In this article, we’ll discuss several different ways to start your flock.
Buy Day Old Baby Chicks
Most of our customers buy day old baby chicks. They’re called “day old” because they’re shipped to you the day that they’re hatched. Amazingly, newly hatched chicks can survive for up to 72 hours on the nutrition gained from absorbing their yolk sacs.
Day old baby chicks can be shipped throughout most of the United States. Since the chicks depend on each other’s body heat for warmth during shipping, there is a minimum order size of 15 or 25 birds, depending on the time of year.
When the chicks arrive, they’ll need to go into a brooder, which is a place that will keep the chicks warm while they’re young, much like a mother hen would have done had she hatched them, only it’s done with heat lamps or heating elements. The chicks will need water right away and food. (If you’ve never raised day old baby chicks before, see our instructions on brooding day old baby chicks.) The chicks will need to stay in the brooder for several weeks as they grow and feather out. Once they no longer need supplemental heat, they’ll be ready to go into an outdoor coop.
Hatch Fertile Chicken Eggs
A second option is to start with fertile eggs and hatch them yourself in an incubator. Depending on the type of chickens you want to raise, you can buy hatching eggs or get them from a friend or neighbor and hatch them yourself. It takes about 21 days to hatch chicks from eggs, then once you hatch them, you’ll be starting with day old baby chicks just like above.
If you have access to an incubator and a good source for the kind of eggs that you want to hatch, hatching is a rewarding learning experience that requires a little more equipment (namely, the incubator) and a little more attention and care than starting with day old chicks, since the eggs will require fairly close attention during the 21 days that they’re in the incubator. If you’ve never raised chickens before, we recommend starting with day old baby chicks or one of other options below.
Buy Started Chicks
A third option is to buy started chicks — chicks that have been raised in a brooder until they reach 4-9 weeks of age. When you buy started chicks, you’ll receive them at about the age when they’re ready to come out of the brooder and be placed into a chicken coop. If the weather is moderate, they’ll be ready to go directly into your chicken coop without the need for supplemental heat. Beginning with started chicks can save you the extra effort, attention and equipment needed to care for young chicks in a brooder, but the cost per bird will be higher because of the extra care, feed and equipment needed to raise them to this age, and shipping costs are higher for these larger chicks.
Buy Started Pullets
A fourth option is to buy started pullets. These are female chickens that are approaching laying age (18 weeks and up, typically). In most cases, they won’t have started laying yet, but they’ll be ready to lay soon. Started pullets are essentially young adult birds that are fully ready to be placed into an outdoor coop. If you’re looking to start getting eggs from your new flock quickly, this is a good way to start. Because of the additional care, feed and housing that it takes to raise the birds to this age, started pullets cost more per bird than started chicks, and because of their larger weight and size, shipping costs are higher.