How and Where to Order Chicks
There are several ways that you can add chicks to your homestead!
Chicks are ready to live outside once fully feathered, at about 7 to 8 weeks of age. This means that you will want to wait to bring your chicks home 7 to 8 weeks before your climate averages about 65-50 degrees outdoors. For us in eastern Iowa, that's usually March through mid-April. We brought out first chicks home the last week of March, and now I prefer to wait even a little longer to ensure that the weather outside is warm. However, this year we decided to get some earlier as we have an even better living environment for our hens than we did before.
Another thing to remember is that chickens are social and need a flock to thrive! If you have a small backyard and room for only a small coop, I highly suggest getting at least 3 to 4 chicks. To live the happiest life possible, chickens need a pecking order and the company of other hens. The flock is their family. My thought is always to add a few more than the number of birds that you ideally want just in case one of them dies in transit or in the first few weeks of being home. Chicks can be a bit unpredictable and really rely on those warm temperatures and a clean living environment to survive. You can read all about how to care for young chicks in the next lesson! If you are hoping to get a rooster, make sure that you have at least 5 to 6 hens to ensure that there is no over-mating with any one hen. This could be very detrimental to the hen's health, and roosters do like to choose their favorites!
Read below to see a few different options for bringing home new chicks.
From the Feed Store
The feed store is an excellent place to start when purchasing chicks. The purchasing of this animal tends to happen unexpectedly, at least if you happen to be visiting the feed store that day! The chicks are so cute and tiny and inexpensive. It’s simple the truth, but it’s best to know what you are getting yourself into before diving in head first. Doing your research beforehand is what makes a good chicken keeper.
Most farm supply and feed stores begin selling chicks in the spring around March or April. It truly depends on the climate of the region you live in. If you have warmer spring days in the 60s early in the year, you may get chicks at the store even earlier. If you are curious about when chicks will be available, just call the store and ask! You also have the opportunity to ask which breeds will be available. This can become a bit confusing and complicated, especially since I tend to find most commercial feed store employees are not always knowledgable about chickens. Our most recent chicks were purchased at a feed store (on a whim yet again!) and the employee was trying to convince me that the pullets were in fact roosters… oh boy.
If you decide to take what the feed store has to offer, then remember to try to purchase chicks of a similar age. As you will learn in the next lesson, chicks need a different body temperature at different ages. Don't feel like you have to be super strict about this - our Barred Rocks were about 5 days older than our other girls, and everyone did just fine. If there are chicks at the feed store that look about 6 weeks, and you decided to pair them one-day old chicks, you might run into some bullying issues.
It's important to know that some feed stores will order straight runs. This means that the bin has both hens and roosters, and it will be extremely difficult to determine which is which in the moment. Most feed stores just order all female chicks, but be sure to ask (though the employees don't always know!) and read the bin's labeling correctly. You can really start to freak yourself out in this department! There is still a chance you could end up with a rooster.
from a hatchery
This tends to be the option I love the most but can be just as risky when it comes to getting exactly the breeds you want or trying to avoid a rooster. I have used both options and both have landed me with unexpected roosters and unexpected breeds. From my own experience, you just have to be lenient with chickens and realize that you get what you get, or even that you get what you pay for!
You can order day-old chicks through the mail from a hatchery. This is actually where most feed stores get their chicks, too, so you will be receiving the same stock that they do. The benefit of ordering online is you get the definitive choice of gender and breed type. Most hatcheries offer specialty and rare breeds like Brahmas, French Copper Marans, Lavender Orpingtons, etc. This makes it fun to be selective! Hatcheries also often will only ship chicks if you order a bulk amount. For our hatchery, Hoover’s, this means you have to order a minimum of 15 chicks to have them ship. If you are only wanting 3 or 6 hens, you might be out of luck with this option. This is to help the chicks keep warm while they travel.
How do chicks survive a 1-3 day journey across the country in the mail delivery truck? When they hatch from their egg, they eat the albumen which is all they need to stay alive for the first few days of life. Amazing, huh? If your chicks die in transit or die within a number of days after being delivered, most hatcheries will send you new birds free of charge. This is true for the hatchery that we go through, Hoover's Hatchery, here in Iowa. They ship all over the United States, too!
HATCHING YOUR OWN EGGS
You also have the option to hatch eggs yourself right at home! This is done by using an incubator and fertile hatching eggs that you can acquire either through a hatchery or locally from a breeder. It's fairly common if you are out and about in the country that someone with fertilized eggs will be willing to sell them to you! There are several online resources as well to purchase fertilized eggs from and even Facebook groups to find local chicken breeders near you. This is typically the more holistic approach to raising your own chickens as breeders will be very careful to select the best possible hatching eggs and the genetic pool will be more diverse, creating beautifully feathered and healthy birds. If you are hoping to show your chickens, you'll most likely want to look into specialized breeders and birds. For me, this isn't really that important, but I would be interested in perhaps finding hatching eggs for endangered breeds! If you do choose to go this route, you can expect to have tiny chicks hatching from their shells in 21 days.
Which option will you pick? Now that you have a good idea of which place of purchase might best suit your needs, it's time to schedule in when your chicks will arrive home! This is a great time to start "nesting" for them. If you are like me and plan most major events way in advance then you'll have plenty of time to start gathering your supplies and getting the coop ready for your new arrivals.
For the rest of the month of March I will be sharing all of my chick related tips and tricks with you here on the blog! It is going to be Chick Month here at Under A Tin Roof while I raise my newest babies and prepare them for life here on our farm. I am really excited to share all of the best chick information with you!!
My course Finding Your Flock is $25.00 - I am offering 25% off now through March 30th to all of our blog readers. Just use the code CHICKDAYS15 to receive your discount!
Be sure to stick around for the rest of the month to see the other chick posts I will be sharing!