Raising Backyard Chickens for Eggs. Part 1 – Getting Baby Chicks

Raising backyard chickens to gather your own healthy eggs is rewarding and rather easy.  As long as you have a few basics taken care of, the chickens will do the rest.  You don’t need to be an expert, and there’s no reason to be afraid.  Take care of these basics and you will be gathering healthy, antibiotic and growth hormone free, pastured chicken eggs in no time.

Barred Rock Rooster and Silver Laced Wynnadotte Hens
Barred Rock Rooster and Silver Laced Wyandotte Hens

The first step is to get yourself some day old baby chicks.  These can be purchased online and shipped to you, or your local farm and feed store may have baby chicks for sale at certain times of the year, usually late winter through early spring.

Eggs in the Nesting Box
Eggs in the Nesting Box

Ordering from hatcheries online gives you the most options.  You can choose from most known breeds, but you have to be available to get those baby chicks as soon as they arrive at your local post office.  You should have your brooder set up and ready to go when you get the baby chicks home.

How can baby chicks survive through the mail?  The yolk in the egg is absorbed by the baby chick as it breaks through its shell. This yolk provides the necessary nourishment to keep the baby chick alive for three days.  Also, the minimum number of chicks that can be ordered is to ensure there are enough baby chicks to keep each other warm for the trip.

Be warned, not all of the chicks shipped this way survive the trip. The vast majority will make it, and you may get lucky enough to have a box full of healthy chirping little fuzz balls.  However, most of the time, one or two of the baby chicks do not survive.  The hatchery knows this and usually ships a couple extra to make up for any possible losses.

Purchasing baby chicks from you local farm and feed store ensures that you do not have any dead baby chickens on your first day raising backyard chickens.  You also get to see and most likely hold the baby chicks before you buy them, this can be great to get children excited about chickens and get them to buy into raising chickens and the responsibility that goes with it.

Baby Chicks at Tractor Supply Feed Store
Baby Chicks at Tractor Supply

There are drawbacks of getting your baby chicks from your local farm and feed store. They are only available certain times of the year, and you are limited to breeds they have available.  Additionally, they are just so darn cute you could end up bringing home something that wasn’t your top choice, or worst of all, too many roosters.

Some terms to know before you go shopping for baby chicks:

Straight run 
This means you are getting unsexed baby chicks.  There is no guarantee of their sex.  Half will be roosters (actually 55% roosters is more accurate). Straight run chicks are typically cheaper than pullets.

Pullets are baby chicks that have been sexed to be all female.  This is what you want to produce eggs.

If you are only after eggs for you family for breakfast, you do not need a rooster.  Hens will lay eggs just fine without a rooster.  In fact, you do not want a rooster unless you have at least 9-10 hens.  The ideal rooster to hen ratio is 1 rooster to 10-12 hens.  Any fewer hens for each rooster and your hens will be overly loved by the roosters.  This can lead to stress on the hen and cause her to lay less eggs. It can also lead to her losing feathers on her back and the back of her head and could lead to health issues. Even death can occur in cold weather in drastic cases.

This does not mean there is no use for roosters.  If you plan on hatching you own chicks you will need a rooster to fertilize the eggs.  The same ratio of 1 rooster to 10-12 hens is good for making sure your eggs are fertilized.  Roosters also protect the flock.  They keep their eyes out for dangers to the flock.  They will do everything they can to protect their girls, including fight the predator to the death to buy the hens time to escape.  They are very chivalrous. A good rooster will also call out to the hens when he finds some food for them to eat.

Raising Backyard Chickens Series:
Part 1 – Getting Baby Chicks
Part 2 – The Brooder
Part 3 – The Coop
Part 4 – Feed