely.
4. Figure out if temperament matters to you. If you just want utilitarian chickens to lay eggs, it may not matter how friendly they are, but if you want pets, the more skittish breeds may not be the best choice. Also be aware that temperament plays a factor in predator safety while free ranging (skittish breeds are more likely to evade predators) and the most passive breeds can sometimes get picked on by braver chickens in a mixed flock.
5. Don’t be afraid to be superficial. If you really hate the way a popular breed of chicken looks, or fall in love with a skittish breed yet you love tame chickens… go for it! Don’t let anyone else tell you what type of poultry you should or shouldn’t get. They’re your poultry, so you should love the way they look. A beautiful flock is one of the main benefits to poultry keeping, after all.
6. If you’re undecided which hatchery to order from, choose the one closest to you. Most of my orders come from Cackle Hatchery since they are only a few hours away from where I live. This means chicks get to my house within 24 hours of shipment. While it is possible to order chicks from across the country, every single day and hour spent in the box is a greater risk to their safety. I have always noticed a huge difference in the chicks I get in one day and the chicks I’ve gotten in three days.
7. Always spend a few extra dollars for Gro-Gel or heat packs if they are an option. This is especially important if you’re ordering from a far away hatchery. Gro-Gel is a green nutrient placed in the box with the chicks for them to peck. It helps make the chicks a little stronger since they don’t go all that way on an empty stomach. Heat packs are usually not necessary, but if it’s a cold month and the hatchery offers them, I usually take it.
8. If you’re thinking about getting a species you aren’t familiar with, make sure you really do your research ahead of time. I still remember buying some guineas on a whim because the local feed store was selling them. Let’s just say I am not a guinea person! I regretted having them but they were so difficult to catch that I just put up with their noises for months. Every species of poultry has something to offer, but make sure they are a good fit for what you want them for before buying.
9. Plan your new chicks’ housing far in advance. There’s nothing worse than rushing around at the last moment to make a coop. Also be aware that once they leave the brooder, they may still need to be housed separately from your older chickens for a while. I never combine new chicks with the established flock until they’re big enough to take care of themselves–usually not until they’re three to four months old. Adult chickens can be bullies to babies.
10. Decide if you want a mixed flock or one breed. Mixed flocks can be beautiful, but there are sometimes problems with them. The biggest, pushiest chickens tend to take over, which leaves the more docile chickens being picked on and even sometimes driven away from their food. The way I’ve handled this is to simply sell the breeds I find to be incompatible with the rest of my flock over time. If you only want one breed, make sure you pick a good one!