Where to Buy Baby Chicks

Ordering from Baby Chick Hatcheries and Getting Your Chicks Home Safely

Where to Buy Baby Chicks

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A preview from our April/May 2017 issue of Backyard Poultry. Subscribe for more great stories like this! 

After figuring out which chicken breeds will best suit your family or farm, you need to decide where to buy baby chicks.

There are three main options for where to get your chicks: a local hatchery, a mail-order hatchery or a local feed store. Let’s look at the pros and cons of buying baby chicks from each of these sources.

Where to Buy Baby Chicks: A Nearby Hatchery

If you happen to have a hatchery nearby, you may have the option to directly pick up baby chicks. This is the case for us in Cincinnati. Mt. Healthy Hatchery is our local source for where to buy baby chicks, ducklings, and game birds.

Hatcheries such as Mt. Healthy accept the bulk of their orders online so expect limited delivery dates for rarer breeds such as the Easter Eggers. We found if we place orders over the phone, they offer a wider choice of delivery dates. Orders are usually placed on a first come, first served basis. So place your order sooner rather than later.

Because we are raising egg-layers, we only want pullets. Many hatcheries give you the option to order pullets (females), cockerels (males) or “as hatched” (unsexed). If you don’t know how to tell the sex of baby chicks, it is nice to have the hatchery do this for you – whether you pick them up locally or mail order. Not all hatcheries or breeders offer this service, but in our case Mt. Healthy does, and they also guarantee 90% accuracy in sexing. On one order we received too many cockerels so they applied a credit toward our next order.

When you order from a local hatchery, they will give you a pick-up date. We pick up our chicks the morning they are hatched, take them immediately home and place them into the brooder. That means that they go from the hatchery and into the brooder in less than two hours.

An Easter Egger chick

We have had fantastic luck with maintaining good health in our chicks with this quick turnaround time from birth to the brooder. We have only had one chick in more than two hundred raised which exhibited sick baby chick symptoms. It turned out that she had Wry Neck, which is a vitamin deficiency thought to be inherited from parent chickens, not an illness. We have never had any cases of pasty butt, another common chick illness.

A downside for ordering from a local hatchery may be selection. Mt. Healthy offers 23 varieties of chicks with a focus on the most popular chicken breeds. If you want an unusual breed or a more pedigreed lineage, you may need to seek out a specific hatchery or breeder that raises what you want. Chances are this won’t be local and will require mail-ordering your chicks.

Where To Buy Baby Chicks: Mail-Ordering

A second option for where to buy baby chicks is mail order. If you live in a remote area this may be your only option. Once you have determined the chicken breeds you want, do some research into hatcheries that offer that breed. Do they sex chicks? What’s the minimum order size? What shipping options and customer service guarantees are offered? What’s the cost? Look for reviews online from previous customers, which could sway your decision. Pay particular attention to any comments about the health of chicks and customer service provided if issues arise.

One of the reasons why we chose Mt. Healthy Hatchery is that they voluntarily participate in the National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP), which means they meet a recognized standard for health and quality of their chickens. In choosing a hatchery, you may want to ask what they are doing to combat the spread of illness in their facility. Because birds are flock animals, illness can spread quickly and devastate your flock in short order.

Depending on your purposes, you may be looking for birds bred to meet specific criteria or that come from a prize-winning line. For example, if you want breeding stock or chickens to show, you may want a long-established and proven hatchery that raises purebred poultry. Check into their history and ask for some references from previous customers.

You will either order online or call them directly. There will be a minimum order size to ensure the baby chicks maintain warmth in their travels; for most hatcheries, the minimum is ten chicks. Some may offer a mix and match option so you can choose different breeds to make up your order.

Once you’ve placed your order, your chicks will usually be shipped next-day mail on the day they hatch. The hatchery will notify you when the chicks have shipped. The chicks will be sent to the closest post office and held there for you to pick up. Notify the post office to expect chicks and ask them to let you know immediately when the chicks arrive so you can retrieve them and get them into the brooder.

Just before a chick hatches from its egg, it takes in all the remaining nutrients that were sustaining it as it grew. This is what makes it possible to ship chicks. It is generally accepted that chicks can survive three days after hatch without food or water. That said, you want to get your chicks into the brooder with water as soon as possible. I mentioned we have never had a case of pasty butt; this can be a problem with chicks who have gone without water for several days. To avoid pasty butt, be sure to give chicks just water for their first couple hours at home. Let their bodies rehydrate before you provide food.

In summary, mail ordering chicks can give you access to a wider selection of chicken breeds. If you live in a remote area it may be your only option for where to buy baby chicks. It may be a better choice for finding chicks from a pedigreed line or with a specific trait. Prices may be slightly higher for mail-ordering, especially if you have to meet a minimum order and pay for quick shipping. Because your chicks have gone longer without food and water, you must pay closer attention to health issues when they arrive.

Where To Buy Baby Chicks: Your Local Feed Store

A third option for where to buy baby chicks is a local feed store. This will, of course, depend on if you have a feed store nearby. We have a locally-owned store and a Tractor Supply within five miles of us; both carry baby chicks every spring.

I asked Richard Mann, store manager of Louiso Feed and Seed in Batavia, OH what he saw as the benefits of buying chicks from a feed store versus a hatchery. He pointed out that your feed store is probably close to home and easy to reach. You save money by not having to pay for shipping. You can buy as many chicks as you like and mix and match breeds. You can even watch the chicks and pick out the individuals you want, which will not be the case at most hatcheries. When you get your chicks, you can pick up supplies to get them started such as heat lamps, feed, feeders and maybe even a pre-made brooder or coop. Finally, the employees may be a source of good information if you are new to raising chicks. Louiso offers a seminar on raising chicks each spring, which coincides with the arrival of the chicks in late February or early March.

Ask where the chicks came from. They may be ordering from a local hatchery; if this is the case, you might save money by going directly to the hatchery yourself. For many feed stores, chicks are simply a way to bring in customers and the markup is negligible. If so, you may save time and gas by going to the closer feed store rather than traveling to the hatchery.

Louiso usually gets nine to 11 breeds in their first order in late February/early March then fewer in subsequent orders over the next couple weeks. Check with your local store early to see when their chicks will arrive and what kinds they will carry. Also, ask if they will have sexed pullets if that’s important to you, and do you have any recourse if the sexing is incorrect. Chances are you will have more customer service guarantees directly from the hatchery.

If you are looking for something specific or for large quantities, you may need to go directly to a hatchery. One consideration is that breeds are sometimes mixed in a large brooder once they arrive at a feed store; be sure to find someone knowledgeable to pick out the chicks for you so you end up with what you asked for.

A preview from our April/May 2017 issue of Backyard Poultry. Subscribe for more great stories like this! 

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