Baby chicks are one of the most exciting parts of spring! Depending on your location you may be looking to get chicks any time between now and June. There are a lot of things to consider before ordering, from where you get the birds to which breeds you select.
Where can you get chicks?
Your local feed store probably orders a batch or two of spring chicks. You can order through them and pick them up when the store calls you, or you can just go in in the spring and get surplus chicks. The downside to feed store chicks, which are usually quite healthy, is that you only have the breed options that the store offers.
You can also usually get chicks from a breeder in your area. This is often the best way to get good bloodlines, especially if you are looking to show chickens. You have to do some research and networking, which the internet is great for, and it helps to know what breed you want first, and look for a provider of that particular type.
Hatching eggs are usually available through specialty breeders or hatcheries. To work with hatching eggs you need either an incubator or a conveniently broody hen. Since incubators are fairly expensive and the success rates are not 100%, this is usually an option for the more experienced chicken farmer.
Chicks can be ordered through online or mail order catalogs without too much hassle. Many hatcheries have fairly high minimum order quantities to avoid chicks being cold in transit, which can present a problem. The other risk with hatchery chicks is health – select your hatchery carefully and read the online reviews to make sure they are known for healthy chicks, and make sure you check each chick for “pasty butt” upon arrival (which can be cured by cleaning the area with a damp Q-tip). The best thing about hatcheries is the wide variety of breeds available and the ability to pick your dates fairly specifically.
What breeds should I consider?
Chickens come in a huge variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and purposes. It is important to select breeds that fit your needs so that you can get the most out of your backyard flock.
Egg producers – there are several breeds which are specifically known for prolific egg production. These include Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks, and Leghorns. They are known for laying nearly 300 eggs a year and for the most part are docile, larger breeds that you would recognize from barnyards around the world.
Heavy breeds – many chicken breeds are bred specifically for meat and their weight is most important. Some can function as both egg layers and then meat birds later in life, other more specialized breeds will not live longer than 12-14 weeks and are only for meat production. The most well known meat bird breeds are the varieties of Cornish roasters and hens.
Bantams – bantams are a very popular breed on the modern homestead and we have several at our home. They are a great size for a smaller farm and have distinct personalities. They are not hugely prolific egg layers, but they usually lay at least 150 eggs a year. Many bantam breeds are also well known for going broody easily and being excellent mothers. They include cochins, silkies, Old English Game, and Araucanas.
Rare and Heritage breeds – although they can be a bit more expensive, rare and heritage breeds are a great investment. They are some of the most elegant breeds and have great histories associated with them.
Owning and breeding them is also a great thing to do for the chicken community, as many are endangered.
These breeds include Andalusians, Wyandottes, Turkens, Marans and White Faced Black Spanish.
Whatever your inspiration behind getting chickens or how you choose to do so, go for it! They are fun, useful, versatile, and a great addition to any small farm.
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