I hit up Tractor Supply about once a month or so and during Chick Days it’s impossible not to check out the new babies. I’m usually pretty good about not getting impulse chickens but if my kids are with me all bets are off.
As a veteran chicken tender I want to give you a few tips to help you make the most of your (impulse-driven or not) Chick Days experience.
Get Set Up Before You Go
It doesn’t matter if the chicks are coming in the mail or you’re picking them up from the local feed store, it’s really important to get everything set up ahead of time.
I have a semi-permanent brooder set up on my porch, my blind chicken spends the winter there and I clean it out and set up heat for chicks in the spring.
It also comes in handy as a temporary hospital, like when my duck got grabbed by a bobcat and escaped, when my Marans almost lost her head or when my rooster got hit by a car (again) and broke his leg.
Read more about Setting Up a Brooder & Preparing for Chicks
The most important thing is making sure your heat light or plate brooder is set up and getting the brooder up to temp. You don’t want to come home with a box of chicks and find out your bulbs are shot.
When I start with mail order chicks I put paper towels under the food dish and waterer to help them figure out where the food is. When you’re getting chicks from Tractor Supply you can skip that step if you want because the feed store did it for you.
Understand the Terminology
There aren’t a lot of confusing things about chicken keeping but occasionally you’ll come across a term or phrase that throws you off.
This is a mixed batch of males and females, ideally it’s a 50/50 mix. The chicks are sent as they hatch with no sexing. Sometimes you get lucky with mostly hens or really unlucky like the year 4 out of 6 of my straight run Buff Orpingtons ended up being roosters.
These are young, female chickens that haven’t started laying yet. Chick sexing isn’t 100% but usually they’re pretty good.
If you can’t have roosters where you live, you don’t want to deal with too many roosters fighting or you don’t like chicken soup you want to go with pullets.
Read more about How to Tell Roosters from Hens
There are two groups of chickens, you have the heritage breeds and then you have the hybrid layers. I’m a big heritage chicken fan, I love the history and I think they’re a better long term investment.
Hybrid layers aren’t anything crazy like a duck chicken mix, they’re a carefully selected cross between two chicken breeds.
The benefits of hybrid layers are: they start laying earlier than heritage breeds, they lay a lot of eggs and some can be sexed as chicks based on color.
Downside is you can’t breed them with predictable results and they burn out quickly on laying eggs, you’ll get a year, maybe two. I had a few hybrid layers many years ago, they were nice chickens but they didn’t last long. One even ended up waddling like a penguin thanks to waterbelly.
The varieties TSC carries seem to change every year but anything titled ‘sex-link’ or ‘Star’, Comets, ISA Browns is a hybrid layers.
Know What You’re Looking At
The stores are usually pretty good at getting the birds in the right bins but it’s not unheard of for some chicks to end up in the wrong tubs. Sometimes they’ll even have two varieties in the same tub.
Read more about Identifying Chick Breeds
My local TSC always has a tub of ‘assorted bantams’ that always seems to be Silkies and Seabrights.
Seabrights are a true bantam with an active temperament and are largely ornamental.
Silkies are known to be much friendlier and make better pets than a lot of breeds. They’re also easy to pick out in a crows as chicks, they’ll have black skin and an extra toe.
Read more about Bantam Chickens
The big thing you want to get right is not buying meat birds when you’re after layers. I avoid buying white chicks all together, when they’re only a few days old it’s not that easy tell a Cornish cross from a white leghorn.
Get a Great Deal on Older Birds
I’m not really set up to raise meat birds at the moment (and I really don’t like butchering, especially by myself) but if I was going to the cheapest way to do it is to nab the ‘old’ chicks from the feed store.
Tractor Supply gets chicks in on a regular basis, you’d have to chat with an employee to figure out the schedule at your store. Sometimes they sell out, other times they have chicks from an earlier shipment hanging around when the new ones come in.
The week old chicks are usually marked down to get them out of the way for the cute little babies. Yeah you’ll miss out on that adorable baby phase BUT you’ll save some money and you’ll be bringing home some sturdier birds.
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