PHOTO BY FREDERICK J. DUNN
Nothing says spring like the sound of peeps — newly hatched chickens — in my incubators. It seems to be the time of year when folks stop into the feed store or local hatchery expecting to begin their selection of new birds for their backyard barnyard. However, you may find it easier and more convenient to shop for your chicks online.
Here in the United States, the postal system accepts boxes filled with day-old chicks and delivers them coast to coast in two to three days on average. The chicks travel by Priority Mail and often have no food or water in their cardboard carrier to sustain them. How can this happen? Just prior to hatching, a chick absorbs all the remaining nutrients from within its egg. With this nourishment, the chick can survive for up to three days without food or water. This makes it possible to ship them by mail. In the nest, this process allows the mother to wait out the hatching of other chicks in her clutch before tending to the early hatchers: If chicks required immediate attention, the mother would leave with those that hatched first and the unhatched chicks would perish. Once again, nature has provided well for the chicken!
Selecting a hatchery to buy from couldn’t be simpler. You can start by visiting the Mother Earth News hatchery finder and search for the chicken breed or variety you want. You can also check the hatchery directory where you can sort hatcheries and poultry breeders by state or by company name for ease of reference. Nearly every variety of chicken, either purebred or hybrid, is now only a mouse-click away.
Take time to read about breeds you are interested in and understand what their unique characteristics are. This is a great opportunity to get children involved, showing them the various physical features of different breeds: comb type, leg feathering, silky, frizzle, bantam, standard, etc. You may read that some bantams are not “true bantams.” This is simply a variety which is a miniature version of a large standard breed. For example, a bantam Dark Brahma is a miniature, as it has a large counterpart by the same breed name. On the other hand, a Silver Sebright is a true bantam, meaning that it only exists in the miniature form with no large counterpart.
In the short video below, I demonstrate both the importance of having a brooder set up before your chicks arrive and of collecting the peeps as soon as you receive the call from the post office. Postal workers will gladly share stories about recipients who don’t seem to be in a rush to collect their chicks (waiting a day or more) only to collect a box of half perished little ones. If you are not ready to receive live chicks, do not place an order with a hatchery.
Here's another useful video demonstrating how to place a catalog order to a hatchery, what the terms mean and what you may expect to pay for purebred poultry.