There are 5 major mistakes people make when buying chicks, of course, we all make more mistakes than that, but we have narrowed it down to these major 5 – buying straight run when you only want eggs, buying meat bird chicks, bought an ornamental or game breed, bought from a shady source, or just flat out too many!
Chicks are absolutely adorable, and it can be really tough not to impulse buy a whole box full, but if you buy the wrong ones you can end up regretting it. Chickens can live a long time and can bring a lot of joy (and eggs). Purchasing and raising chicks is a wonderful journey, but one that should be taken very seriously.
Mistake #1: You Bought Straight Run
Most chicks are sold “straight run” which means they’re a mix of male and female. This is because most chicks cannot be easily sexed at one day of age! Some larger hatcheries can sex chicks, but it’s not 100% accurate and is a very unpleasant experience for the birds. When you buy a small number of chicks you can easily end up with mostly or all roosters. Unless you are prepared to process them once they get large enough or know a friend that has agreed to take the roosters, you may run into trouble once the crowing starts.
The best choice for someone that just wants a few hens is to buy started pullets. They won’t require the investment of setting up a brooder and co go straight out into your coop!
If you absolutely want the joy of raising chicks (and it is definitely a joy), there are a few breeds that can sexed at hatch! Bielefelder Kennhuhn, Niederrheiner, Norske Jaerhon, Cream Legbars, and a bunch of others that end in -bar.
There are also many cross breeds available that can be sexed at hatch, like Red Sex Links, Black Sex Link, ISA Browns, Golden Comets, Red Stars, Cinnamon Queens, and Black Stars.
If you only want hens that lay eggs in your urban backyard coop, then those are the birds for you! There is no struggling with an unexpected rooster when you buy started pullets or autosexing chicks.
Mistake #2: You Bought Meat Birds (Or a Breed that Lays Poorly)
Not all feed stores have warnings and will assume the customers knows what they’re buying. This results in an unfortunately not infrequent issue of people buying meat bird chicks for their backyard coop. You may seem some with names like Red Ranger or Kosher King, but the most common meat bird is the Cornish Cross. They can be sweet birds, but they are bred for meat production and usually live relatively short, uncomfortable lives.
There are also more “ornamental” breeds that look pretty, but don’t lay many eggs or get as large as meat birds. They can be a fun hobby birds but are pretty useless for anything else.
If you want a decent number of large eggs you should avoid the following breeds: Araucana, Cubalaya, Sicilian Buttercup, Indian Game, Egyptian Fayoumi, Easter Eggers, Silkie, Polish, Ameraucana, and Wyandotte.
Mistake #3: You Bought an Unfriendly Breed
Sometimes there’s a breed of chicken that looks really neat or is “rare” and that can result in another type of terrible impulse buy. Some breeds of chicken need a lot of room and can’t handle the confinement that most backyard coops require.
Breeds that generally can’t handle confinement include Ancona, Appenzeller, Sicilian Buttercup, Egyptian Fayoumi, and Hamburg. Now, lots of a chickens behavior and aggression depends on how you handle them at a young age, and raise them. But in general, some breeds are very nervous and flighty, which can be unpleasant to have as a pet. Breeds that are less friendly include: Ancona, Andalusian, Appenzeller, Sicilian Buttercup, Chantacler, Crevecoeur, Cubalaya, Egyptian Fayoumi, Hamburg, Jaerhon, La Fleche, Lakenvelder, Leghorn, Minorca, Russian Orloff, Penedesenca, Rhode Island Red, and White-Faced Black Spanish.
Breeds that can be hit-or-miss include: Campine, Chantecler, Dominique, Langshan, Marans, New Hampshire Red, and Polish.
Also, anything that’s name includes “game” or “gamebird” are a terrible choice for your backyard chicken coop! They were bred for fighting other birds and will definitely win!
Mistake #4: You Bought from a Dubious Source
Most large commercial hatcheries supply healthy chicks and have great policies in place to protect their customers. For the casual keeper they can be a great option. If you want show birds, most commercial hatcheries won’t have super great examples of the breed. They breed for sheer number, and not to meet the breed Standard of Perfection.
You can also source chickens from small-scale breeders or local small farms, but you’ll want to do your homework. Some of the best birds out there come from people that carefully breed certain varieties to show standards. At the same time, some of the worst chicks come from people breeding chickens to try and turn a quick profit. You should make sure you buy chicks from breeders that are NPIP certified and have kept up with testing. This certification is generally required to ship eggs or chicks across state lines. When someone chooses to participate in the NPIP program they have their birds tested and ensure that they are free from certain diseases.
Smaller breeders and hatcheries also may not be able to provide as much reimbursement or replacement as the larger hatcheries, especially if it’s your mistake. Chicks can die pretty easily if not cared for correctly and, while large companies can eat that cost to keep you “happy,” smaller breeders can’t afford to coddle you in the same way.
If you buy chicks from a local individual, make sure to give them a good exam before completing the transaction. They should look like the breed they are advertised to be, and they should be willing to show parents. Individuals have been burned by buying chicks from a “local” breeder only to find out they were just reselling mega-hatchery chicks at an inflated cost.
When in doubt, walk away!
Mistake #5: You Bought Too Many
Chicks are super tiny and it’s hard to imagine how much bigger they’ll get when full grown! However, they do grow, and they grow QUICK. Don’t pack them in the coop like sardines, because that’s when the picking and pecking starts and it’ll be very difficult to keep their home clean.
The outdoor run space needs to be about 10 square feet per bird, which means you’ll need a 40 square foot run for 4 hens! The coop for the same number of hens should be 16 square feet (that’s 4 square feet per hen) in addition to the run.
If you bought too many chickens you may not be in compliance with the local ordinances, which can get you in trouble. In addition, you’ll end up with fighting hens, dirty eggs, broken eggs that trigger egg eating, dirty and disheveled looking birds, mud, and odor.
Hens need a little space to do their normal hen activities. If they don’t have their personal bubble to dust bathe, stretch their wings, peck and scratch, and preen they can start to become stressed.
The more chickens you have packed into a space means the more often it needs to be cleaned. Combine that with spilled feed and water and you can quickly become tired of dealing with the mess (and your neighbors will become tired of your chickens.)
If you take these 5 things into consideration you should have no problem picking the best birds for your backyard or farm! Just be sure to take a deep breath and avoid any impulse purchases and you’ll have a great flock for years to come.