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Starting a Flock? Learn the Best Ways to Get Chickens

Chickens are a great way to stick a toe into country living, even if you aren’t living in a rural area. They are easy to keep, supply you with delicious eggs and honestly, they’re so much easier to keep alive than a garden. 

If you don’t have chickens and you want them you have a few options. Like everything, there are pros and cons with each method of chicken acquisition. 

The first question you need to ask your self is if you want to start with chicks or grown birds. 

Starting with Chicks (or Eggs)

If you decide to get your flock going with chicks you should have a brooder prepared before you bring the birds home.

Read more about Setting Up a Brooder & Preparing for Chicks

Feed Store

 

 
 
 
 
 
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I caved… miniMary is now the proud owner of six #silkie #chicks I was even smart enough to pick up extra heat bulbs! #tractorsupply #tscchickdays #backyardchickens #farmkid

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The most common way to get started with chickens is picking up a few fluff balls from the feed store. I have no data to back that up but most chicken people I know have picked up at least one batch of chicks that way.

You can find chicks at chain stores like Tractor Supply, they even have a huge event called “Chick Days” and at a smaller Mom and Pop local feed store. There is nothing wrong with getting chicks at the feed store. 

Read more about Chick Days at Tractor Supply and buying Live Chicks in Store

It even has a few huge advantages over getting them shipped directly to your house. The biggest is that the chicks have already survived shipping, you’ve by passed that stressful event and you don’t ever have to worry about getting to the post office at 6 am only to be handed a box of dead baby chickens. 

Another advantage is not going to the post office at 6 am. 

The down side to feed store chicks is the lack of variety. If you’re not picky and you just want some chickens you’ll be fine. Around here they usually have a tub of hybrid layers, a tub of cornish crosses, a random duck variety and Rhode Island Reds, Buff Orpingtons, Black Australorps or Barred Rocks. 

It’s not really a pro or con but in New York you need to buy at least 6 at a time. That’s not a huge number but it’s going to put you off if you only want one or two chickens to add to an existing flock.

Order Chicks Online

chicks in a box before being moved into a brooder

Buying chicks online might sound crazy (it kind of is to be fair) but it’s a common occurrence in farm or chicken families. Every year I look forward to flipping through catalogs for seeds and chickens.

Then I head to my laptop and fill 45 different online shopping carts before settling on one poultry order and a few too many seed orders.

The number one reason to order chicks online is the variety available. Buying at the feed store you might have 5 or 6 options total, buying online you have 5 or 6 options for Cochin color.

Read more about Ordering Chickens Online

I have a large mixed flock and I love having a variety of birds, few things make me happier than an egg basket filled with colorful eggs

I keep Easter Eggers for blue eggs, Welsummers for chocolate brown eggs, Brahmas for tan eggs, Cochins just because their fluffy butts make me happy and Silkies for my kids to love and adore.

Read more about Keeping Chickens as Pets

You can also get some great deals, one year I ordered a Surprise Box from Cackle Hatchery, that’s how I ended up with my stunning Appenzeller Spitzhaubens and my first Welsummers. 

I have worked with Cackle in the past but this is not a sponsored post and I still buy birds from them on my own. At this point other than the geese and the birds that have hatched here, my entire flock has come from Cackle Hatchery over the years.

It’s also the best way to get other types of barnyard birds like turkeys, guineas, ducks and geese

Learn more about Raising Turkeys

The downside is the shipping process, you have to pick the chicks up when they arrive at the post office when they open, usually really early in the morning!

You should get notified when the chicks ship via USPS but shipping updates always seem to be off a day on the delivery.

I talked to the post office worker about why that happens last time I ordered birds and she said they don’t put the live chicks on the conveyor belts and because of that, they don’t always get scanned.

Hatch Your Own Chicks

hen in a nest box with two chick and an egg

The last option for getting some chicks is to hatch your own. You’ll either need an incubator or a broody hen and fertile eggs.

I find the incubators are more reliable but the hens much easier. If you go the incubator route do yourself a favor and get one with a turner. I’ve only used a Little Giant Still Air Incubator with a turner but there are lots of other options out there. 

Read more about Broody Hens

The girls want to hatch some egg inside this year and I want to breed my EE hens with a Wellie rooster for olive eggs so I’ll be picking up a new one this spring, let me know in the comments if you have a recommendation. I’m leaning toward this incubator with a turner and a fan for circulation

I have a nice squad of hens that I can count on to go broody, a few gold star moms have given me healthy chicks year after year. Letting hens do the dirt work is the easiest and cheapest  way to add to your flock. The incubator is more expensive than grabbing a 6 pack of fluff balls at TSC but you can use it over and over to replenish your flock.

Either way if you don’t have a rooster you’ll need to find some fertile eggs. You can order them online but if you’re going that route in my opinion you might as well just get chicks.

Do you Need a Rooster in Your Flock? Find out

The best way to get hatching eggs is to find someone locally where you can go pick up the eggs. Preferably from someone you know or at least someone who knows someone you know.

I’ve given people eggs for broody hens with the understanding that any assortment of chick could come out of them. 

Starting with Grown Chickens

If the whole chick thing just seems like too much work you’re in luck! You can buy chickens that have already been reared past that annoying baby stage. 

Order Pullets Online

chicken roosting on folding roost made from poplar saplings and scrap lumber

You can order started pullets from several hatcheries. You’d place the order just like with chicks but instead of adorable fluff balls you get birds almost ready to lay.

Another bonus is you get to skip the chicken sexing issues with chicks, by the time they hit 10-12 weeks it’s usually pretty clear if you have hens or roosters.

Read more about How to Tell Roosters from Hens

The biggest downside here is the cost. Birds you could have paid $3 for as a chick will run you $25-30+ each and the shipping is almost a car payment. 

I’ve never ordered started pullets but lots of places offer them so I’m guessing people do. 

Facebook/Craigslist/Auctions

Oh yes, of course we’d end up here. I hesitate to recommend Facebook groups or Craigslist or auctions because there is very little oversight and unfortunately there are lots of shitty people out there. 

However, I have gotten birds (two guineas) from the Upstate NY Farm and Homestead Facebook group and I’ve unloaded rehomed extra roosters in the same group. The sad truth is there are always too many roosters.

Read more about The Dark Side of Chicken Keeping

Most people aren’t going to screw you over and I’ve seen some great deals. Sometimes you’ll find someone looking to rehome an entire flock because their moving or they decided they don’t want tiny dinosaurs digging up every thing they’ve ever planted.

On the other hand you don’t want to get saddled with a 6 year old flock of hybrid layers with dwindling egg production or with sick birds.

If you already have birds and you’re bringing home more you should keep the newbies away from your established flock. There are diseases like Marek’s that get into the soil and you cannot get rid off them.

Bulletin Boards

Ah yes, the old school Facebook wall. Not all stores have them but if they do they can be a wealth of information.

One feel mill I shop at has a bulletin board covered with 3×5 cards of items people are looking for or looking to get rid of. It still has the same potential for getting screwed over but usually the store owner will have some insight on the bad apples.

I hope you find this helpful in your journey to create or expand your flock!


Check out my Livestock page for more info or start here:

large buff Orpington rooster
large royal palm tom turkey on a green lawn with feathers up
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