Raising chickens is one of the most enjoyable pastimes you can have – and there’s nothing quite like owning the whole process, from start to finish.
While many people prefer incubating their own chicken eggs or buying chicks from a local breeder, there are several advantages to buying chicks online. Not only will you have a larger selection when it comes to breed and gender, but you’ll be able to control many other factors too.
If you’re ready to get started raising your own chickens, this complete guide to buying chicks online will teach you everything you need to know.
Where To Buy Chicks Online
There are hundreds of hatcheries online, most of which have strong reputations and customer reviews. The hatchery you choose will depend largely on the breed and number of chics that you want. Here are some of the most popular hatcheries to help in your search.
1. Stromberg’s Chicks and Game Birds Unlimited
Stromberg’s is my personal favorite out of all of these hatcheries, mostly because I appreciate their low (and sometimes nonexistent) shipping costs and a wide array of birds to choose from. This company deals in all kinds of supplies and building systems, too.
2. Murray McMurray Hatchery
Murray McMurray is one of the most popular online hatcheries. They sell all kinds of poultry but are best known for their wide variety of chicken breeds. It’s located in Iowa.
3. Cackle Hatchery
Cackle Hatchery is based out of Missouri and is one of the largest retailers of baby chicks. This hatchery sells a whopping 185+ varieties of poultry, including popular and rare broiler breeds, egg layers, bantams, game birds, geese, turkeys, ducks, and much more.
You must order at least 15 birds when you order with Cackle, but the company does offer a unique “city/town” purchasing option that allows you to buy just five.
4. Meyer Hatchery
Located in Ohio, Meyer Hatchery sells a variety of breeds, including supplies, books, coops, and even hatching eggs and pullets. One of the major features that draw people to Meyer Hatchery is that you can order quantities as small as three birds. This is helpful for people who can only raise a few birds at a time.
5. J&M Hatchery
J&M Hatchery is small, headquartered in Pennsylvania. We bought guinea fowl keets from them as they were one of the best and least expensive places to do so at the time. Although J&M is small, they offer plenty of benefits, including a wide variety of unique breeds and discounts for bulk orders.
Benefits of Buying Chicks Online
Buying chicks online is the preferred method of ordering chicks for most people, from small backyard farmers to large commercial poultry producers alike. Here are some of the biggest benefits of doing so.
1. Greater Variety
One of the biggest and most obvious benefits of buying chicks online is that you can choose from a wider array of poultry breeds. You aren’t limited by what your local Tractor Supply has in stock – you can choose from hundreds of types of chickens. These can be sexed, too, in case you only want to purchase hens.
Buying chicks online can save some serious coin. Many hatcheries offer massive discounts when you buy in bulk, allowing you to save money if you are planning on building a huge backyard flock. You can also save money by purchasing unsexed birds. Some hatcheries, like Strombergs, even waive shipping charges for certain purchases!
It doesn’t matter where you live – chicks can almost always be shipped to you, as long as you have a post office. This is a major benefit if you live in a super rural area where there are very few feed stores or other people who raise chickens.
You can also order chicks at any time – you don’t have to wait for the farm store to have them in stock. Just make sure you order when the weather is mild so you don’t have to worry about added shipping stress for the birds.
4. Special Options
Interested in a rare bantam breed? Want to make sure your chicks are vaccinated? No problem. When you order baby chicks online, you’ll have a whole host of special options at your disposal. Many hatcheries even offer added insurance for sexed birds. For example, if you purchase pullets and end up with cockerels, the hatchery will typically refund you for those birds (to a certain extent, of course).
Challenges of Buying Chicks Online
Despite all the benefits, it’s not all sunshine and daydreams when it comes to ordering chicks online. There are some challenges that should be taken into consideration before you decide to place an order.
One of these challenges is that you can’t actually see the facility in which your birds were raised. Nor can you interact with the staff who work with those birds on a daily basis.
Chicks that are shipped generally have a higher mortality rate than those that make their way to your farm in a less stressful way. Shipping chicks are generally safe for their health. That said, it’s not uncommon to have a loss of one or two birds when they are en route to you. Even if you don’t experience any losses, you might notice that other issues arise – such as pasty butt.
Fortunately, most hatcheries do their best to reduce the impact of shipment stress. This is why most have minimum orders of 25 or 50 baby chicks. They might also ask that you do not order during inclement weather.
Tips for Buying Chicks Online
1. Make Sure the Hatchery Has a Good Reputation
Do your research when you are ordering chicks and don’t necessarily choose a hatchery just because it’s the cheapest. There are some hatcheries out there that maintain poorly sanitized or unethical living conditions. Some have even received some flack lately for killing excess chicks (particularly roosters).
A good hatchery will have clearly disclosed policies and practices, and excellent online reviews. Just take the time to read through everything carefully.
2. Shipping and Refunds
If you’re interested in all-female chicks, make sure you order pullets. If you order a straight-run batch, you will receive a mixture of males and females. Even if you think you want an equal mixture – like 50% of each – don’t go with straight run. The math won’t necessarily work out that way.
Check the hatchery’s refund policy in case you receive the wrong gender. Often, hatcheries will refund 90%. This means that if you order ten females and one is male, you will not receive a refund. But if two are males, you will receive a refund for one of them. Some hatcheries might not issue a refund but will instead buy the cockerel back.
When you purchase your chicks, make sure you schedule the shipment for when the weather is supposed to be mild. Most hatcheries don’t ship chicks anytime except in the spring. This is when the weather is not too hot or too cold for chicks. Don’t gamble, either. You never know when there’s going to be an emergency and your shipment is delayed or your post office is unexpectedly closed.
When your chicks get to you, make sure you inspect them for their health. If you have any birds that don’t seem to be in good health, make sure you get in touch with the hatchery immediately.
Signs of good health and vigor will vary between each bird. However, the eyes of your birds must be bright and clear with no discharge. The legs and feet should not have any wounds or discoloration, and the down should be dry and fluffy.
The beak should open and close fully, and your chicks should stand up straight without jumping or falling over. They shouldn’t be coughing, wheezing, or gasping in any way, either.
Caring for Chicks After Receiving Them
When you order your chicks, take note of the expected arrival date. Chicks are usually sent via overnight mail when they are one day old. At this young age, they can still survive on their energy stores from when they were inside the egg.
Make sure you have everything purchased, set up, and ready to go ahead of your chicks’ arrival. You don’t want to be messing around with filling up feeders while your chicks are getting cold in the shipping box!
You will need a brooder with a heat lamp or heat plate ready to go. It should be filled with clean bedding, food, and water. Chicks need to be fed a starter feed with about 10-20% protein for at least ten weeks. They also need plenty of clean, fresh water.
Once your chicks arrive, individually dip each one’s beak into the water. This will show them where the water is and teach them how to drink. As you are doing this, inspect each chick carefully to make sure it is healthy. If any chicks died during or shortly after shipment, make sure you contact the hatchery immediately.
Alternatives to Buying Chicks Online
If, after reading this, you’re not so sure that buying chicks online is right for you, don’t worry. There are plenty of other alternatives.
1. Local Breeders
Buying chicks from a local breeder – or even from your local feed store – is a great way to start raising chickens. When you buy directly from somebody who raises chickens near you, you completely eliminate the need for your birds to be shipped. This is a great option if you’re concerned about losing chicks due to transport stress.
Another advantage of buying locally? Not only do you support a local farmer, but you also have the benefit of being able to see the facilities in which the parents were raised. This way, you’ll know exactly how healthy your birds are.
If you don’t have any local breeders near you, check with your farm or feed store. These birds are still shipped to the store, but you’ll be able to support a local business. You may be a bit more selective when it comes to breed, gender, and chick numbers, too.
If you aren’t sure how to find local breeders or retailers near you, consider visiting the American Poultry Association. They will let you know which breeders are in your area. They will also let you know when poultry shows are being hosted. This can be a fun way to check out new breeds.
2. Hatch Your Own Eggs
If you have chickens already, hatching your own chicken eggs is a no-brainer. It’s not only easy to do, but it’s also fun. If you don’t have chickens yet, you can always order hatching eggs online and have them shipped to you. This is definitely not the cheapest way of going about things. However, it is a great project, especially if you have small children.
I definitely don’t recommend buying chickens at auctions, but some people have done this with great success. If you buy chickens or chicks at auction, just be very discerning – to the point of skepticism, in fact. You need to be vigilant for signs of disease or other flaws in the birds. This could make a seemingly “bargain buy” but not cost-effective at all.
After you’ve purchased chicks online once, don’t worry – the process will be easier and easier the more you do it. It’s also incredibly exciting – there’s nothing quite like arriving at the post office to a shipment of peeping, fluffy chicks!