We have been asked by several people how to find out which are the best hatcheries to get your chicks from.
Cackle Hatchery are one of the largest hatcheries in the US.
In this article we have put together a guide on how you can assess the hatchery yourself. You can then make an informed decision about your available hatcheries and what they have to offer.
Not all hatcheries are created equal. It is up to you to do your homework and check the establishment and its reputation before you buy.
Firstly, what’s the difference between a breeder and a hatchery?
Breeder Vs Hatchery
A breeder is:
- Specializes in one or a few breeds.
- Will likely exhibit their birds at fairs etc.
- Small, self-contained enterprise – will occasionally make money!
- Are knowledgeable about their birds and will happily share this knowledge.
- Stock that you buy will be more expensive.
- Usually breed to American Poultry Association or American Bantam Association standard.
A hatchery is:
- A commercial endeavor – they exist to make money.
- Generally does not specialize in any particular breed.
- Birds cheaper and generally slightly less quality.
- Does not exhibit birds.
- Generally have more chicks available.
- General knowledge about poultry – not necessarily breed specific.
- Sells equipment, incubators, brooders etc.
- May or may not breed to APA or ABA standard.
Hatchery birds in general are bred for productivity and there is nothing wrong with that. It ensures a good supply of homestead quality birds for a small outlay. When you think back to Grandmas’ chickens – she wasn’t looking to win any ribbons, just feed her family!
Before you go and get your chicks, make sure you know what you want from your birds.
Are they going to be for eggs and/or meat, do you want to ‘show’ your birds or are they going to be ‘productive pets’?
If you aren’t going to breed the hens as ‘show quality’ or you don’t want to do exhibitions, the slightly less ‘quality’ hen is probably ok for you.
So, let’s now take a look at how to assess hatcheries and decide which is for you.
Hatcheries also provide ease of use and customer service. In other words, not every breed of chicken has a designated breeder nearby, and if the breed you want is available over 200 miles away, you could take a road trip. On the other hand, if you are more interested in just getting started or enjoying the breed for yourself, you can look into hatcheries that ship directly to you.
Additionally, hatcheries will often offer vaccination options for your chicks before they are shipped to you. Some breeders offer this as well, but you can almost always count on the option from well-established hatcheries. Additionally, hatcheries may offer the option for sexing chicks. That way you know what you will get rather than grabbing a couple straight run chickens from a breeder.
That’s not to say breeders can’t tell which is which, but it is more common for a breeder to sell as straight run when they have young chicks. If you’re ok with waiting until the chicks are older, and cost a little more, then a breeder may be a good choice.
Check The Hatchery’s Background and History
You need to know how long the operation has been in business. This might seem immaterial, but the older a business is the more likely they are to have lots of customers who keep returning year after year for new stock, which means they are well tested and probably very reliable.
You also need to know is it a ‘bricks and mortar’ business. There are several companies on the internet who are intermediaries – we’ll talk about them in a bit.
Usually you can find a short bio of the company right on their front page. It usually says something like: “family owned business, operating in Utah since 1930”. This tells you it’s been around for a while and it’s not owned by a giant corporation – so far, so good.
If the website is messy and difficult to navigate, personally I won’t use it. I want it to be ‘clean’ and easy to move around in; otherwise it becomes an exercise in frustration – this obviously is a personal thing, but bear it in mind.
Check Review Websites
Google is a wonderful instrument – make full use of it in checking reviews of hatcheries.
If I’m checking a hatchery I read the 5 star and 1 star reviews first, then I scan through the middle of the road reviews. The things I look for are recurring themes – wrong chicks, ill or deformed chicks, order mix-ups etc.
If there is a complaint about communication from the hatchery I usually take it with a grain of salt. Some folks cannot communicate well so it’s a personal thing. If there are several complaints about the same thing – red flag!
Compare the number of positive/neutral/negative complaints recorded – if a site has 500 positive and 1 negative review then they are overwhelmingly positive.
You can also check to see if the hatchery is a Better Business Bureau member. If they are, they have to address any complaints in an appropriate manner.
Litigation and Health Concerns
These are a bit tricky to find. The health concerns are the easiest to locate. Using your nifty Google button, check out the particular hatchery you are looking at and see if they have hygiene issues.
A simple search term such as ‘hatchery name’ and ‘salmonella’ will bring results that you can refine.
Stock, Availability and Quantity
Some hatcheries have more variety of hens, turkeys, guinea fowl, peacocks etc. than you can shake a stick at! Other hatcheries are slightly smaller and concentrate on the less ‘exotic’ birds.
Always read the catalog carefully, there are several things you need to know:
- When will the chicks be available?
- Is there a minimum number to order?
- Can you mix and match chicks?
- Straight run or sexed?
- Can you request vaccination?
- Free shipping?
If you have any questions before you buy, call the company and talk with someone.
A couple of fine, reputable hatcheries that have excellent stock and many rare breeds, are not that great at getting orders out on time.
Understandably, since the stock is not intensively raised, you can’t determine when a particular breed is going to start laying well. If you want a particular rare breed, you may have to wait for the chicks longer than anticipated. I’m told the wait is worthwhile though.
Shipping Your Chicks
A brief note on shipping – usually the hatcheries do their best to get your order to you as quickly as possible, alive and intact, it makes good business sense.
The US Postal Service is responsible for getting the package from A to B in the agreed time frame. However, this does not always happen – it seems to depend on where your chicks/eggs are coming from.
I have received chicks from California to New York very quickly, in great shape and on time.
I have also received shipments of chicks and eggs from Kansas – two days late despite paying extra postage, two chicks dead, box crumpled at the corner. The eggs were 75% non- salvageable.
It is not always the hatcheries fault that your chicks arrive dead/dying or perhaps don’t arrive at all, so keep that in mind before you yell down the phone at them.
When you pick up chicks/eggs at the Post Office, open the package in front of the Post Master (they are your witness). If the chicks are dead/dying, take photos and start a claim form immediately. Call the hatchery when you get home.
Drop shipping is a retail term used in the hatchery trade. A hatchery may not keep all the breeds that are listed on their site but have contracts with other people/hatcheries who do specialize in certain rarer fowl.
So if you want two dozen Blue Laced Red Wyandottes, the hatchery will pass the order to their ‘subcontractor’ who will fill your order.
Intermediaries are people who gather together several orders for a specific breed, order them from a hatchery and then split them up into the ‘buyers’ request’.
In this manner you can actually buy as few as three chicks through the mail. The cost is slightly higher, but reasonable for the convenience.
The main take away point from this should be that you need to do your homework! Try to plan in advance what chicks you want.
A great way to organize your thoughts is to get paper catalogs from various hatcheries. This way you can easily compare prices and company policies.
It is not always good practice to go with the cheapest – remember you get what you pay for. In my experience, most hatcheries charge roughly the same for chicks. Prices can vary a lot if you want something unusual such as Black Swans.
We have armed you with lots of information on how to select a hatchery for your chick orders.
I cannot emphasize enough that if you are in doubt – don’t. If you are undecided, sometimes calling the hatchery and talking with a staff member can set your mind at rest – or make the decision for you.
If they can’t wait to get you off the phone, take your business elsewhere. The hatcheries that I have used have been super helpful, offering suggestions as needed and keeping me updated on shipping dates etc.
We hope this has helped – happy chick shopping!
Let us know in the comments below, how you ‘inspect’ a hatchery…