Updated: Apr 6, 2020
Planning ahead when you purchase baby chicks can save you from a lot of surprise and heartache. Before you buy, we recommend reading Raising Baby Chicks for Beginners, Part 1: Gathering the right supplies and tools. To enjoy the full experience of baby chicks, purchase chicks that are less than two weeks old. At this age, they're still mighty fluffy, and very easy to hold, especially for kids. By 3-4 weeks they're much taller and more mobile. Chicks grow fast (don't all babies grow too fast?) and are usually fully feathered adolescent chickens by 6-8 weeks old.
Before running out to bring home your peeping balls of fluff, consider the following:
Do you have the time and resources to take care of baby chicks? You'll need to check on them multiple times daily to check the brooder temperature and refresh their water and feed. The brooder bedding should be changed once or twice each week. If you want them to be friendly, you'll also want to dedicate time to socialize them.
Have you prepared or planned a place to keep them in your yard when they are old enough to go outside? Chickens each need about 10 square feet in a secure coop and run.
How many chicks can you keep? Each good egg layer should give you about one egg per day, or approximately 5-7 eggs per week. How many eggs do you use each week? Also, consider the yard space you have available for a coop and run, and be sure not to raise more than you can humanely house.
What breeds of chickens will suit you best? Some are friendly, and others are flighty. Some lay a large egg almost daily and others will produce just 2-3 small eggs per week at their peak. Certain breeds are smarter, hardier, and easier to handle than others. If you're undecided on which breeds you would like to start with, you can visit our Chicken Breeds Index, or review our free Guide to Choosing Chickens.
Once you've decided you are ready to purchase your chicks, and you know what you want, you'll need to locate somewhere to buy them. Chicks are not always sold year-round. In some places, you may only be able to find them in the spring. So where do you get your chicks?
These stores often go by the name Feed & Pet, Hay & Grain, or Tack & Feed. You might also try farm supply stores or tractor supply stores. Chicks are usually only available in the spring at local feed stores, but they offer a great variety of breeds and don't require you to purchase a large minimum order; plus you can purchase your supplies from them at the same time, and usually at the best going price (do your research). They mostly order from hatcheries that are certified under the National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) for poultry health. The down-side to purchasing chicks from a feed store is that the employees are generally not that familiar with chickens. This can cause a few problems: chicks might be mislabeled and you don't take home what you expected, or less often, the employee that ordered them failed to specify that they wanted the chicks to be sexed females, which means approximately 50% might be roosters. When purchasing from a feed store, make sure to ask, and see if you can get them to guarantee they're at least 90-95% female. If not, you'll be responsible for rehoming any roosters you might purchase from them.
Hobby farms and other small livestock farms may have baby chicks for sale. They should have a decent variety of breeds available, and no minimum order because they won't be shipped. They have more flexibility to take returns for any roosters you purchase from them, although there's no saying how accurate they are at sexing the chicks. Local farms may not be restricted to carrying chicks in spring only. (P.S. That's what we do - and we guarantee they are female!)
If you have the ability to order in larger quantities, usually 25 or more, then you can order from a hatchery. This is a good route if you plan to share an order with neighbors or friends; if you have the space to keep a large number of birds, or if you're open to raising a large brood and selling what you can't keep. Hatcheries are almost always NPIP certified for poultry health, meaning you get chicks that are guaranteed to be free of disease that can be passed down from mother hen through the egg. You can also request the chicks to be sexed, so they are guaranteed to be at least 90-95% female. And if any arrive dead or die within the first few days after shipment, the hatchery will refund your purchase for them. Other benefits: they have an excellent variety of breeds available, you're sure to get what you ordered, and you usually can order them year-round. Here are some good ones to start with:
You might be able to find advertisements on Craigslist or Letgo, bulletin posts in feed stores, or listings in social marketplaces like Facebook for baby chicks from private sellers. This could be someone who purchased a minimum order of chicks from a hatchery but cannot keep them all or someone who breeds and hatches chicks as a hobby. This is a really high-risk option for three huge reasons:
You don't know what you're getting. The chicks could be crossbred or inbred if they bred themselves. Or if you select from a variety they ordered from a hatchery, they may not be able to identify chick breeds.
The chicks may be half roosters. When hatching chicks, most people use wives' tales to identify the sex which is unreliable. Or, they may know how to sex and are trying to get rid of the roosters. Or they may have ordered from a hatchery and not specified that they wanted the chicks to be sexed females.
The chicks may have already been exposed to disease. If the person has not set up a biosecurity system for their chicks they are at risk for disease. Transmission of infectious diseases can be caused by exposure to an existing flock, outside birds from a neighboring flock, chickens at a poultry show, or previously used equipment.
Ask the seller these very important questions:
Were the chicks vaccinated for Marek's either in ovo (before hatching) or within 24 hours after hatching? The vaccination's effectiveness is significantly reduced when given after 24 hours of hatching.
Are the chicks sexed females, and what is the success rate?
What happens if you get a rooster? Can you return it, and do you get a refund or an exchange?
When you get your new baby chicks home and settle them into their new brooder, be sure to dip their beaks in their water and their feed to orient them, and then set them under the lamp to warm up. The brooder should be 95-100 degrees for chicks that are up to one week old. For chicks that are 1-2 weeks old, the brooder can be as low as 90 degrees. At this point, it's best if you've cleared your calendar because you'll want to do nothing except watch and bond with your new little babies.
Hope these tips help ensure you're raising the healthiest, cutest chicks around ;) Leave a comment if you learned something helpful, or if there's something more we can share!
Next up, read Raising Baby Chicks for Beginners, Part 3: Caring for baby chicks for all the pro tips on raising happy and healthy baby chicks.