The other day I was talking to my boyfriend about ordering chickens online and how I couldn’t finish my order until I decided on turkeys. He looked at me like I just told him I was going to order a space ship via Amazon prime and pop over to Jupiter for dinner on Tuesday.
It was then that I realized that buying chickens online isn’t a normal life event for a lot of people.
He had a bunch of questions and I’m sure he’s not alone. So I put together this guide to make online chick buying easier.
His first question was Why would you order chickens online? You can get them at TSC.
My farm girl heart fluttered at the mention of Tractor Supply, and of course he’s right. I have no problem with buying birds at a local place.
In fact if you only want a few birds or you’re fine with a common breed you should get them locally. It’s cheaper thanks to no shipping charge, no waiting and you can see what you’re getting.
I have some great TSC chickens, that’s where my Buff Orpingtons and Silkies are from. It’s also a great option of you only want a handful of meat birds.
But. If you want to get high quality stock, anything that’s not one of the common breeds of chicken or any of the other barnyard birds like geese, ducks, guineas or turkeys you’re out of luck. That’s when you need to turn to a hatchery.
I’ve used a few different ones over the years, my current favorite is Cackle Hatchery. That’s where I got my Surprise Box and all my turkeys.
I’m going back and forth on getting more turkeys this year. On one hand I really miss Gobbles and his presence. But he was also an a-hole at times.
My Geese are from Meyer Hatchery. I wanted Pilgrim geese and they happened to have them when I was ordering.
How do they Send Chicks in the Mail?
Chicks are mailed in a box. A box like this:
Most hatcheries will have minimum order number. That’s for the heath and safety of the chicks. They huddle together to stay warm.
You can usually order a smaller number if you’re willing to pay a fee for different packing. For Cackle Hatchery there is a fee for chicken orders of fewer than 15 birds.
Chicks are actually very easy to ship. They don’t need to eat immediately after hatching, they can live off the yolk remnants for up to three days.
When a hen sits on a nest she’s usually got a few days of hatching going on so it makes sense that the babies can live in the nest for a while before she moves the whole group out.
How to Order Chicks Online
Now we get to the actual ordering. I clicked over the the Welsummer page to check off the first bird on my list. Wellies lay beautiful dark brown eggs, I got a few in my Surprise box and I love them. This is what the page looks like:
By the green arrow you see the three options for ordering: Not Sexed, Female & Male. Sometimes you’ll see ‘Straight Run’ instead of not sexed. That means you get them as they hatch, ideally it’s a 50/50 split but it rarely works out that perfectly.
You can pick all females or males but vent sexing chicks isn’t an exact science. Cackle lists a 90% guarantee for sexing chicks. In the past I’ve only ordered straight run from them but it’s always been pretty even.Out of the 20 pullets I ordered in 2018 I ended up with 2 roosters. Lucky for me they were Welsummer roosters and I love them.
Even my surprise box had a pretty even mix (can you tell how much I enjoyed it? I’d love to order another one but I feel like I need to be responsible and get layers).
I used to order everything straight run and butcher extra roosters. I don’t have a good set up right now or the time so this year I ordered all females with a few exceptions that I’ll get into later.
Below the main picture there’s an image carousel that includes pictures of eggs and chicks. If you order a mixed variety of bird this page is your new best friend, it’s where you’ll want to look when trying to identify your chicks.
The box for ‘Breed Facts’ has a ton of information if you’re looking around for something special. I think the sizing information is especially helpful.
This year I ordered Welsummers, Easter Eggers, Light Brahmas & Speckled Sussex for my laying hens.
Then I headed over to the Bargain Specials. This is a great place to check if you’re flexible about your chickens and looking for a great deal. It’s also where you can find the Surprise Box.
I wanted a few more Cochins and Silkies. Both are only available straight run and I don’t care what color I get. Ordering off the bargain page gives you a better price and offered a bit of mystery.
I can’t be the only excited by surprise chicken colors can I?
Straight run means I run the risk of 10 roosters but I’m ok with it. First, it’s really unlikely to go that way. And both Cochin and Silkie roosters are the chicken equivalent of cotton balls.
I have a giant white fluffy Cochin roo and I love him. Earlier this year I rehomed 11 roosters; I kept him, a Welsummer and a farm-mutt that looked particularly fancy.
The 2018 rooster count is a bit higher than I’d like, I ended up with the 2 Welsummer roosters I emntioned above, 2 cochin and 2 silkie roosters.
Unfortunately whenever I let my hens go broody they deliver up an overwhelming majority of roosters. They added an extra 5 (2 hens!) this year so a clean out will soon be in order.
You can also get great deals like the Frypan special, which is all male chicks from heavy breeds. That’s a great alternative to raising cornish x if you’re in the market for meat birds and you have some extra time to get them to size.
A similar deal is the Backward Barnyard which includes 75% female to 25% male heavy breed chicks. I’m using Cackle as an example but most hatcheries have similar deals.
If you’ve made it this far it’s time to check out. I’m not quite there yet, I still can’t decide on turkeys. Order as soon as you know what you want, you’re more likely to get everything you want!
Don’t be like me and wait or you won’t get any Blue Laced Red Wyandottes….
Pick your Delivery Date
During check out you get to pick the delivery date. First off, make sure you’ll be home that morning. When you order chicks online they’re shipped via USPS and you will get an early phone call from the Post Office to come pick them up.
As for picking a date I try to aim for about 6-8 weeks before my last frost date. At that point the chicks should be fully feathered, the weather isn’t cold and I can get them OUT OF MY HOUSE.
Usually by 6 weeks I’m asking myself why I brought more chickens into my house.
Much like having a baby you forget how much it sucks and you do it again.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun, the kids love it, but it also sucks a little. My last frost date is around May 30th so I try to get my chicks delivered mid-April. If I need to shift that around for availability I’ll go earlier.
This is turning onto a novel so I’ll write another post on what to do when your chicks arrive. Are you ordering chicks this year? Are you a newbie or a pro? Let me know in the comments if you have any questions
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Other Backyard Barnyard posts you may enjoy:
Tuesday 29th of March 2022
Just stumbled across this after pulling the trigger for my first order from Cackle. They had 8 out of 10 breeds on my short list. Of course getting into chickens impulsively means...um. wow even 7 sets of 3 is a big big flock... May as well just get the bantams. Also EE bantams are just as good as full size? And the fee for less than 15 birds was the same as adding a bantam surprise pack... So I really need to figure out what I am doing with probably 5-8? 10? bantam roos at the end of the summer.
It shall be a fine adventure, probably. And given that it is still snowing in SCNY heading into April, I may have timed things just right?
Hopefully it will be less wet this year overall! Nobody likes the mud.
Saturday 12th of June 2021
DUCKS, DUCKS, Not the F word lol
Tuesday 15th of June 2021
I fixed it for you, thanks for the laugh!
Saturday 12th of June 2021
Excellent post, I've really been struggling with the online aspect. Time to put my big girl pants on an give it a try. My problem is that I need a hatchery that ships to Mexico. I am more interested in ducks than chickens. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
Tuesday 15th of June 2021
I have no idea about ordering birds in Mexico, I imagine there are a lot of regulations about going over country lines. Try to find a Facebook group in your area, you might get lucky and find someone looking to downsize or selling babies, or get recommendations for hatcheries. Good luck!
Friday 21st of February 2020
I ordered 3 chicks online from an excellent hatchery in Missouri. I received them at the post office 47 hours after they had hatched. Great experience !'
Saturday 3rd of August 2019
Love all this.. Dying to get some Easter eggers and Marans. Love your article.. Keep up the good work...
Sunday 4th of August 2019
Thank you! Good luck getting your chickens, those beautiful eggs are worth it