Some of the most common animals on a Homestead are, you guessed it, the Chickens! I, for one, LOVE watching egg-laying chickens running around the yard. I had to specify there because our meat birds, we raise, stay in what we call “Chicken Tractors”. I will be doing a blog on building one in the coming weeks!
But, for now, we are going to touch on the how, why, and when of buying chickens.
Let’s begin with the how. How do you buy your little chicks? Your options may include local feed stores, neighbors, you may even be lucky enough to be within driving distance of a hatchery. Fortunately for some us, no matter where you live, you can always order your baby chicks through the mail. Yep, straight through the US Postal Service, which is what those local feed stores do anyway (here is your why)!
Now I know what you are thinking, is this humane? It is!
Here’s the process of a baby chicks adventure at the hatcheries:
Starting in the early hours of the morning, workers at the hatcheries move the newly hatched chicks from incubator(or setters) into “hatch baskets”. From there they are each sexed and then divvied up into each customer’s unique order. Just think how time consuming all that can get, 100s of orders made up of multiple breeds per order! Phew, lots of chick handling!
After orders are filled, the hatcheries then deliver the chicks to the nearby airport, then off on planes they go. Think about it, your chicks may have ridden on an airplane before you have!
(Do they have to have a COVID test now-a-days? Hmm. Food for though!)
All this travel is possible without food or water for the newly hatched chicks. This is due to the chick absorbing the yolk just before breaking free of it's egg. The yolk contains all the nutrition a chick needs for the first 48-72 hours of its little life. By then, they have arrived at your homestead and become your responsibility!
I personally buy my chicks from hatcheries through mail order. The variety of breeds they offer, the guarantee of 100% accuracy of sex, and the customer service if there ever was an issue, is impeccable! At least for the hatcheries I have order through.
I have become pretty set on one specific hatchery, Townline Hatchery out of Michigan. They are reputable, have excellent customer service, good reviews, and are NPIP Certified. These are all things you want to look for when choosing your own hatchery.
When it comes to choosing a breed pay attention to the characteristics such as whether they are cold-hardy or heat-tolerant, or if they are docile or good foragers this is all good information to have when you're deciding which breeds to buy. Flipping through the catalog and thinking about the perfect flock is one of my favorite wintertime pastimes!
Last thing to cover, the when... The good news is, you can place an order during Winter but schedule it for the end of March or whenever you wish to receive your chicks. Most hatcheries have you set a "Hatching Date" which could be a Monday, then typically your chicks will arrive 2-3 days following your hatching date. So PREPARE!
The morning of arrival, I like to go out to the brooder, turn the heat lamps on, fill up the feed and water. I already have the flakes in there from the night before because let's face it, I don't always make it out early enough! Cause all of sudden you will get the noisiest phone call, anywhere from 6-8am, with a more than flustered postal worker, "We have a rather noisy package here for you!" Truth is, they probably have not had enough coffee yet to handle all the "tweeting"!
So I throw on some shoes and off I go to pick them up. Once home, I put the box immediately in the brooder and begin "breaking" them out of the box. I hate to say this and have been rather lucky in the past, but prepare for a possibly squished chick or one just not doing so well, it's heartbreaking but it is the circle of life as well. Introducing them to your brooder, there are two thing you will want to do, check for pasty butt and dip their beaks in water, they will probably be thirsty. I like to do a mixture of water and electrolytes.
Note: most hatcheries will either send an extra chick or two to offset the lose of one OR you can call and let them know you lost one during shipping or one did not last all but a couple hours. The hatchery will either credit you or send a couple chicks back out to you.
After all the chickens are cared for and out running about in the brooder, I love to just sit and watch! Some chicks will sleep, some will be spunky and jumping over other ones, some will eat right away and some won't. I try not to handle them too much because they are probably a bit phased from their journey. But seeing them running around just puts a smile on my face!
Well, I hope this helps on your decision to bring chickens to your homestead, you will not be disappointed by them! Now go buy hundreds of chickens (I kid, I kid!).
Chat next time!