So you’ve decided to get some birds! This time of year is when we order from our hatchery catalogs or start looking for local farms that breed the types of fowl we want. I have a few strategies up my sleeve to make sure that my chicks arrive healthy and happy right off the bat.
The reputation and quality of the breeder means a lot to me. We’ve ordered from some hatcheries in the past only to pick up sickly chicks that are poor representations of their breeds. Other hatcheries may include an extra male or two (or five or ten!), just to keep the shipping box warm.
My favorite place to get waterfowl is Metzer Farms. Their birds are always healthy and peeping away happily, they come from great stock, and they allow low minimum order numbers. Their website offers charts that compare the different breeds and their strengths and weaknesses, and also grades them on the show quality of their stock. They also have an extensive Q&A page, which is a resource I’ve returned to time and time again.
Holderread Waterfowl is also an excellent source for rare waterfowl, and this year we are ordering from the Sand Hill Preservation Center since we were looking for Pomeranian geese. I’ll let you know how those birds turn out.
I’ve had numerous troubles ordering baby chicks online. Most hatcheries have high minimum order numbers, and a chick or two always comes swaying unhealthily or worse, squashed in transit by its buddies. The minimum order numbers are meant to keep chicks warm when traveling, but including a gel heat pack or similar will serve the same purpose and allow you not to have to expand your flock by 25 every spring.
My favorite chick hatchery at the moment is My Pet Chicken. They have low minimum order numbers and I did not lose a single chick from them last year. What’s more, the chicks I received were great representations of their breeds. We did get one unintended male, but he’s turned out to be a great rooster for our farm.
If you are taking advantage of lower order minimums, it is nice to order your fowl to arrive later in the spring when you don’t have to compete with chilly temperatures anymore. A heat lamp or regular light on the brooder is the best way to keep it warm for your chicks, but the higher the outdoor temperature the less work you’ll have to do to make sure that they are comfortable.
Another option for spring fowl is a local breeder or friend. While this doesn’t always work if there is a specific breed you are looking for, it is a fun option to have and if you’re like me and just can’t say no to a baby chick, you will probably find yourself some new birds this way whether you planned on it or not.
If what you're looking for is a classic representation of a certain breed, a local breeder may be the best way to go because they've cultivated good stock for generations. However, it can also be harder to find a local farmer who specializes in exactly what you're looking for. And, if you want your birds for eggs, meat, and/or companionship, their bloodline's perfection is not of utmost importance.
Hatching eggs are another option, although they require more attention to the eggs and careful daily turning and humidity control. While we don’t plan to hatch eggs this year, if one of our hens goes broody we will most likely allow them to hatch our their eggs. Hatching eggs are a great option if there’s a particular breed you’re looking for, as breeders around the world can provide hatching eggs who may not be able to ship live chicks.
Hatching fertile eggs under a broody hen is a way to raise new chicks that requires almost no work on your part, except making sure mama is safe and well fed. In fact, many farmers do this by accident, thinking they've lost a hen only to have her emerge 28 days later with a full clutch. It's a great way to grow your flock, but chicks raised with a mama hen are not always as friendly as ones raised by hand.
Our additions to the poultry on the farm will be relatively simple this year, just goslings and some guinea fowl, but we are excited to be trying new breeds and looking forward to keeping guineas for the first time. It should be another fun spring with plenty of peepers running around!