You can’t help yourself anymore – the signs are everywhere! You keep checking out chicken books from the library and reading them instead of sleeping at night. Instead of picking out curtain colors, you’re dreaming of feather colors and deciding on backyard chicken breeds. Your spouse keeps trying to engage you in conversation but your eyes wander to the shed as you wonder if it could be converted to a chicken coop. You set out for the grocery store, but end up at the feed store, standing helplessly in front of the chick cages, paralyzed by their cuteness. What are you going to do? How can you be sure you’re ready. Fear not, grasshopper, if you keep seeing signs that say, “Chickens for Sale”, we’re here to help you be prepared for the inevitable. You WILL end up with a shipment of chicks in your backyard and we’re here to help you be ready.
Chickens have been called the gateway animal into homesteading and I think that’s a pretty accurate assessment. It’s become almost chic to have a small, backyard flock – more, if you can manage it with your zoning and your family’s desires. “Chickens for Sale” is, indeed, a hard temptation to pass up and chicks have an almost addictive effect on most people – you always seems to need more and more. Apart from the practical benefits that chickens can produce on the homestead – eggs, meat, fertilizer, bug control, compost aeration – there are some whimsical ones, as well. Click here to read a big reason why I keep chickens.
As romantic as it may seem to step up your homesteading efforts with chickens, we need to realize that they are living creatures and do require a certain degree of care. It’s important to read up and be ready for your chickens when they arrive, as well as to pick a source for your chickens that is reliable and known for their healthy stock.
Chickens From Scratch
There are a lot of very, very worthy chicken books out there and I’ve read and own several of them. The one problem I have with some of them is that they’re simply too long and too wordy for the beginner. I remember starting out and feeling a little overwhelmed by all the information. Especially reading books like the Chicken Health Handbook by Gail Damerow, which is a wonderful book that I’m so glad I own now but, when I was first starting out, I had this sinking feeling every one of my chickens was going to die from some dread disease or that I would simply kill them by being too uneducated to care for them.
May I suggest, if you’re new to chickens and want a simple reference guide to their care, that you pick up a copy of Janet Garmen’s Chickens From Scratch? Janet, a blogging buddy from Timber Creek Farm, sent me a copy of her new book to review and I was really interested to do so, being so many years now into chickens. I wanted to see just how much I learned and how my philosophies had grown as I read her instructive book for beginners. Turns out, I’ve learned a lot and I wish I’d had this little nugget when I was starting out with my first flock.
This book isn’t meant to be an all-encompassing reference on raising chickens. It was designed to be a kind of pocket guide for newbies. It’s only about 60 pages long and it doesn’t have any froo-froo sections. It’s short and to the point. The information given is basic but comprehensive enough that you’re not going to miss anything important for the health and well-being of your new flock. Janet provides you with all you’ll need to know to get started with your chicks and raise them up to egg production. After that, you’ll be more comfortable in your skills and you can go off and read about butchering or showing at county fairs or breeding your own chicks.
Chickens From Scratch covers everything from what to expect when you bring the chicks home to how they’ll grow and develop. Janet also teaches what to do about pasty butt, broodiness and what kind of treats you can give your chickens. Also covered are several of the more common health issues you may encounter like bumble foot, worms and predators. Janet and I do things a little bit differently with our flocks and, even if you decide to go off and do your own thing, Chickens From Scratch can help you graduate from a quaking, chick owner to a confident, backyard poultry keeper.
Chickens For Sale
Once you feel confident enough to get started with chicks, you’ll need to acquire some. If you know and trust a local farmer who is selling chicks, by all means, purchase from them. Local chicks will be acclimated to your climate and pathogens. If the farmer keeps tidy facilities, raises them humanely and is, according to your standards, a responsible husbandman, then purchase away! Local growers can also provide smaller numbers of chicks, if you’re restricted by your zoning to a small flock.
If you happen to be in Utah, I can recommend Chase Hatchery at least for customer service, although I never got to experience their cool looking stock first hand. I ordered a bunch of chicks and then we sold our house way faster than I thought we would and I had to cancel my order. Chase was very understanding about the whole thing and their stock looks fantastic!
Feed stores can be a decent place to purchase chicks but they often struggle with overcrowding and health issues with their chick stock. I’ve had feed store chicks thrive just fine and I’ve had them really struggle. Either way, if you’re purchasing locally, take an experienced chicken friend with you to give advice.
If you decide to purchase online, be aware that there will be minimum shipping requirements. There are a few that can ship as few as three chicks but your shipping will be very expensive. The poultry houses aren’t trying to cheat you, they’re ensuring the health of the chicks that require a very warm temperature in their first few weeks of life in order to stay healthy. During shipping, the chicks keep each other warm so shipping more chicks is easier and safer than shipping only a few. Read up on each poultry house’s shipping policy to learn more. Further, be prepared for breeders not to ship in the dead of winter or the dead of summer because both are just too hard on the chicks.
Another thing to be aware of when ordering online is that the order will go to your post office, not to your house. Be sure to call your local post office ahead of time so they know your live chick shipment is coming and have them post a big note for you to be called immediately upon their arrival. Which can mean as early as 4 am – ask me how I know. Most post office staff are really good about this and will call you on their own to get the peepers off their hands but it’s always good to be proactive when you’re talking about chicks. Expect to lose a chick or two during shipping as it’s just really hard on their little bodies. The hatcheries account for loss, though, and always give you one or two extra chicks.
Online But Picked Up – My Story
If you’re lucky enough to have one of the larger poultry breeders near you, you can also arrange to pick up your order directly from them and avoid shipping altogether. I’ve had chicks shipped to me over the years from several of the big poultry producers that sell online – McMurray, Cackle, Ideal, etc. – and have had good experiences with all of them. I usually go to whomever has the stock I want – heritage turkeys, a layer I want to try, shipping dates I can work with, non-hybrid meat birds.
This year I was delighted to discover that both Cackle and Estes Hatchery are in Missouri, the very state to which my family is moving! I looked at both and was pleased but it turned out that Cackle Hatchery had more of what I needed this year so I placed a large (for us) order of a breeding trio of heritage turkeys, 50 or so broilers and about another 50 layers. We’re moving from one acre to five and are planning to ramp up our poultry production.
Here’s the thing. It’s good to make plans. It’s good to also be very flexible about those plans because stuff happens. We’ve had so many blessings disguised as set backs with this move – employment issues, Federal loan laws that no one could have anticipated, appraisals that went wrong, timing that was just off and offers that didn’t work out. Despite how well we thought we’d planned to move our homestead (with goats, chickens, little children and the stuff belonging to seven, homeschooling and homesteading people), our plans just fell through several times over. We’ve been camping in a wonderful friend’s basement for several weeks now and we have several weeks more to go – that is, if this current plan works out.
I placed my order with Cackle before we left our old house, secure in the feeling that we would be in Missouri to pick up our dear chickies as planned. I’ve had to move that pick up date twice now! Moving an order pick up or ship date like that is no easy thing for a hatchery, especially when you’re talking about around a hundred birds of different types because the hatch date for each bird is different. Each time I’ve called Cackle and explained what’s happened they’ve been so understanding and helpful. I’d be sick of me by now, to be honest. I’m happy to give their customer service a shout out – thank you, Christie, Heather and Pam and anyone else who’s helped along the way to help me finally pick up my baby birds. Our family appreciates you!
The main point here is to connect with your poultry provider in meaningful ways. Ensuring you have healthy stock that’s the right fit for your family is half the battle of successful backyard chickens. So, don’t quake when you see the signs, “Chickens for Sale”! You’ll be just fine. Use what Janet’s taught you and order from a great place like Cackle and everything will work out wonderfully. Happy chicken keeping!
To get you started on your backyard chicken journey, you may need these fine products:
* Singing chicks graphic came from Graphics Fairy