Monday, December 16, 2013

Baby chicks or ready-to-lay?

Will you raise your bird from chicks, or are you ready to start collecting eggs now?

This is more of a personal choice. By the time you feed and take care of baby chicks the cost will be about the same.

Baby Chicks 101
You will have three choices: cockerels (males), pullets (female) or straight run (50/50). 

Most people will want all pullets. Remember, you do not need a rooster for your pullets to lay! Since the people who sex baby chicks for the hatcheries do about one chick per second they are right about 98% of the time. Most of these people are independent contractors who travel between jobs.

Then, you choose from two sizes: standard or bantam. Bantam chickens are about one-quarter the size of standard. (This also applies to the size of their eggs.) Trivia: all standards have a bantam counterpart, but not all bantams have a standard counterpart.

Where to get baby chicks: 
A quick internet search will reveal a long list of hatcheries around the world. If you are purchasing backyard chickens, large hatcheries are a fine choice. These birds are usually not the quality you want for 4H or FFA projects. They also tend to be pricey when you figure in the shipping. (And expect an early-morning wake-up call from the post office when your chicks arrive by mail. See below.)

Your local feed stores are a good source. They usually get large quantities of chicks with free or reduced shipping. When you're at the store, check to see how the chicks are kept: Are they clean, do they have feed & water, can anyone just stop & handle them (which may stress out the birds and affect their health).

Chicks in the mail:
Chicks have been sent through the mail for more than 100 years. For the most part it works fine mainly because chicks do not need feed or water for the first 48-72 hrs. Plan your order in warmer weather. Call the post office ahead of time to see when the truck comes in and plan to pick them up ASAP.

Keep in mind: If the chicks are insured, open the box at the post office. The post office will not pay insurance damages if you take them home and find a problem. If your chicks are not insured call the hatchery. Sometimes they will help you if you have a loss.

Ready-to-Lay 101
Research the breeds first to make sure they are known for egg production. If you want brown eggs, there are specific breeds that lay brown eggs. Also, some breeds tend to be more flighty, which may not be best if you have small children.

Where to find your layers:
Swaps are fun events where you can talk to many different people about their birds and how they raise them. About 99% of the sellers are good honest people, but you have the 1% who will sell you a 3 year old chicken as a four-month-old. Often, swaps will take place at your local fairgrounds. 

You can also find pullets through ads in the newspaper, Craigslist and other websites. Buying through these ads gives you the benefit of supporting local people and you also get to visit their place.

The very best way to get chickens: Referrals from friends & neighbors.  

--Dale aka Turkeyman