Once you have settled on a breed, you’ll need to decide where to buy your chickens. There are a couple of different options at this stage, and your choice will affect some of the equipment that you’ll need to raise your flock.
Day Old Baby Chicks
The first consideration is age. One of the most common ways to buy chickens is as “day old baby chicks.” You pre-order the chicks from a hatchery (or from another company that interfaces with a hatchery).
After the chicks hatch, if you requested it, the hatchery will “sex” your chickens, which means that they’ll examine them to determine if they are males or females. Determining the gender of day old chicks takes a high level of skill. It is fairly reliable, but not 100% accurate. Most hatcheries will guarantee a 90% sexing accuracy.
After the chicks are sexed, any vaccinations that you may have requested, such as Marek’s or Coccidiosis, will be applied. Then the hatchery will box up your chicks and ship them to you. You’ll receive them a day or two later.
Once you receive your chicks, you’ll need to carefully follow the instructions that come with the chicks, provide them with food, water, warmth (from a heat lamp or brooder) and protection. The chickens are very small at this stage and need to be well cared for. They also need warmth according to a temperature schedule. For example, keep them at 95° F for 1-6 days, then at 90° F for the second week, etc.
Once they reach 4-5 weeks of age, they will have gotten much of their adult feathering, they’ll be much larger, and they’ll be able to care for themselves better. At this stage, you can transfer them into a chicken coop, and you shouldn’t have to do add any supplemental heat to keep them warm, unless you have cold or damp weather.
If you order day old chicks, there’ll be a minimum order size. The reason for this relates to the importance of keeping the birds warm during shipment. A typical minimum order size is 25 birds. Some suppliers use heat packs boxed with the birds to provide additional heat during shipment, allowing them to ship as few as 3 birds. So, typically, you’ll find minimum order sizes that range from 3 up to 25 birds, depending on the type of chicken and the supplier.
Instead of “day old chicks” you can buy “started chickens” (hens or cockerels) or “started pullets” (hens only). We sell both, at a variety of ages from 4-6 weeks up to 18 weeks and older.
There are a couple of reasons why you might want to go this route of using started chickens instead of starting with day old chicks. One is that you won’t need a brooder or heat lamp with a means of controlling temperature.
Our started chicks are old enough when you first receive them at 6 weeks of age that they can keep themselves warm (unless you are raising them in cold or damp weather). By this age, they’ve got more body mass and adult feathering than they did as day old chicks.
Second, because of this, you can easily put them into a main coop or chicken tractor rather than a brooder.
Third, by the age of 6 weeks, with most breeds, it’s now obvious which ones are males and which ones are females. So if you want to be 100% sure of what gender your birds are, this is going to give you more assurance.
Fourth, you get a head start on building your flock, as these birds are going to be closer to adulthood and closer to egg laying age.
Fifth, since the birds are now big enough to keep themselves warm, we can ship you as few as one bird per order.
The downside — cost. Started chickens cost more per bird because of the feed and care that has been put into them, and because they are larger and heavier, they cost more to ship.