When we first purchased our farm, we bought “about 1 year old” chickens off of Craigslist. They were adorable, and it was a fun experience, but we have learned a lot since then. If you’re thinking about buying chickens, you might want to consider the advantages and disadvantages of buying day old chicks and the advantages and disadvantages of purchasing older hens.
Buying Day Old Chicks
You can purchase these at your local feed store, or through a mail order hatchery.
- It’s fun to get the 6 am phone call from the post office, and to get the box of peeping chicks.
- You can choose from a variety of breeds and have a custom designed flock.
- You can socialize your birds early. If you hold them and pet them often, they are less likely to be afraid of you when they are older.
- You get to care for tiny little baby chicks, hear them peep, and watch them grow.
- Baby chicks will need to be kept indoors for at least a few weeks. If you do not have a barn or a shed, this means that they will need to stay inside of your home.
- If the chicks are inside of your home, note that they can get a little smelly, and they can make the environment around them dusty and dirty.
- You’ll need to be available to pick up chicks at the post office the day they arrive, at 6 am. Sometimes the delivery is a day early or a day late, and you’ll need to be prepared.
- Since the chicks are so little and vulnerable, they will take more time and attention than older birds.
- There is more cost for the equipment of day old chicks. You will need to purchase a brooder (or a big plastic tub, for only a few chicks), a heat lamp and pine bedding.
- Hatcheries often have a minimum order requirement, and it may be more birds than you can keep in your area.
- There is always a chance that you might get a rooster in your flock. If you are buying birds “straight run” (unsexed, which means that nobody has determined the gender), you have about a 50% chance of ending up with a rooster.
- Sometimes baby chicks die in the mail. You might open your box of chicks and see a couple of peeping birds, and one dead little chick. Or, during months with extreme temperatures, you might find a box that is filled with dead chicks. The hatcheries are usually good about replacing the birds or giving a refund, but the whole experience can be too emotional for some people.
- It takes about 6 months for a chicken to start laying eggs. You will keep these chicks, care for them daily, feed them, keep their brooder and coop clean, and you won’t get anything from them until they are approximately 6 months old.
Buying Older Chickens
You can purchase older chickens from local farmers or people who have decided to quit keeping chickens. You can often find older chickens through Craigslist or the classifieds.
- Less start-up costs, because you don’t have to buy a brooder set-up.
- Less time & attention from you, since the birds are not so tiny and vulnerable.
- You don’t have to wait 6 months for the birds to start hatching.
- You can purchase older chickens at a reasonable time of the day and don’t have to run to the post office at 6 am.
- You can buy hens with certainty and avoid buying a rooster.
- You don’t get to experience your chickens as cute little chicks.
- Since you won’t be holding them early on, they may be afraid of you or flighty.
- You don’t really know the age of the chicken, and you’ll need to be able to trust the person you are purchasing from.
- Older chickens cost more than baby chicks.
- You won’t have control over the type of feed or environment that your chickens were raised with their first 6 months of life.
- It is more difficult to combine a flock of mixed breeds when they are older. If the birds have not grown up together, they may not get along well.
- You may not be able to find the breeds that you want to purchase.
The Mythological “1 year old hen”
There seems to be a lot of people offering hens that are “about 1 year old” on Craigslist or in the classifieds. While there may be some honest people selling true 1 year old hens, our experience has been that this usually isn’t the case. A hen that is “about” 1 year old usually means that the owner really doesn’t know how old the bird is. Often times, the hen will be closer to 2 or 3 years old, and she may have slowed down in production or stopped laying completely. A hen that is “about 1 year old” will be a fine pet, but don’t count on her giving you many eggs.
Are you ready to buy chickens? What type do you think you’ll purchase?
photo credit: Open Gate Farm