If you’re thinking of starting your own backyard flock, it can be hard to resist the cute little cheeps coming from the isle of your local farm supply store. Before you make an impulse purchase, it’s important to prepare yourself with some basic chick-raising knowledge. Knowing where to purchase your chicks — and how to pick out healthy ones — is essential for raising a healthy and happy brood. Let’s start with the basics, what are your options for buying chicks?
Should I Buy Chicks Online or at a Local Hatchery?
When looking to purchase chicks, the two main options are online hatcheries or local establishments like farm stores. Each option has pros and cons so let's break down the important factors to consider.
- Nationwide Sources: Plainly put, shopping online gives you more options. Buying online opens a wide selection of chicken breeds from a range of sources, whereas a local farm store may have a limited selection.
- Seasonal Availability: Many hatcheries continue to hatch and ship chicks during the spring, summer, and even fall months.
- Convenience: Shop for your flock right from your home!
- Cost: Chicks are often cheaper online since you are buying directly from hatcheries or farm sources. Shopping online means you avoid the retail markup.
- Sexing Options: Many hatcheries give you the option to buy sexed chicks or unsexed chicks. If you’ve ever incubated your own eggs, you know firsthand how important this is!
- Chick Mortality: Shipping can be physically stressful on chicks. Sometimes casualties can occur either from stress, hypothermia, or rough handling.
- Shipping Expenses: When buying chicks online, you may have to pay for express shipping fees. If you want your chicks on the sooner side, you may also have to abide by order minimums.
- Quality Control: Ordering chicks online often means that you don’t get to see the parent birds. This can be a concern if you’re looking for quality chickens that are bred to breed standards. You also won’t be able to pick out your own chicks when you order chicks online.
Instead of buying chicks online, you may consider buying locally. Chicks sold at your local feed store still come from hatcheries, they are just bulk ordered for resale at the feed store. In some cases, you may live close enough to an actual hatchery where you can view, buy, and pick up your chicks directly.
Local farm and feed stores will often sell chicks during the spring and sometimes into the summer months. You may also consider finding a local breeder or farm who sells your preferred breeds.
- Pick Out Your Chicks: Buying locally means you get to view and select individual chicks before you buy. This added peace of mind goes a long way.
- Experience: You can have all the cozy feels of going to buy your chicks, immediately bonding with them, and bringing them to their new home.
- Cost-Effectiveness: Buying chicks locally can sometimes be cheaper than ordering by mail. This is especially the case if you buy toward the end of chick season when farm stores are looking to clear out their stock and often offer sales.
- Avoids Stressful Shipping: A major upside to buying chicks locally is that you’re saving chicks a stressful shipping experience. You can also welcome them to their new home the same day you buy them.
- Limited Options: Buying locally means you may not have as wide of a selection of breeds or varieties to choose from at your local farm store.
- Purchase Minimums: Similar to buying online, some farm stores may require a purchase minimum when buying chicks.
- Smaller Purchase Window: Buying locally often means a shorter window of time to buy your chicks. Many farm stores will only sell chicks for a month or two during the spring.
When buying chicks from a local feed or farm store, it is a good idea to find out where the store sources their chicks. Investigate the source, chat with the breeders if you can, and see if they have good breeding practices. Farm stores will often buy in bulk from hatcheries, which often means the chicks aren’t bred to standards. This is an important part of vetting chicks as those not bred to standard won’t be as genetically strong as chicks from breeders or farms.
The bottom line: Buying from a local breeder or farm can be a good option when you are looking for quality birds that meet breed standards and have better longevity and productivity.
Where to Order Chicks Online
Now that we’ve measured the pros and cons of online vs local shopping, let’s talk about your options. Some common, reputable online resources include breeders, hatcheries, and farms. It is generally not a good idea to buy chicks from Craigslist, eBay, or auction sites unless you know exactly where those chicks are coming from. For example, if a breeder or farm is selling chicks on one of those platforms you should visit their website to learn more about their breeding practices.
Finding an out-of-state breeder who specializes in specific breeds is a great way to get quality chickens. Buying from breeders can give you chickens that are bred to breed standard and sustainably raised. With breeders, you should be able to see photos of the parent birds so you can know what to expect when your chicks mature. A breeder may also be your best bet when shopping for rare chicken breeds or varieties.
It’s a good idea to buy from breeders who have an NPIP (National Poultry Improvement Plan) certified flock to ensure you’re getting healthy birds that have been raised ethically. This is important - support ethically raised chicks and breeders!
When buying from an online breeder, you may encounter a few limitations. For example, breeders may only have the option of unsexed chicks. You might find that breeders require order minimums, only have seasonal availability, or require expensive shipping options. You may have to look up specific breeders, find them on social media platforms, or check online breeder directories (we’d recommend starting here) when shopping for certain chicken breeds.
Online hatcheries (try this one) are another great resource for buying chicks online. You can shop for chicks on hatchery websites that are known for offering countless chicken breeds and varieties to choose from. Seasoned online hatcheries know how to safely ship chicks across the country which minimizes stress and casualties.
Hatcheries are often the cheapest place to order chicks. They usually provide the option of buying sexed chicks, allow lower order minimums, offer live chick policies, longer seasonal availability, and cheaper shipping options. Some hatcheries may also vaccinate chicks for common poultry diseases.
Another option for buying chicks online is to buy from a reputable farm. Farms often function as intermediaries between breeders and hatcheries, offering a wide selection of chicken breeds and variety as a result. Farms that breed their chicks often breed more selectively to produce higher-quality birds. Taking your time to find the right one can pay off tremendously in the health and lifelong wellness of your flock.
Farms can also be a good resource for rare breeds. Like breeders, you may be able to see photos of parent birds and get a firm understanding of how birds are raised and bred. And, like breeders, buying from a farm that’s NPIP certified is always a good idea. Keep in mind, you may still encounter some limitations when buying chicks online from a farm (such as order minimums, limited availability, limited chick sexing options, and different shipping policies), but the transparency behind breeding practices can be worth the trade-off.
Is it Safe to Buy Chickens Online?
Yes, it’s safe to buy chicks online from reputable hatcheries, breeders, or farms. Chicks can be shipped through the mail as soon as they hatch because they can survive for two to three days on the yolk sac that they absorb prior to hatching. Many online sources also have shipping policies and order minimums to further help reduce the stress of shipping on young chicks. The higher quantities of chicks shipped together means they’re more easily able to keep one another warm.
Currently, the USPS is the only entity that ships live chickens and chicks. Stay in contact with your local post office after ordering live chicks as we recommend picking them up yourself. This eliminates the extra travel in a mail carrier’s vehicle, reducing stress and getting them home sooner. Most post offices are very accommodating and will be happy to deliver one less item.
To further ensure that your chicks have a safe journey to your home, here are some things to investigate when ordering chicks online:
- Shipping Service: Make sure your chicks are shipped with priority mail, or even priority express, to ensure they get to you as soon as possible.
- Hold for Pickup: Make sure your chicks will be held at your local post office and that your post office can contact you as soon as your chicks arrive.
- Shipping Method: Find out if your chicks will be shipped with a heat pad, which can help the chicks stay warm during colder weather. Some breeders will also provide a nutrient-dense gel food for chicks to peck at during shipping.
- Credibility: For sources such as Craigslist, eBay, or auction sites, make sure you investigate the credibility of the source you’re buying your chicks from.
- Live Bird Policies: Many hatcheries and farms have a live chick policy that addresses any casualties that might occur during shipping. Make sure you read these policies to ensure you’ll receive refunds or replacements for any losses. Most policies are good for up to 48 hours after you receive your chicks.
Once you receive your chicks, you can help your brood get off to a good start by setting up a safe brooder, ensuring you feed them a nutritious diet, and properly caring for them on a daily basis.
Signs of a Healthy Chick
For the wellbeing of your entire brood, it’s important to be selective and only buy healthy chicks. Here are some signs of good health to look for:
- No pasty butt
- Clear eyes
- No discharge from nostrils
- No crooked toes or splayed legs
- Normal beak alignment
- Interacts with other chicks
- Not lethargic or overly huddled
- Eats and drinks regularly
Healthy chicks will adjust to the stress of finding themselves in a new home. Once your chicks are settled in their brooder (typically 24-48 hours), it's still a good idea to regularly monitor their health to ensure they’re adjusting to their new home.
Signs of an Unhealthy Chick
While it may be tempting to rescue that one little chick that’s huddled in the corner with its eyes closed, that may not be the safest option for your entire brood’s health as that chick may be ill and contagious. Watch for these symptoms that may indicate a sick chick:
- Poop stuck to their vent (pasty butt)
- Loose, watery or bloody poops
- Not eating or drinking
- Huddled or lethargic
- Stargazing or crooked neck
- Crooked beak, toes, or splayed legs
- Coughing, sneezing, or wheezing
- Stunted growth
Diagnosing an ailing chick may be difficult since chicks don’t start with the strongest immune systems. Stress from a new environment can increase their susceptibility to disease over this adjustment period, so monitoring is a must.
If you do notice that one of your chicks is ailing, it’s a good idea to separate it from the rest of the brood to prevent bullying and the spread of disease. Once separated, make sure your sick chick is warm enough by using a heat lamp. Encourage it to eat and drink water with electrolytes while you try to identify and treat the ailment.
Tips for Bringing Home Baby Chicks
Regardless of whether you’re getting chicks locally or online, here are a few tips to keep in mind when bringing your chicks home.
- Turn on the heat source in the brooder ahead of time (ideally the morning your chicks are scheduled to arrive).
- When picking up chicks yourself, make sure your vehicle is warm enough. For chicks ordered by mail, report any casualties immediately to your chick source and ask about refunds or replacements.
- Give your chicks sugar water prior to placing them in the brooder. Sugar water gives them an extra boost of calories.
- Make sure your chicks know where to find water first, then food, then show them where they can find their heat source.
- Make sure all your chicks are eating, drinking and pooping within the first few hours of bringing them home.
- For mail-ordered chicks, keep an eye out for pasty butt, which is more common in chicks that were shipped.
Whether starting your first flock or adding to an existing one, knowing where to buy chicks and how to pick them out is essential for raising a healthy and happy brood. Hopefully we’ve made this process easier, and you’ll be raising a successful brood in no time!