If you’re planning to get started with chickens this year, you might be wondering where to buy them. Or maybe you’ve heard that you can buy chicks through the mail or at farm supply stores, and you’re wondering which option is best for you. Well, it depends!
I’m listing the options from most desirable to least desirable, but also keep in mind that there is some wiggle room in these recommendations. I’ll discuss the pros and cons of each option so that you can choose the best chick buying option for you.
Table of Contents
Buying chicks from a hatchery
This is the best all-around option because you have so many choices when it comes to breeds. Many hatcheries have 100 or more breeds from which to choose, so there is bound to be a breed that you’ll love. In reality, there will probably be many breeds that you love!
One of the best things about buying chicks from a large commercial hatchery is that all of them are certified disease free. Plus you know that the chicks were hatched in an incubator and have never been anywhere close to a chicken that could have given them lice or mites.
Another great thing about buying from a commercial hatchery is that you can purchase sexed chicks, meaning you can buy only pullets if you only want eggs. You could also buy only roosters if you only want meat. Or, if you want both, you can also purchase straight run, which is theoretically going to be about 50/50, but it doesn’t usually come out exactly half and half.
The down side to buying chicks from a hatchery is that they have minimum order numbers, usually 15 to 25 chicks, depending upon the hatchery and the time of year. This may be more chickens than you want if you only need enough eggs for your family.
However, if you want 7-9 hens ultimately, you could order in late spring or summer when it’s warmer and buy from a hatchery with a minimum of 15 straight run. Keep the hens for layers and eat the cockerels at around 4 months of age.
Another option would be to purchase sexed chicks and get exactly the number of pullets you want, and fill out the rest of the order with cockerels to reach the minimum. Of course, you will want to butcher almost all of them so that you don’t wind up with too many roosters.
Pro tips: Is it safe to order chicks online?
One thing that often surprises first-time chicken buyers is that hatcheries ship chicks through the mail. This mean you can get chicks from anywhere in the U.S. shipped straight to your local post office. Although you can theoretically have chick shipped from California, for example, to Virginia, I wouldn’t recommend it if you are in a very rural area.
Chicks can easily survive a 2-day trip through the postal service, but 3 days is pushing it, and that can happen if you are not near a large airport or postal hub. In fact, we have sometimes received a phone call from a post office an hour away asking if we want to come pick up our chicks that have already been in transit for two days. We always say yes because we know that another day in that shipping box is going to mean death for some of them.
Because of our remote location in Illinois, it usually takes two days for us to get chicks from Iowa or Missouri, and when we ordered geese from California once, it took three days, and amazingly they were all still alive. Turkeys, however, get quite stressed from a two day trip.
The other thing to keep in mind is you should not order chicks when temperatures are falling too far below freezing. The chicks only have each other to keep warm inside that little box, and if it’s single digits outside, you could wind up with a box full of dead chicks.
Buying chicks locally at your farm supply store
The only reason I chose this as my second best option rather than number one is because the number of breeds available will be much less than if you ordered directly from a hatchery.
For example, at our local store last week, the only pullets available were Buff Orpingtons and Black Austrolorps. They are two popular choices for egg layers, but if you want more choices, you will either have to check back at the store when their weekly chick order comes in, or go with a different source.
I have at times also seen (and purchased) beautiful bantam Silkies and Sapphire Olive Eggers, which turned out to be the best egg layers we ever had.
The chicks at the store come from the large commercial hatcheries, so all of the benefits of coming from a disease free source still apply.
The farm store is really the best choice if you only want a small number of pullets. You can buy any number that you want, but I would never have less than 3-4 hens because they are flock animals. You can also get one of each breed, if they have enough breed options available. Hatcheries sometimes have a minimum of 5 chicks per breed.
Pro tip: Saving money when buying chicks!
Farm stores are also a great choice if you love a bargain. If you are not in any particular hurry, you might find some great deal. If chicks haven’t sold in a week, they usually mark down the price, and by two weeks, they mark down the price even more! I’ve come home with impulse buys when I saw chicks that were as low as $1 or even 25 cents! Baby chicks grow fast, and they really can’t keep them in those horse water troughs for very long.
Buying chickens from a breeder
As with any livestock, chicken breeders run the gamut from amazing to totally disreputable. A breeder of show chickens will definitely be your best choice if you want to start showing chickens. One of my impulse buys at the local farm supply store were some Dominique chicks, which have a rose comb that distinguishes them from the barred Rocks. About half of the chicks wound up with single combs, meaning that they really were not purebred Dominiques.
Even if you don’t want to show but are interested in conserving a rare breed, such as the Crèvecoeur, a conservation breeder will be your best choice. You can find breeders through the directory for the American Poultry Association and The Livestock Conservancy.
Many serious breeders have very valuable genetics in their flocks, which means they do disease testing and have biosecurity measures in place to protect their birds.
Buying chickens from other individuals
The following sources are definitely lower on the list when it comes to finding healthy and productive birds. If you are completely new to chickens, I’d suggest one of the above sources.
You don’t know what you don’t know, and you could get lucky and get some wonderful chicks from one of the following sources. Or you could get unlucky and wind up with chickens that have lice or diseases that will limit their productivity and lifespan.
Friends and neighbors
If you happen to have a friend who is a serious chicken breeder as explained above, that’s awesome. Otherwise, I’d suggest asking them about the history of their flock.
- Did they come as day-old chicks from a hatchery or farm supply store or serious breeder?
- Why do they have chickens? (egg production, show, conservation of a rare breed)
- Were they purchased as adults from someone else?
- How long have they had their chickens?
- Have they had any problems with disease or parasites?
It is against Facebook’s terms of service to sell live animals on the site, and posts can be removed. Entire groups have also been shut down because they were selling animals.
However, people creatively word their posts so that the bots don’t recognize it as a sales ad, and a lot of animals are still advertised on there.
Rather than simply responding to someone selling chickens, however, a better option would be to join a group devoted to a specific breed and get to know the breeders over time. This will give you a better idea of who is a serious breeder and takes health seriously and who is just trying to make a few dollars and doesn’t really know much about chickens.
Bulletin board at the farm store
Most farm stores have an old-fashioned bulletin board — ours is next to the bathroom — where people can post ads for livestock and other farm-related supplies and equipment. If you respond to these ads, be sure to ask the questions listed above in the friends section.
Online classified site
This is my second to last choice for any type of livestock purchase. I have never purchased animals through classified sites and never will. A reputable breeder doesn’t need to resort to such sites. And as a savvy chicken buyer, you know you have better and safer options.
Sure some people get lucky, but I’ve worked with far too many who have purchased sick and diseased animals from such ads. One woman told me she knew she was in trouble as she was loading up a goat into her van when the seller’s little boy said, “Well, Daddy, you said you were going to get rid of that damn goat, and you did!” And yes, that goat did have a lot of health problems.
More than a decade ago I was breeding mini LaManchas and I had some second generation that had upright Nigerian dwarf ears, which meant they were not registerable, so I decided to list them on Craigslist.
Not only did I not sell any, but the people who called were completely clueless about goats. I’ll never forget the guy who wanted to get 3 goats as a surprise for his girlfriend and rather than pay me the $300 for the unregistered goats, he wanted to give me $1000 in stereo equipment! No thank you!
Swap meet or sale barns
This is my absolute least favorite place to purchase any type of livestock. In fact, I have never set foot in a swap meet and never will. Even if the animals arrived healthy and parasite free, they could have picked up a disease or parasites from other animals there.
If someone is petting a chicken with lice, a louse (or more) could wind up on their sleeve, and then they pet another chicken, and the louse hops off onto the previously lice-free chicken.
Swap meets are also a source of income for people who are simply flipping animals like some people flip houses, which is a biosecurity nightmare. Years ago a man stopped at our farm and asked if he could buy some of our geese. He also asked about the prices of our other animals, which were more expensive which were registered purebred sheep and goats. I asked why he was asking about all of the animals, and he said because he had a little farm and liked to see animals running around.
Since all of our female geese had been killed by predators and we still had 9 ganders, I agreed to sell him 7 of them. He only bought the ganders, which I had priced very cheaply because we didn’t need a bunch of male geese.
A few days later I was talking to a friend about this man who had been on my farm and asking about the price of everything. She gasped and asked me his name. When I told her, she freaked out. He had come to her farm previously and bought goat kids, which he said were going to be pets for his children. The next day she attended the local swap meet and saw him there selling her goats, as well as a lot of other animals. She was furious!
No doubt he took my 7 cheap ganders to that swap meet and sold them as breeding pairs or a trio for a very hefty profit!
Not sure which breed to raise? Check out the different chicken breeds and choose the perfect one for your backyard.