Urban Chickens: Choosing Your Chicks

One of the most exciting parts about having chickens is getting the chicks.

This is my first time raising chicks, so I made sure to do plenty of research ahead of time. Here is a short list of the things I read up on:

  • Different kinds of chickens
    • Who can survive the winter?
    • Who is friendly?
    • Who lays good eggs?
  • Where to get the chicks
    • The store?
    • A farm?
    • Craigslist?
  • How to care for the chicks
    • The brooder box
    • What do they eat?
    • What kind of coop should I get?
    • When can they live outside?
Well as it turns out, doing your research doesn't prepare you for a whole lot. I've written this post to share with you the things you really need to know.

A pullet is a female chicken

If you've never heard this word, learn it. A pullet is going to become a hen.

This is also important because depending on where you live, you probably need pullets. In my town, for example, I can't have roosters.

Here's another interesting fact: depending on the breed, you can't always tell its sex when it's little. But if a store says that it sold you pullets, the chances are pretty high that you're not going to end up with a rooster. Mistakes happen, but not often.

If you do end up with a rooster accidentally...good luck. The store won't take it back. It's up to you to figure out what to do with it. I recommend Craigslist.

You cannot get chicks any time of year

If you plan on buying them from a ranch or feed store, they're actually only available a certain time of year. Here in Colorado, that time of year starts in March and ends...basically whenever the store decides to stop ordering more chicks. I've heard some stores keep getting them all the way into June.

If you want chicks any other time of year, try Craigslist to see if you can get them from a private owner. Some hatcheries will let you order chicks and have them delivered, but you've got to order at least 10 and I don't know if they offer that option all year.

A chicken is a chicken...stop focusing on the breed

Sure, some breeds are known to be more friendly than others, but honestly: it's a chicken.

I spent so much time trying to figure out the perfect breeds, only to find out that the cool-looking ones, like the silkie bantams, aren't worth the fight you're going to have to put up to get one. Everybody wants one and your ranch store probably ordered five. They'll all be sold out by the time you get there.

In fact, the first place I went to for chicks had them all in a tank together and I was so stressed out trying to figure out which chicks were going to grow up to be the breeds I wanted. I was so stressed out about it that I only ended up getting two chicks instead of the six I had originally planned on. I figured I'd pick up my two randoms at that store and then go to a more organized ranch store to get the other four.

Well those two chicks have been my favorite of the six I ended up with. They're healthy, they're friendly, and that's all you can ask for.

Examine your chicks before you buy them

I learned this lesson the hard way.

Again, I'm new at this. When I went to a seemingly clean and organized store to buy my second round of chicks, I just told the woman what breeds I wanted and trusted her to pick good ones. I noticed that one of the chicks she picked up had a dirty backside (butt), but she specifically said that she looked at all of their backsides.

I'm sure you're wondering...what's the big deal? What does it matter if the chick has a clean butt? Because they'll die if they don't. That's why. When their butt (vent) gets poop all over it, it basically glues it shut. If you can't poop because your vent is shut, you also can't eat. And when you're just hatched, that's a big deal.

Side note: If it's taken care of immediately, you just clean the vent and it's not a big deal. This chick was pretty far gone.

So I saw her pick this chick with the dirty vent, and I even noticed that the reason she was able to grab it was because it was too weak to run away. But I trusted that she knew better than me and I took the chick home. When I got home I realized how bad the situation was. I spent a lot of time cleaning this chick's butt and feeding it water with electrolytes, but it was all for nothing. This poor chick was so weak that it could barely stand. It died within hours of bringing it home.

The sad fact of the matter is that chicks die. Their mortality rate is pretty high. But they shouldn't be dying over something as preventable as a dirty vent. Check your chicks before you buy them.

If they do die within 24 hours, the store will probably replace it for free. But I was so turned off by the whole experience that I wasn't interested in getting another chick from that store...they were clearly neglected. And chicks are like $2, so it's not about the money. I opted to just go somewhere else for the next time.

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