So which way is the best?
Buy chicks from a commercial hatchery or local livestock feed store or incubate them yourself?
As someone who has done both many times, I’d say what works best in your situation at the time. To decide what would work best for you, lets look at the pros and cons of each.
When I first began raising chickens, we bought our flock every few years from the local livestock feed store.
Local being over 40 miles away.
- Less knowledge and equipment is required.
- We could buy just a few if wanted.
- We had someone to advise us as to their care and selection best suited for our needs.
- The chicks all had the same feed requirements.
- Only available for a short period of time.
- Selection of breeds was limited.
- You only have the choice of the hatchery the store selects.
- Certain breeds are available in straight runs only, meaning they are not sexed and you have no idea if you are buying roosters or hens.
- Many feed stores carry different breeds each week giving their customers a choice but that means if you want more than one breed, your chicks may be of differing ages which equates to differing needs. (If there is a couple week difference in age, the older ones may pick on the younger ones.)
With a bit experience under our belt, we began ordering chicks from a hatchery of our choice to the local post office 2 miles away.
The ladies at the post office loved the chicks when they came in. Not so thrilled with me when I began ordering bees online though. Yup, you can have them mailed too.
- We could choose the hatchery.
- We got the selection of breeds we wanted.
- We could order straight run or simply males or females in the numbers we needed.
- We had a better choice of when they were to arrive.
- For a few years we had to be sure and order super early or they would be sold out of the birds we wanted. Raising chickens became all the rage. But it is still advise to order early to get the selection you want.
- You have to order 25 or more to insure that the chicks stayed warm in transit. A few hatcheries will mail a fewer number but you have to live closer than we do.
- Occasionally 1 or more will die from travel stress or being trampled. This is why they put in 1 or 2 extra but you don’t get a choice of what. Could be a bonus or a loss since usually they are males.
- They throw in wild cards. (One free chick! is one sales gimmick.) Typically a rooster of no use to your breeding program or meat flock. One hatchery would send us a polish rooster each time. We had a favorite, Topper. He roamed free with the barn cats and thought he was one.
Then our goals changed from wanting a few fresh eggs to wanting to breed chickens that better met our needs. Plus, and of great importance was we needed to lower costs so we bought an incubator and began for the information junky, a steep learning curve.
- You have control over the whole process.
- You could hatch as few or as many as you want. (Though a full incubator works better.)
- We could do our own breeding program which included crosses of two or more breeds.
- It is far less expensive following the initial expenses since you weren’t paying for the chicks and shipping.
- It was awesome to watch the changes as you candled the eggs, or felt the weight increase, and witnessed the births.
- The chicks were all the same age with the same feed and warmth requirements.
- You can hatch chicks any time of the year.
- Lower germ pool since you have a closed flock and fewer numbers.
- You have the expense of buying an incubator.
- It requires reliable electricity. Though there were propane incubators so maybe there still are. We have more than once lost all the chicks in the incubator to power outages at our new location so we no longer use our incubator.
- You have to have far more knowledge to succeed.
- You are the mommy who turns the eggs 3 to 4 times a day, keeps them warm, controls the humidity, and you need to be around most of the time when they are being born. Yes, you can order an egg turner for your incubator and I highly recommend doing so though when we were homeschooling, it wasn’t such a big deal and the kids helped.
- You have to keep a rooster.
- It was sometimes hard to get enough eggs from our small flock to incubate at once.
But if you think bringing home chicks from the store is a real treat, hatching them is a hundred times more exciting. Our kids and our grandkids loved this and sat for long stretches watching the chicks pip there way out of the shell.
So which way works best?
It boils down to what your personal situation is.
Where do you live and what conditions would your birds live in? Our first choice was chicken coop only plus we fudged with 1 pet chicken that lived with the cats. Now we have a chicken coop and free range.
Secondly, are you home and can attend an incubator? It needs tended for at least 28 days. Do you want or need a large number of birds?
And thirdly but most importantly, what are your goals for the project? A few eggs, breeding your own chickens, showing chickens, or a small commercial operation?
Only you can decide what’s best. What way would you choose and why?