Buying Chicks: Pros and Cons of Where to Buy
Compare buying chicks from local breeders, professional hatcheries, and feed stores to weigh the pros and cons of each.
by Kaylee Vaughn
You’ve decided to purchase your first chicks! Or, maybe, you are adding some new chicks to your existing flock! Either way, it’s an exciting time in every chicken keeper’s life! Of course, you want to make sure that the experience is as positive as possible for both you and the new chicks. Because of this, one of the first things to consider is where you should purchase your chicks.
While you can buy chicks from a variety of places, the three most common are: local breeders, professional hatcheries and feed stores. In this 3-part series, we will discuss the pros and cons of each of them.
Of course, breeders, feed stores and hatcheries will vary based on your location and region. But, for the most part, there are some consistent factors to consider before you choose where to buy your chicks. You will want to be able to choose the option that best fits your budget and your flock needs. Today, we will discuss some of the pros and cons that you should consider before buying your chicks from a local breeder.
Buying Chicks from a Local Breeder or Chicken Keeper
Local breeders vary greatly in both their knowledge of chickens and the quality of chickens that they breed. Some breeders may have intensive breeding programs while others might do it purely for fun. Many breeders will focus on a certain breed or style of bird. Because of this, the first step in finding a breeder to fit your needs is knowing what you want! Assessing your flock goals will help you determine what type of chicken breeder you should work with.
Here are some other things to keep in mind if you are considering buying chicks from a local breeder:
Pros of buying chicks from local breeders:
- Age Variety: Local breeders often have various ages of poultry available for sale, including hatching eggs, chicks and pullets.
- Breed variety and quality: If you want a high quality or specialty breed chicken, a local breeder can be a great option. They can often provide high-quality and even show-quality chickens. They may also specialize in heritage or specialty breeds that can be difficult to find elsewhere.
- Local resource: A knowledgeable breeder can be an invaluable resource for questions about all aspects of chicken keeping.
- No shipping: Because the breeder is local, you can pick up your chicks and bring them home right away, without having to go through the shipping process.
- You may be able to view facilities and breed stock: A local breeder may let you see their facilities and the chicks/chickens that are available for sale. While it is nice to be able to view the facilities and the animals, be aware that different breeders may have restrictions due to biosecurity risks. They may even have standards as to where you are able to go on their property. This is actually a sign of a responsible breeder who ensures that his/her poultry are kept safe from diseases that can be easily spread from one farm to another.
Cons of buying chicks from local breeders:
- May not be licensed: A local breeder may not have national or local certifications and inspections. Regulations varies by state and often isn’t required for small operations. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does require that the buyer do their due-diligence to ensure that the breeder is producing high-quality, healthy chickens.
- May or may not be vaccinated: Unlike large hatcheries, a local breeder may or may not provide vaccinations for their chicks. If vaccinations are important in your area, talk to the breeder to see if they provide vaccinations or if they can show you how to order and administer your own.
- Chicks may or may not be sexed: Some breeders are very good at sexing chicks; however, there is always room for error! Other breeders may only sell chicks as a straight run (meaning that they are unsexed). Talk to the breeder to see if they sex their chicks and to see if they have a return option if sexed hens turn out to be roosters!
- May or may not be true to breed: Depending on the breeding program, the chicks may or may not be true to a certain breed. If you are okay with mixed breed chicks, local breeders may even offer a discount. However, if you want chicks that are true to a breed, ensure that you find a breeder who can verify that there has been no cross-breeding.
Where to locate local breeders:
- Facebook groups
- Facebook Marketplace
- Word of mouth
Buying Chicks from a Professional Poultry Hatchery
Professional hatcheries are a great place to find a wide variety of chicks. While it may seem unconventional to have day old chicks sent from the hatchery in the mail, it’s actually quite common! Buying chicks from a professional hatchery can be a great way to acquire your first chickens or expand your current flock.
Here are some things to consider before ordering your new chicks from a professional hatchery:
Pros of Buying Chicks from Professional Hatchery:
- Breed variety: Many hatcheries offer a large variety of breeds for sale. They may also sell hatching eggs in addition to day old chicks. Hatcheries offer chicks that are true to their breeds and there is a very low chance of cross-breeding. Chicks are usually sold as either sexed or straight-run (unsexed).
- Licensing: Depending on their size, large hatching facilities may have to comply with certain state and national regulations and inspections. They may also have additional certifications (such as NPIP certification) which further shows their commitment to being a high-quality facility.
- Vaccinations: Large hatcheries usually offer the option of having your chicks vaccinated for a small additional fee. This is often much easier and more affordable than trying to vaccinate chicks yourself.
- Ease of ordering: Ordering is easy and many companies offer catalogs for your to browse. You can usually place your order online or over the phone and then the hatchery communicates directly with you once the chicks are ready to hatch and ship so that you know when to expect the chicks.
- Refund policy: Most hatcheries have some sort of refund or replacement policy if chicks die after arrival. They may also offer refunds or replacements for chicks that aren’t sexed accurately.
Cons of Buying Chicks from a Professional Hatchery:
- Chicks must be shipped: Day old chicks will be shipped to you from the hatchery using the US Postal Service. While most chicks handle shipping well, there is always a risk of chicks becoming stressed or sick, which can cause them to possibly die. You will also need to be prepared to pick up your new chicks at the post office when they arrive.
- Seasonal limitations: Most hatcheries do their hatching and shipping only during certain times of the year (commonly Spring through Fall). Because of this, buyers will usually need to place their orders in advance and wait until the proper hatching time for their chicks to be sent.
- Online reviews can be mixed: Online reviews are one of the best ways to gauge the quality of the hatchery before you order. Unfortunately, many online reviews are very polarized: some people rave about a certain hatchery while others only share negative experiences. This can make it hard to know which hatchery is the best fit for you.
- Unable to see facilities and chicks: If you order chicks from a hatchery, you won’t be able to pick out the chicks or even see the facilities. Even if a hatchery is local to your area, it’s unlikely that you will be able to see the facilities due to strict biosecurity regulations. Remember, these regulations are in place to ensure that transmittable diseases don’t spread through the hatchery.
Some Popular Professional Poultry Hatcheries:
If you decide that you want to order chicks from a hatchery, there are many to choose from! Here are some of the most popular hatcheries to start your search:
- Meyers Hatchery
- Cackle Hatchery
- McMurray Hatchery
- Hoover’s Hatchery
- My Pet Chicken
- Ideal Poultry
Buying Chicks from a Feed Store:
Feed stores are one of the most common places for new chicken keepers to buy chicks. If you’ve been to a feed store during the springtime, you’ve probably heard chirping and have seen troughs filled with adorable yellow chicks! Admittedly, it can be hard to resist bringing home a few of them!
Chick sales vary greatly depending on the feed store. Most feed stores offer chicks for sale in the early Spring. Some stores offer only a few standard breeds. However, some feed stores have special “Chick Days” events where they offer special breeds and even bring in trained volunteers/staff to help you pick out your new chicks!
Before rushing off to the feed store to bring home your new fluffy chicks, here are some things to consider:
Pros of Buying Chicks from a Feed Store:
- Ease of buying: It doesn’t get any easier than driving to your local feed store to pick up your new chicks! You can also buy your feed and other necessary supplies at the same time, which can be very convenient for new chicken keepers.
- Ability to pick out chicks: At a feed store, you will be able to see and pick out the exact chicks that you want to buy. This can make the process of getting new chicks very fun, especially for new chicken owners!
- Affordability: Feed stores offer chicks at very affordable prices. They may also offer discounted prices towards the end of the sale season, which can be a very economical way to buy a large number of chicks.
Cons of Buying Chicks from a Feed Store:
- Limited breeds: Feed stores usually offer a limited number of breeds for sale. These breeds are usually the most popular breeds for egg layers, such as Rhode Island Reds and ISA Browns. They may also offer a meat breed like the Cornish Cross.
- Limited sales period: Chicks are usually available at feed stores only once a year for about a month in the Spring. Because of this, it’s important to know when to expect chicks at your local store so that you don’t miss the sales period.
- Breed and sex may be mislabeled: It is very easy for chicks to be placed in the wrong bin or moved to an incorrect bin after handling. This can cause confusion about the breed of the chick, especially if it looks like any of the other breeds being offered. There is also a chance that chicks could be incorrectly sexed.
- Staff may or may not be knowledgable: Generally, feed store staff members are not trained on how to care for chicks or other aspects of chicken keeping. If you have questions about chicken keeping, it may be best to find a local mentor or other source of information.
- Chicks may be stressed or sick: Depending on the feed store, chick pens may be accessible to customers. This often leads to people and children handling the chicks. While it can be fun to play with the chicks, it increases their risk of becoming ill or stressed. Before purchasing, you may want to ensure that your feed store has protocols in place to keep chicks as healthy and stress-free as possible.
Kaylee Vaughn is a suburban homesteader, caring for chickens, goats, and a large garden on a little less than an acre. She and her family strive to create the most efficient homestead possible in the small space we have available. Her chickens are not only beautiful yard ornaments, but also a vital part of their homestead management practices! “We utilize them to produce manure, control pests, turn compost, and more.” Kaylee’s nick-named them “the gardeners” because they are always in the garden, working hard – and redecorating on occasion, too!