It’s the age old question: Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?
When it comes to starting or growing the home brood, the choice is yours. Juvenile chickens or mature adults are available and there is a lot of appeal to hitting the ground running. But, starting with “day-olds” or hatching your own reduces the risk of introducing an unhealthy bird to your flock, maximizes the production life of your flock and helps ensure they grow up happy, social and well-adjusted. Eyes may roll at that last part, but chicks handled regularly during development are much friendlier in adult chicken-hood and likelier to get into better colleges. Okay, so, I may have made up that last bit about college.
My favorite way to add birds to the flock has the lowest yield odds, requires the most attention and all but guarantees you’ll end up with some roosters to deal with. So why do it? It is also extremely rewarding and a great learning opportunity for those with kids in the house or just a healthy curiosity. Home incubation takes just three weeks and about $40 worth of equipment. Oh, and eggs. Fertile eggs.
While hens do not require a rooster to produce eggs perfectly fine for the breakfast table, a rooster is necessary for hatching (the rooster’s duty in this process is exactly what one would expect). Fertile eggs may be purchased from local hatcheries or ordered online or by catalog. The number and gender of your hatched chicks is admittedly a roll of the dice, however. I have an established flock and a place willing to take on my unwanted roosters, so I do not need to rely on those new additions. But for beginning coop owners, this can prove very frustrating, particularly if you are subject to limits on how many chickens you may keep. For those just getting started, I would suggest purchasing day-old chicks.
In the spring, many feed stores host “chick days,” where galvanized tubs full of day-old chicks are brought in, ready for sale. These chicks are usually sorted by breed and gender, so the odds of bringing home a rooster are low. You know exactly what you are getting and can bring home as many or as few as you need. In some areas, local hatcheries can also be found, which may increase the variety of breeds available to you. Local purchase of day-olds is the simplest way to get your flock started and a safe bet for first timers. If a local outlet cannot be found, baby chicks are also easily ordered online. Delivery may take a few weeks, but you’ll get a lot of smiles from folks standing in line when you pick up your well-ventilated, excitedly peeping box of cuteness at the post office.
Deciding to start a flock with new chicks means you’ll have to wait about ten weeks before the chicks are ready to leave the confines of a small pen protected from the elements, and at least four months before they begin to lay eggs, depending on the breed. Getting started in the spring means they are laying by fall and, as fully-mature chickens, ready to face the cooler winter months. This all starts to make the purchase of already mature birds look mighty appealing, I know.
Juveniles and adult are available directly from hatcheries and are a perfectly fine way to go. But, boy, those chicks are a pleasure to raise and a great way to get started. Mine are due to hatch next week, fingers crossed.