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How to Start Your Own Flock of Chickens

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Backyard chicken keeping is increasing in popularity, even in urban and suburban areas with ordinances permitting them. Overall, chickens are beneficial birds. They lay eggs, provide meat and, if allowed to free range, they reduce the mouse and insect population in the yard. Once you have decided what purpose you intend your flock to fulfill and have decided on a breed -- or even color -- of chicken, acquiring them is the easy part of the equation.

Purposeful Selection

It is important to do research on chicken breeds before you start a flock regardless of whether your birds will be egg layers, ornamental or meat producers. Some breeds are dual-purpose birds, heavier than egg layers, but capable of better egg production than meat birds. Certain breeds do better in certain regions. For example, the large single combs on some breeds may suffer frostbite in cold climates, while extremely heavy-bodied meat birds may die before reaching maturity in hot and humid climates. At the same time, some ornamental chickens used for shows may have specialized needs that not all new chicken owners are ready to meet. Once you have selected a chicken breed you have several options for starting a flock.

Hatching Your Own

Eggs sold in most grocery stores are not fertile. Fertile eggs of many chicken common breeds are readily available online, either from farms or on auction sites. On occasion, some of the rarer breeds are also available in this way. A variety of small incubators, intended for hatching from three chicken eggs up to several dozen eggs, are available online and from farm supply stores or co-ops. These incubators are small and easy to use. One disadvantage to starting a flock by hatching your own eggs is that it can take a month or more to obtain and hatch the eggs, as chicken eggs take 21 days to hatch. Also, shipped eggs can have some fertility issue if they are shaken or poorly wrapped to protect them from damage.

Buying Chicks

Purchasing day-old chicks is usually the best choice for beginners. Chicks are available from individuals with their own flocks, from small breeders or farms and from commercial hatcheries. Individuals with local flocks may not have the breed you are looking for and they may have some chicken-borne diseases that, while not fatal, can have an effect on the health of your new flock. Small breeders and farms may have the biosecurity that protect your future flock from disease, but they also tend to be expensive. Hatcheries have less expensive stock, but they are ordered online or over the phone and arrive through the mail in a few days. It is impossible to choose individual chicks this way, but the buyer can still choose the chicks’ sex. Some local feed stores and farm supply stores sell hatchery chicks in the spring. Both feed stores and hatcheries require that the buyer purchase a minimum number of chicks.

Adult Chickens and Ready-Made Flock

Sometimes people will decide they no longer want their chickens and will sell adult chickens. They may be selling their flock because they are changing breeds or are unable to keep them any longer. Always be careful when purchasing older birds. If they are not advertised as “pullets” (young hens) or “cockerels” (young roosters) they might be “spent” birds who are too old for breeding or egg laying. Some hatcheries will sell guaranteed pullets for a much higher price than they will chicks; however, these birds are free of disease and are ready to lay eggs almost immediately.