It seems that the approach many people follow is to order chicks from a mail-order company, like Murry McMurry Hatchery (non-affiliate link), get a batch of 50 in the mail, then raise the chicks until they have chickens.
We haven’t done this yet ourselves, but apparently it’s quite straightforward. The chicks aren’t able to regulate their temperature, so you need a heating lamp for them. You’ll also need chick specific feeders and water dispensers. In future posts, perhaps after we’ve done this, I’ll detail raising chicks and incubating fertilized eggs.
The biggest downside is there is a 50 chick minimum order usually, and this is needed to keep the chicks warm enough during transit. This was way more chickens than we wanted, and we MIGHT have found some local people to split an order with if this had been our only option. A nearby farm offered to include some chicks for us in an order they were placing, and another urban chicken farmer we’ve met orders chicks every year, and he’s offered to let us order with him, so there are definitely options for this.
A second, popular option is to buy pullets. Pullets are young hens (basically teenage chickens) that have feathers and can mostly take care of themselves but aren’t laying yet. We initially wanted pullets, so that we wouldn’t need all the tricky equipment for chicks but would have the hens when they got into their egg-laying prime. In the end, the time of year we were looking at, mid-May, was outside of the season where people usually wanted pullets and we were too late to get them. Our local Farm and Home Supply (non-affiliate link) store sold them, but they were all gone. Interestingly, they buy a big batch of chicks to sell. The pullets are just the chicks that haven’t been sold in the first few weeks. Next year I think we’re likely to go here for pullets, or potentially chicks.
The third option, which is what we did, is to look at online classifieds – probably Craigslist.org or Kijiji.ca (non-affiliate links) will be the big one where you live – and you can either search for ads or post with what you’re looking for. We saw numerous ads, some quite a distance away, and some right in our town. In the end, we lucked out and a guy we met had Rhodes Island Reds which was even the breed we were looking for. He gave us the choice between some pullets he had, which were 10 weeks old and weren’t laying yet (Rhodes Island Reds don’t start laying until after 20 weeks), and some 2-year-old hens, which had already molted. He warned us that we wouldn’t get as many eggs from the 2-year-old hens as we would from hens “in their prime”, but getting some eggs right away instead of waiting until the pullets started to lay was better for us.
The chickens were $8 each, which still seems like a steal to me, we met the seller, got the rundown on taking care of them, and picked out the birds we wanted. He’d suggested we bring something to carry them in – we just used a plastic cat carrier – and that worked fine for the 3 birds.
I talked to a farmer (whom I wanted to buy pullets off) and she told me if I was buying off of Craigslist to make sure that the chickens were clucking and moving around. She said if they were just sitting quietly in a corner it wasn’t a good sign. She also suggested I look at their feet, if they were bent like they’d been broken that was a problem sign too. The chickens all looked great with the guy we bought them off.
Picking up chickens is a bit of a funny business. Basically, you grab them by their legs and let them hang down. They go limp and will let you pretty much do what you want with them. If you try to hold them right side up, they’ll start flapping their wings and want to take off.
We popped the chickens into the coop we’d set up for them. They started milling around and produced eggs the next day!