Ordering Hatching Eggs: Chickens First Class!

How to buy chicken eggs to hatch, when you live miles away from the breeders.

Ordering Hatching Eggs: Chickens First Class!

Reading Time: 5 minutes

“If you get filthy eggs from a breeder, don’t ever buy from them again.” 

Sunny Miller-O’Connor offers plenty of tips for ordering hatching eggs: chickens, quail, or any other poultry. She has been incubating mail-order hatching eggs for years.  

“But don’t wash the eggs when you get them.” She warns that, if you want to remove dirt, knock it off with a butter knife or sandpaper so you don’t ruin the bloom. “If you do have a few eggs that are really dirty, do not put them in your incubator. You can ruin your whole hatch that way.” 

From French Black Copper Marans chickens to quail and ducks, Sunny has set thousands of eggs. Many come from breeders near her in California, but for some of the best stock, she finds breeders online.  

“All over the place, really,” she says. From eBay, Craigslist, and even Amazon, though many breeders selling on Amazon are the same ones that sell on eBay. And how do those shipped eggs fare when incubated? Sunny reports that a 50% hatch rate on shipped eggs is very good. 

She just hatched out some quail eggs she purchased off eBay, with about a 50% success rate. 

If you are considering ordering hatching eggs: chickens you want in your flock or school science projects far from local farms, how do you avoid being scammed aside from checking approval ratings? 

First off, says Sunny, educate yourself so you know to ask the right questions. If you’re familiar with breed standards or show-quality chickens, you will recognize an inexperienced breeder through the conversation. And, if they don’t know how to answer those questions, that’s a red flag. 

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“I know, on several chicken sites, someone who has just started keeping chickens for a month or two is all of the sudden in the business of selling eggs. It takes a long time to really know what you’re doing. If someone’s been in business for two months, go the other way.”  

Ask about flock health and if breeders medicate or give shots. “I don’t like my chickens medicated,” says Sunny. “Some people like their birds medicated.” 

Find out their breeding goals. “If they don’t mention temperament, conformation, color, the color of eggs, etc. then they don’t know much about breeding. Also, if they’re honest, they’ll tell you what they DON’T breed for.” Sunny purchased eggs from someone who said he bred for show quality, not temperament. The chickens that hatched had the “worst temperaments ever. But at least he was honest with me.” 

It takes a long time to really know what you’re doing. If someone’s been in business for two months, go the other way.

Also, find out if they mix their flock and how long they separate their flock out before they start selling fertilized eggs. Sunny recommends that they wait four weeks after separation before collecting the eggs.  

What gender ratio does the breeder tend to hatch? Adamson Acres, a breeder in Wisconsin, admitted to Sunny that they tend to run high on cockerels. “And she’s right,” reported Sunny after a hatch. “But the beautiful birds and egg color make them worth it.” Sunny has gone on to make multiple more egg orders through Adamson Acres. 

And, once those eggs have been laid, how often are they gathered? How old are the eggs when shipped? Sunny recommends three days old, at the most. “If they take two days to get to you, then you have to leave them at least 24 hours before you set them in the incubator, that’s already six days. Then, if they get stuck in shipping an extra day?” It’s recommended that you not set eggs more than seven days old, 10 at the most. For that reason, Sunny tries to purchase from breeders on her half of the country. “I always look at how far away they are,” she says. “The further away, the more shipping time, the more stress the eggs have to endure.” 

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How do they ship? “If they ship slower than two-day, or if they are willing to ship when it’s super-hot or freezing cold weather, don’t buy from them.” Eggs need breakage protection as well as insulation to protect them from temperature extremes. And eggs MUST ship with the pointed side down. 

“There’s this one lady that buys these foams that have little pre-drilled holes. They’re the perfect size for the eggs to slide in those holes. Then she puts a thick layer of foam on the bottom and the top then fills every little area with paper or peanuts.” Though it’s an expensive way to package, Sunny has never received any cracked eggs from that breeder, and she experiences a 50% hatch rate. 

“I’ve had them come all different ways. The worst I had is when they were wrapped in the thinnest tissue paper, and then she put them in a regular carton. She did put peanuts around that, but they got bounced all around.” About 30% of those eggs were damaged. Of the 90 unbroken eggs she set, only 10 chicks hatched. “I suspect even the ones that didn’t crack were scrambled.” 

Post offices can be rough with your packages. “If you put FRAGILE PLEASE HANDLE WITH CARE then they get even rougher treatment,” Sunny has noticed. “I’m sure it’s not everybody, but all it takes is one or two smart-alecks to spoil it.” 

“The other thing that is wonderful is if the breeder will agree to put directions for the post office on the package, with your phone number and instructions to please call so you can pick up.” 

You just get a lot higher incident of eggs that aren’t viable, which gives a better chance of an egg that explodes in the incubator and spoils your whole hatch.

And once you get those hatching eggs home? Open the box, observe and candle all eggs to eliminate any with cracks, then let them sit pointed-side-down at 55-60 degrees F for 24 hours. Then follow the standard procedure for hatching eggs, chicken or other poultry, within an incubator. 

Except watch them more closely. 

“I check them a lot more carefully than if they’re my own. You just get a lot higher incident of eggs that aren’t viable, which gives a better chance of an egg that explodes in the incubator and spoils your whole hatch.” Shipping methods, collection times, and breeder integrity factor into this. Sunny says, “It’s mainly because I don’t trust that they collected them right when they said they did. The older the egg, the better the chance of having it explode.” 

Have you ordered hatching eggs? Chicken, duck, quail, or goose (or exotic)? We want to hear your stories of when your search to buy chicken eggs to hatch led you across state lines and into the postal world. 

Originally published in the February/March 2020 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.

One thought on “Ordering Hatching Eggs: Chickens First Class!”
  1. I ordered 12 bantam eggs from a breeder that I became very e-friendly with. Reviewed her website, talked about breeds and goals. She shipped 14 instead of 12, amazingly well packed, arriving fully intact. 2 did not develop, but 12 hatched, beautiful healthy chicks. It is the only experience I’ve had that didn’t track just as you described. I consider 50% to be the norm and have had much worse. I definitely know who I will no longer order from, but especially who I will. And my preference will always be my friend, Valerie from Nebraska.

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