Buy baby chicks or hatching eggs?

Buy baby chicks or hatching eggs?

After living in Madison, Wisconsin for four years, I returned to California’s Central Coast in 2007. I hatched some eggs two years ago for baby chicks for my own backyard flock. I wanted traditional heritage breeds such as Dorkings.  I asked a friend and he sent me White and Colored Dorking eggs.

Definition here: A breed is a type of chicken, defined by its body conformation, comb and feather quality. A variety is a color, comb, muff, tuft, or feather variation within a breed. Breeds breed true, that is, their offspring are reliably similar to them, at least 50 percent of the time. Breeding true is a requirement to being recognized by the American Poultry Association to be included in the Standard of Perfection.

He sent two dozen eggs, carefully and lovingly packed. Four of them hatched. That’s not bad for shipped eggs. Shipping is uncertain, what with temperature changes and being knocked around. Labeling the box ‘Living Embryos’ helps, but postal employees are pressured to move a lot of packages. The eggs are bound to be subjected to a lot of jostling.

Four chickens would have been fine if three hadn’t been roosters.

Consider those odds when deciding whether to hatch your own. The average is 50/50 males to females, but Results Will Vary.

Two of the roosters found a home with a Midwestern flock of hens who needed some roosters and another got a job turning compost for a landscaper. The White Dorking pullet became the start of my new flock. A local chicken fancier gave me one of her Sicilian Buttercups, I bought two laying pullets, a Partridge Rock and a Speckled Sussex, from the local poultry club and a few months back acquired a Buff Orpington hen, Oprah Henfree. Her story is posted on my blog.

Consider buying chicks already hatched. Chicks ship happily during their first two days. They don’t need food or water, since they are still absorbing nutrients from the yolk. Lately I’ve heard reports that feeding chicks in their first day actually doesn’t help them. Their systems aren’t ready for food and it causes pasty butt, a nasty condition that can kill fragile chicks.

Traditional breeds are best. Local breeders may be able to provide hatching eggs you can pick up at the farm. Some breeders will incubate the eggs for 18 days and then let you take them home and put the finishing three days on them. This works well for classroom situations. Kids get to see the chicks hatch, without the eggs being subjected to uncertain classroom conditions such as chilly weekends.

But have Plan B ready for those roosters!