Spring is the perfect time of year to buy chicks and get started with your backyard flock (or expand your existing numbers – adding chickens via “chicken math”).
If you are an absolute beginner, this article will give you all the necessary info you need to know before buying chicks. I’ll share with you my experience ordering my first chicks online from a hatchery and what I learned along the way.
Where to Buy Chicks – Online or In Person?
When you are ready to get your chicks, you have 2 main options for where to buy them:
- Online from a hatchery
- In-person at a farm supply store
There are pros and cons to each of these options and it depends on your particular situation, like how many chicks you plan to raise, if you have a particular breed you want, and what time of year you are buying chicks.
Breed Variety Can be Better Online
You will always have much more variety in the breed of chicken when you buy from a hatchery. Ordering online from a hatchery gives you more options to pick your specific breed that you want.
You can also buy a “sampler mix” from an online hatchery where they provide a mix of several breeds in one order (for example, if you get 10 chicks there will be 2 chicks from 5 different breeds).
If you go to your local farm supply, they will generally only offer a few breeds at a time. If there is a specific breed you are interested in, then they usually have a schedule of when those breeds will be available.
A risk of waiting for a specific breed from your local farm supply store is that they are generally sold on a “first come, first serve” basis. So unless you are able to get on a list or get there early on the day the chicks they arrive, you might miss out on getting the chicks in the breed that you want.
Likewise, if you are not first in line to pick out your chicks, you could be left with the ones that others passed up, like the ones that lack energy or look sickly.
There are several reasons why people like to be able to choose the breed of chicken they want to raise, including:
- Selecting a breed of chicken that is appropriate for your climate. Some breeds are more cold tolerant, while others are heat hardy. If you live in an area that has hot and humid summers, you should select a breed of chicken that has a large comb since this serves as a type of “radiator” that helps keep the chicken cool. A chicken with a large comb would not be an ideal choice from someone living in a very cold climate since this appendage is more likely to get frost bite.
- Selecting a breed that is friendly. Some breeds of chickens are more friendly and approachable than others. If you are wanting your chickens to be like pets, then you will want to research the breeds that will be most friendly. This is not important to many “homesteaders,” but I have found that most backyard chicken keepers like myself value having a friendly bird that will not attack kids or other pets.
- Selecting a breed that is quiet. This can be controversial, but chickens are loud. If you live in a neighborhood close to your neighbors, you will want to find a breed that is not super loud. All chickens will be loud at times during the time, usually when they are about to lay an egg or have just laid an egg. Bantams are going to be quieter than full-size chickens, but their eggs are much smaller. Once again, a bit of research at the beginning of your chicken keeping journey will save you stress later on by making sure you select the right breed for your situation.
- Selecting a breed for appearance and/or egg color. Some people choose their breed of chicken based on how the chicken looks (feather color, how fluffy, body size, etc.) or egg color (brown, blue, green). For the more ornate breeds of chickens, you will most likely only be able to find them from a specialty hatchery or breeder and these will cost you more money than a common breed of chicken.
Order Minimums are Required Online
There are order minimums when ordering chicks online from a hatchery.
In general, most hatcheries require a minimum order quantity of 10 chicks per shipment.
The reason for an order minimum is to ensure the chicks stay warm during transit. When there are too few chicks in the shipment, they are not able to gather together to stay warm enough and can die.
Chicks have a difficult time maintaining body heat when they first hatch. This is why you will need to provide supplement heat for the first few days or weeks of life in their brooder.
There are some hatcheries that lower the minimum order quantity during the spring and summer months.
We ordered our chicks from Chicken Outfitters. They contract with Mount Healthy Hatchery, which is where our chicks were shipped from.
Chicken Outfitters had a minimum order quantity of 10 chicks. However, when I was doing research for this article, I found that if we would have ordered directly from Mount Healthy Hatchery, they have a minimum order quantity of 3 chicks when shipping during April through October.
Death Can Happen During Shipping
Sometimes chicks will die during shipping. This can be due to them not being able to stay warm enough. Or it can just be because the chick was not very healthy after hatching.
I had heard that you can expect up to a 10% loss when ordering online, but we did not experience that.
When we ordered our chicks online, all 10 of ours survived shipping. In fact, we didn’t lose our first chicken until they were 2 years old.
If you do have a chick die during shipping, you can contact the hatchery and they will generally offer you one of these options:
- A refund on the price you paid for the chick(s) that died
- A replacement of new chick(s) to be sent to you (as long as it meets their minimum order quantity)
When you buy chicks in-person from a store, death during shipping is not a concern.
However, you can have the issue of your chicks being handled by too many people when they are in a store.
When you order chicks online, they are typically not handled as much which can result in them being less stressed and potentially more healthy.
Delivery of Your Chicks – What to Expect
Once your chicks are hatched, the hatchery will e-mail you the tracking information.
The post office will call the morning that they arrive so you will need to be ready to pick them up ASAP.
The post office will not deliver your chicks to your house. You need to make sure that you will be available that morning to go pick them up in person.
Make sure that your brooder is fully set up and ready to go before your chicks ship in case they get delivered a day earlier.
Our chicks shipped 3 weeks after we placed the order. They shipped 3 day priority mail but we got them in 2 days.
The chicks will come in a small box full of a bedding type of material that helped to keep them warm during transit.
If any of your chicks died during shipping, make sure to contact the hatchery immediately if you would like a refund or replacement.
Chicks might not move around too much that first day because they are tired and stressed from the journey.
Chicks will survive for 72 hours after hatching on their egg yolk. After this point, you will need to make sure you have chick starter feed to feed them.
Check out this post on What to Feed Baby Chicks After Hatching.
All the Necessary Accessories for Your Chicks
If you are a first time chicken keeper, you will want to have all of the equipment for your chicks ready before they arrive.
If you order your chicks and their equipment at the same time, the equipment will most likely ship earlier than the chicks. This will give you time to set up the brooder before your chicks arrive.
We ordered our chicks and chick equipment from Chicken Outfitters in the same order. The equipment arrived within a few days and the chicks were delivered three weeks later.
Immediately after receiving your chicks from the post office, you will want to move them into their brooder. This is why you want to have their brooder set-up well in advance.
The following equipment is the essential gear that you will need for raising your chicks:
- Brooder. This is the container where the chicks will live for their first few days or weeks of life. The brooder is what will keep them warm and where they will eat, drink, sleep, and poop. You can use a large cardboard box or a plastic RubberMaid tote. The main thing is that your chicks are able to stay safely in their brooder and that it keeps predators out. The main predators of chicks are cats, kids, and rats. You also want to make sure your chicks stay in the brooder because if they are able to escape they can get too cold and freeze to death. A good brooder will have a high enough wall that will keep chicks from jumping out.
- Bedding. The bedding will be on the bottom of the brooder and needs to be absorbent to catch spilled water and poop. Choosing a good bedding is essential to the health and well-being of your chicks. It will also help you tolerate their smell because if you choose something that is not absorbent enough, they can get very stinky. Check out this post for 7 types of bedding that can be used for chicken coops and brooders.
- Heat lamp or brooder plate. Chicks are unable to keep their body temperatures warm enough for survival, which is why you will need to provide supplemental heat. We used a heat lamp for our chicks, but many people feel more comfortable using a brooder plate because of a risk of fire from improperly used heat lamps.
- Chick starter feed. Chicks have dietary requirements that are met by feeding them a chick starter feed. You do not want to feed baby chicks a layer feed because it is too high in calcium, which is hard on their kidneys.
- Feeder and waterer. You will need to provide containers for your chicks’ feed and water. A good feeder will allow your chicks to eat their food without kicking it out or getting poop inside. Chicks will want to roost on things from an early age, which is why it’s important that your feeder is not confused for a perch, otherwise they will poop into their feed. A waterer will need to be provided to your chicks. You will want something that your chicks can drink out of without drowning. Chicks will fall asleep with their heads close to the water and if the water is too deep they can drown. This is why many people will place rocks or marbles in their waterers to prevent their chicks from drowning. You can also use a quail waterer for your chicks and it works very well because it’s smaller.
- Grit. You can also provide your chicks with grit, but this is not necessary. We provided our chicks with a grit that also contained a probiotic. Typically chickens don’t need grit until they get older and start eating things other than feed but it’s a nice option for chicks to get them used to it.
- Thermometer. Since you will be providing supplemental heat to your chicks in their first few days or weeks of life, it’s important to make sure that you are providing enough heat. Some people will use a thermometer to track the heat of the brooder. However, this is not necessary as you can tell the temperature of your brooder based on your chicks’ behavior. If the chicks are huddled together, then the brooder is too cold. If the chicks are getting as far away from the heat source as possible, then the brooder is too warm. We used a thermometer while also watching our chicks’ behavior to make sure the temperature in the brooder was comfortable for our chicks.
I had a good experience with ordering my first set of chicks online through a hatchery.
However, if I could go back and do it again, I would have ordered directly from the hatchery during the summer months so I could have gotten less chickens.
Starting off with 10 chickens at once was too much for my backyard. If you have a large property or live on land, then that might not be an issue. If you are a first time backyard chicken keeper, it can be problematic to start off with that many chickens.
Here’s a video where I talk about the 5 things I would have done differently before getting chickens and learn from my mistakes!