Buying Chickens

The process of buying chickens is not very complicated.  Making up your mind which beautiful breeds to purchase is a bit harder.  The sections below cover where to buy, terminology, and information to consider before you buy.

If the weather is still freezing in your area, place your order with a hatchery that will ship later or provides heated shipping containers.  Of course if you buy locally you can transport them in your warm car.

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Definitions

Broody or Sitting Hen:  A hen that will suddenly take to sitting on a clutch of eggs to hatch them.

Capon: Castrated male rooster.  Improves meat quality.

Cockerel:  Rooster less than 1 year old.

Color or Feather Sexed:  Chickens that exhibit one color if female and another if male.  Rate of feather growth is also used.  Sex can be determined upon hatching. (Barred Rock, New Hampshire, Rhode Island Red, Hybrids)

Fount:  Simple equipment used to provide water to chickens.

Poult:  Poultry less than 1 year old.  Usually refers to turkeys.

Pullet:  Hen less than 1 year old.

Straight Run:  Buying chicks without specifying the sex.  Hatchery will supply a random number of males and females.

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Where to Buy

When buying chickens, do your homework to ensure the farm provides quality healthy birds.  Are they a V.I.C. operation? IE vaccination, inspection and certification.  See if they offer vaccination for cocccidiosis and marek's disease. They also need to provide a health certificate if the birds are crossing state lines.  Look for farms that are members of the National Poultry Improvement Program and/or are USDA inspected.

Purchased online or by phone:

  • Hatcheries (see lists at right):  Offerings vary and can include eggs, chicks and adult birds.  We have experience with McMurray and Cackle with very positive results.

Local Stores (Seasonal):

  • Tractor Supply: Season and selection varies.  You'll have to investigate the store in your area.
  • Possibly your local feed mill.

Local Farms:  You can reduce your energy footprint and support regional agriculture by buying chickens or chicks locally.  It can also be advantageous because you can personally see the parents.  If the parents exhibit the traits you want than you're more likely to like their chicks.  Check classifieds for farms in your area that have chicks for sale.   Also talk to the folks at your local feed mill.  They often can point you in the direction of a reputable farm.  Breed associations and State poultry clubs can also provide leads to local suppliers.

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Eastern US

  • Little Birdie Chicken Farm and Hatchery, NC
  • Meyer Hatchery, OH
  • Moyer's Chicks, PA
  • Mt. Healthy Hatchery, OH
  • Mypetchicken, CT
  • Worth It Farms, GA

Central US

  • Anders Poultry Farm, MO
  • Cackle Hatchery, MO
  • Estes Hatchery, MO
  • Hoovers Hatchery, IA
  • McMurray Hatchery, IA
  • Poultry Hollow Hatchery, TN
  • Ideal-poultry, TX
  • Rise and Shine Urban Farm, MI
  • Sand Hill, IA
  • Stromburg's Chicks and Game Birds, MN

Western US

  • Belt Hatchery, CA
  • Phasian Farms, OR
  • QCU Poultry, ID

Before You Buy

How Many Birds?

To help you answer this question, suggest starting with the information below...

Your Purpose for Buying Chickens

  • Eggs: See Productivity section below.  Culling needed to maintain high productivity.  Older birds eat almost as much but lay less.
  • Meat:  Birds are harvested at the end of the year so winter shelter requirements are less or non-existent.  Balance the number of birds you want in your freezer with the Green Space, Shelter and Time limitations below.
  • Pets:  Breed selection just as important here as with eggs and meat.  See pet page.  Recommend 1 - 5 birds.  Frequent handling is necessary which is harder with a large flock.
  • Pest Control:  Recommend the flock sizes listed in the Green Space section below that don't require a fence.  Larger flocks (that need fencing) will control pests faster but they will run out of food and you will have to spend more to supplement their diet.
  • Chick Supplier:  Flock size can vary based upon your available space and business plan.  Recommend purchasing adult birds so their conformation and productivity are known.  Spend more on outstanding adults so you can ensure quality chicks.

 Egg Productivity Information

  • 1 hen lays 2 - 5 eggs/wk depending upon breed (year 1)
  • productivity drops 10-20%/year

Your Green space available

  • Average Back Yard: Up to 5 birds but check zoning ordinances.  Will need fence or "kennel" unless you have very understanding neighbors.  
  • Acre Lot:  up to about 6 birds w/o a fence but coop must be centrally located as birds' range is a roughly circular area around the coop.  Up to about 20 birds with a fence.  Your time becomes an important factor at this point since the amount of manure produced gets significant.  Your proximity to neighbors, busy roads etc. matters since larger flocks spread out more and make more noise.  If your lot is long and narrow, you will probably need a fence. 
  • Small to large farms:  Free range flocks up to 50 birds on 1-2 acres at a time.  Rotation to new ground or feed supplementation is needed as this many birds will quickly eliminate all the natural food in their forage zone.  Commercial operations of 1000 birds can successfully function on a 2 acre parcel if intensive agriculture practices are used.

Shelter

  • 3+ sq ft of hen house per bird (more space = less hen pecking)
  • Enclosed shelter needed in Northern climates. 
  • Heat protection needed during hot spells (+29ºC /84ºF) such as shady gardens or open buildings.  The ground floor of the traditional bank barn works great as it stays amazingly cool.
  • Predators: shelters should protect chickens from any of these animals if they are in your area - dogs, rats, cats, hawks, owls, weasels, possom, fox, coyote.  Recommend reading the predator page when thinking of buying chickens.


Equipment & Cost

For chicks

  • chick feeder: $4-8
  • chick waterer: $4-6
  • heat lamp & bulb:  $28
  • kids plastic wading pool, large bird cage, or 50 gal Rubbermaid stock tank: $7 - 70
  • Outdoor thermometer that can be placed in the tank or pool: $9
  • You'll also need chick feed and bedding or lots of paper towels.

For 1 - 10 adult birds

  • 10 - 20 lb feeder: $15-50.  Quality feeders that will last cost more.  Deeper 3" troughs reduce feed waste.
  • 2 gallon fount: $20
  • 1 light for egg layers: $27 (socket, outdoor electrical cord)
  • Simplest hutch to elaborate coop & enclosed run:  $200 - $1000.  Have 1 nest box/4 hens.

For 10 - 50 birds

  • 50lb feeder: $32
  • 7 gal fount: $70
  • 2 lights for egg layers: $40 (2 bulb socket, outdoor electrical cord)
  • 3 sq ft/hen sized coop with 1 nest box for every 4 hens.  Should have about 1 foot of roost per full sized bird: $800 - $2000
  • Bantams need 2 sq ft/hen sized coop with 1 smaller nest box for every 4 hens.  Should have about 7 inches of roost per bird.
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Will You Need Fencing?

Our 2 Blue Laced Red Wyandotte Roosters

One of the great benefits of raising chickens is that they bond to their home so they don't need fencing.  But, their normal range may exceed the size of your property.  I've seen them go as far as 200 ft from the coop before they decide to turn around. 

There are property features that will affect their range.  Water, a nicely mulched garden (bugs & soft soil), and bird feeders will draw them further.  Buildings, a neighbors dog, or any structure they can't see or get through easily, makes them cautious and limits how far they go.  They often will not consider a road to be dangerous so set your coop well away from any road or use a fence.

The number of chickens you have also affects how far they roam.  As they eliminate the natural food they will roam further.  See the Green Space section (left) for more guidelines.

Your Time

This is rather hard to pin down.  It depends so much on how you will keep your chickens.  Generally you go out some time in the morning every day to collect eggs and check their food & water. (5-15 min/day)  Will they be outside a lot?  That's less work for you.  Will you purchase a nicely designed modern coop that's easy to clean or are you retrofitting a stall in the barn?  For a bird density of 1 bird per 3 square foot of coup, you will probably need to clean it once a week.  But the more birds you get, with a correspondingly bigger coop, the longer it will take to clean.  If you only have 5 birds using a big 12x12 stall you will not have to clean so often but when you do it will take longer.  Work goes up during winter since they spend nearly all their time in the coop.

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     Picking a Breed     

   Buying Birds/ Getting Started    

 How to Raise Chickens

         Nutrition          

         Diseases          

         Predators        

   Coops/Equipment   

   Stopping Fighting    

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On other pages:

     Picking a Breed     

   Buying Birds/ Getting Started    

 How to Raise Chickens

         Nutrition          

         Diseases          

         Predators        

   Coops/Equipment   

   Stopping Fighting