How To Choose A Chicken Hatchery: A Guide For First Time Chick Buyers

Salmon Faverolles rooster

You’ve been looking through the hatchery catalogs again, right? And you’ve noticed that every hatchery promises great genetics, beautiful birds and a high level of customer satisfaction.

So…how do you know which chicken hatchery to use?

Choose a chicken hatchery based upon the specific breed of poultry you want, the time of the year those birds are available and total cost of getting the birds to your house.

Here is a list of the things you need to figure out before your order:

  • What breed of poultry do you want?
  • Are those birds available when you want to receive them?
  • What is the cost per bird?
  • What is the total cost to get the birds to you?

We’ll use chickens as the example for the remainder of this article.

Please keep in mind that the selection process is the same for any poultry you would want to order.

Looking for meat chickens? Is Raising Meat Chickens Worth It? goes over your budget for raising broilers.

If you are considering laying hens, Is Raising Chickens For Eggs Worth It? helps you plan out your expenses for your hens.

Hatching your own chicks is another option, if you can get some high quality eggs. Let me show you what hatching eggs should look like.

Choose the breed of chickens

We just went though this very situation this spring when we were looking to order a special breed of chickens to get started with a small purebred flock of …….something.

That was the first thing, figuring out which breed we wanted to raise.

This involved tons of looking around on line, in books and reading breed specific articles to then compare the information to come to a final choice.

This is a list of points to consider when looking to buy chickens (or any poultry, really):

  • What is your main purpose for these birds?
  • Are there other important traits to consider?
  • Is there anything you definitely do not want?

All of these points are answered with your preferences as the most important factor.

This means that your list of what you want and what you do not want/are not willing to deal with will be completely different than someone else’s list. This is exactly how it should be!

Spend some time, a considerable amount of time looking into the chickens and considering the good and the not so good about each breed.

If you are only finding “everything is perfect” and/or “why would you want anything else” type information on your chickens? Dig deeper so you will know what you are getting into.

20 Of The Calmest Chicken Breeds is an article I wrote to give chicken enthusiasts a place to start their search.

This will give you some ideas of what you should consider in your research.

salmon faverolles hens
Salmon Faverolles hens in the front with Silver Laced Wyandotte hen in the background.

All animals are a package deal, by that I mean they (and you and I) come with traits and characteristics that are built in and will develop as the bird gets older.

Don’t be surprised when a Seabright chicken roosts in the trees or a broiler doesn’t want to walk around much when it is hot, these are normal and to be expected of the breed.

Do your research!

For us and our search for the “perfect” chicken, we thought about the things we wanted regarding the list and here is what we decided as criteria:

  1. For our main purpose we wanted a purebred chicken in order to start a breeding flock. Specifically, a rare breed that has the traits most important to us and needs more farms raising it to keep up the population numbers.
  2. The important traits we wanted were a calm bird, larger body size (we just happen to prefer larger chickens), suited to our climate and visual appeal-definitely an individualized choice here!
  3. The traits we did not want were aggression, small body size because we like the more dual purpose (both meat and eggs) type chickens, anything needing very specialized care or any chickens with big/weird combs and/or wattles. The comb stipulation is just me, not my husband 😉
Young Salmon Faverolles the pullet is tan and the cockerel is dark bodied with a white/grey head and neck.
Young Salmon Faverolles: the pullet (female) is tan and the cockerel (male) has a light colored head with a dark body

Our choice was Salmon Faverolles, which are originally a french table breed.

Your choice will depend upon what characteristics you want in your birds and what traits appeal to you.

If you are considering a less popular breed, look at The Livestock Conservancy, they keep up a list of breeds that need more people to raise them and will give a good overview of each.

Chick availability varies with breed

Many hatcheries will have chicks available year around, but the more unusual breeds or very specific colors will only be available at certain times of the year for a short period.

With waterfowl there is normally a restricted hatching season.

The availability is shorter because of the shorter laying season, so eggs are not available to hatch all year for most breeds.

For our chicks this spring I wanted to get them as soon as we could. I did the ordering in late February to get the chicks in late March.

Our local hatchery does sell Salmon Faverolles but they are only available starting in May. Since I wanted them sooner, I widened out the search.

Know the total cost per chick

The cost is where things start to get a bit confusing.

Most hatcheries have a variety of costs per bird depending upon how many you are getting and if you want them sorted by sex.

Generally, the fewer birds you get in the order the more the birds cost each and a larger order costs less per chick.

A bigger order of like 100 chicks will cost less per chick than an order of 25 chicks. This will be listed out in a chart on the catalog page.

Be aware most hatcheries have a minimum order to insure the safety of the chicks, mostly due to the chicks using body heat to keep them warm during shipping.

I have seen recent changes in some hatchery’s ordering policies that allow for very small orders.

Heads up, they charge a ton extra per chick to ship a really small order. Money wise it makes sense to get a few more chicks rather than pay for special non reusable packaging.

hens drinking from a pan of milk
This is some of our loose chickens drinking some extra milk. They beat the cats to the pan!

Chicks are sold as straight run, female or male

Most chicks are sold in one of three categories: all female, all male, or straight run.

Straight run is just a mix of males and females picked up at random and put in your order box.

Poultry seem to hatch out at just over half males and just under half females, so don’t count on a 50/50 mix. It will be more like 60/40.

High demand chicks will cost more

The chicks that are in the highest demand are priced the highest.

For example, an egg laying breed will have higher priced female chicks and lower priced male chicks, since most people would be ordering females.

On the other hand a meat chicken like a broiler, the more expensive chick is the male, this is the same with a meat breed turkey like the broad breasted whites.

Breeds that the hatchery does not have a high demand for will usually be sold as straight run only, so you will get them as they hatched out, no picking males or females.

Know the total cost per bird to get them to your house

Finally, consider that unless you are going to the hatchery to pick up the birds you will have shipping costs to figure in to the total costs of getting your chicks.

If you can pick up the birds, do it. You will get them a day sooner and they won’t have the stress of shipping.

Many of the hatcheries we were looking at have shipping included in the price per chick. Be sure to break this cost down and figure out exactly what your costs are going to be.

For us, I thought we would just get the new chicks at the local hatchery like we normally do.

When I got to looking around and figuring up the costs, I discovered that I could ship them in for just over half the cost of getting the same breed locally.

The local hatchery’s chicks had the shipping costs included in the price per bird, whether you actually have the birds shipped to you or not.

The hatchery I ordered from had the Salmon Faverolles we wanted for $2.20 each for 100 or more straight run chicks.

Sexed was available but I prefer to get both in the same batch. The local hatchery had Faverolles as well, priced at $3.94 each with free shipping.

When we added the shipping to the $2.20 chicks ($47.00 shipping) the cost per chick was still significantly lower than getting them here.

I was surprised at the difference in total price and decided for the cost savings of more than $100.00, I would order them in.

For clarity, this is not a complaint about the local hatchery’s pricing.

All hatcheries produce what they can and work cooperatively with other businesses to get for the customer the birds they do not hatch themselves.

Any birds hatched in house will cost less than those hatched elsewhere or birds that are harder to get, it makes sense to price the chicks accordingly.

hens scratching through old hay
Hens pecking and scratching through a pile of old hay.

Be objective about chicken hatchery selection

Try to be objective when thinking of which breed to order, no single breed is perfect in every case.

The same goes for each hatchery, they all have things that they are known for and do well.

Be ready for the chicks before they arrive!

A few days before your chicks come have your brooder ready.

A few hours before you get them turn on the heat lamps so the space is warm and inviting for your new chicks.

Raising 25 Broilers: A Beginner’s Guide will give you the basics of getting started. Even if you are choosing egg laying birds or waterfowl instead, the initial set up in the brooder is the same.

Count your chicks as you unbox them

We have ordered chicks many times over the past 20 years or so. Usually, we get exactly what we ordered and are thrilled with the hatchery and their chicks.

If you are getting more than a few chicks, take a video of getting the chicks out of the box.

This way you can double check your counting to make sure your order is accurate.

If for some reason there is a problem, call the hatchery right away. The hatchery wants satisfied customers, but sometimes errors happen.

For instance, with our order the number of chicks was short by 12.

Normally, I’m not the best at counting. I’m definitely not a “numbers” person!

But…this time we had videoed taking the chicks out of the box and putting them down in the brooder to make a video about it for my channel.

I recounted while watching the video footage. I wanted to be sure before calling to report the numbers discrepancy.

I called the hatchery, they asked me a few questions and then gave me my money back for those 12 chicks.

They did offer to ship the missing chicks the next week, but I preferred to just get the refund.

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