As spring approaches, thousands of people will be ordering baby chicks online. Some will be ordering chicks for the first time, and others will be ordering chicks to expand an existing flock. Regardless, there are a few things everyone must take into consideration before placing their order.
Before you place your order, being prepared will help the process go smoother, and reduce buyer’s remorse later.
Be as prepared as you can. Research, research, research! The more you know about the breeds you want, the better.
Things you might want to know about the breed include who developed the breed, where was the breed developed, why was the breed developed, how many eggs can you expect per year, what color eggs will they lay, what size eggs will they lay, how fast will they grow if they are meat birds, what’s their temperament, are they cold hardy, and more!
For rare breeds, order in the late fall. They won’t ship until spring, but hatcheries limit the number of rare breeds they hatch, and it’s first come, first served. Rare breeds are the first to go.
Hatcheries also get slammed around the Easter holiday, so it’s not uncommon to have your order delayed four to six weeks during this time—again, order early.
Learn some of the lingo involved in ordering. Do you want cockerels (males), pullets (females) or both? “Both” is considered a Straight Run order.
Most large hatcheries vent-sex their chicks, but even then, only guarantee a 90 percent accuracy. Have a plan on what to do with those unwanted roosters when they start crowing and bothering the neighbors!
Do you want vaccinated or unvaccinated chicks? There are some nasty diseases out there, and vaccines are inexpensive way to help reduce the risk of sick birds. On average, it costs about .25 cents per bird more to have them vaccinated.
There are several types of vaccines available. After a decade of debating this topic with poultry professionals from around the country, most recommend at least getting the Marek’s vaccine, but some have stated that if you plan to have a completely closed flock, you might choose to not vaccinate at all.
At the end of the day, it’s your choice to vaccinate or not vaccinate.
Once decide on the breeds you want, it’s time to choose a hatchery. Several large hatcheries across the country specialize in hatching and shipping day-old chicks. Thinking of show-quality birds? Some will argue that it’s best to find a breeder that specializes in that breed, and has an understanding of the breed’s standards. Of course, you will pay more for these birds, and it makes sense why.
(You also may have a friend or neighbor that hatches chicks on the side, as a hobby. If they have the breeds you want, this might be the way to go to eliminate shipping.)
It’s best to choose a hatchery that participates in the National Poultry Improvement Plan, NPIP. The birds from these hatcheries undergo regular testing for a number of diseases, including Salmonella. Here’s where it can get a little confusing.
At the basic level, NPIP hatcheries get tested for Salmonella Typhoid-Pullorum. However, not all hatcheries participate in the new Salmonella Monitored Program which actually tests the birds for Salmonella strains that can affect humans. This is so important now due to the number of Salmonella outbreaks that occur every year from backyard chickens/mail order hatcheries.
Be sure to ask the hatchery if they participate in the National Poultry Improvement Plan – NPIP, and then ask if they participate in the new Salmonella Monitored Program. If they don’t, ask them why, and then consider ordering your chicks from a different hatchery.
Every chicken has the potential to carry Salmonella, so it’s also a good idea to review information from both USDA-APHIS and CDC for best handling practices and biosecurity before the chicks arrive.
The hatchery may offer to place a nutrient pack inside the shipping container for an added cost—in my opinion, a no-brainer. Even though the chicks are more than capable of surviving the two to three-day trip, having a nutrient packet available allows for hydration and added nutrients is a big benefit.
If the hatchery does not volunteer this product while ordering, you can always ask for it. It just makes sense to do what you can to ensure a safe trip for your new baby chicks.
Your chicks will be shipped via the USPS, the postal service. In most cases, they will not deliver directly to your house. The baby chicks will be delivered to your local post office which should call you when the baby chicks arrive to ensure a timely pick up.
At the post office, open the shipping container and inspect the baby chicks to note if any are deceased The post office can supply a form for you to complete to document the losses. (Most hatcheries don’t require this form, and will either credit your account or ship out additional baby chicks to complete your order.)
Traditionally, hatcheries would only ship a minimum of 25 baby chicks, and many continue this minimum today, though some have reduced that number to 15. There are even a couple of hatcheries that will ship as few as three baby chicks during the warmer seasons.
Once you get your baby chicks home, pick up each one individually to inspect for any beak deformities, leg deformities, and identify any chicks that are lethargic. These chicks may need to be placed in a separate ICU brooder for specialized care.
With each baby chick you inspect, dip the beak of each chick into the water, and then into some feed. You may have to do this a couple of times for those baby chicks that just can’t seem to get the picture, or can’t find their way back to the waterer and feeder.
While this is far from a complete list of things to think about when preparing to order baby chicks online, this should help you get started when the time comes to place that order.
Until next time,
Power to the Poultry!