Step 3: Pick your breed and get your chicks.
Just like dogs or cats or any animals, different breeds of chickens have different qualities. Some chickens are flighty and anxious. Some are cuddly and loving. Some are great egg layers. Some lay crazy color eggs. Some thrive in hot climates. Some are made for freezing weather. You need to decide what qualities are important to you and your family.
If you’re looking for a few suggestions of friendly, good-laying, non-anxious breeds, I recommend Speckled Sussex, Light Brahmas, or Cuckoo Marans. We have all three and they are all amazing. And you can’t beat an Easter Egger for fun colored eggs.
You can get your chicks from one of three places: a farm/hardware store, an online hatchery, or a local hatchery. Most folks get their chicks from a farm store in the Spring. Your selection will be limited, but some bigger farm stores will sell a huge variety of breeds.
You’ll probably want to get sexed chicks—ones that have been determined to be hens from birth. Look for signs that say “sexed” or “pullet”. If you see something that says “straight run” that means you get what you get—meaning you have a 50% shot at getting a rooster. Many farm stores only sell straight-run chicks, so if you want to ensure you’re getting hens, a hatchery might be your best choice.
We ordered our first batch of chicks from an online hatchery, and just like everything in life, there are pros and cons. Pros: you get to pick your exact breeds, get only hens, and the chicks are normally in really good health. Cons: there is a lot of stress in the shipping process (for both the chicks and you). You might lose some chicks if the weather gets cold or there are shipping delays.
I think the best of both worlds is finding a local hatchery to you where you can pick up your chicks. They normally have better selection and better sexing than the farm stores, but you don’t have to deal with the hassle and worry of shipping. You’d be amazed at how many small and large hatcheries there are (especially in rural areas). Ask around at the farmer’s market or to folks in your area selling eggs. Or try googling “hatchery” with the name of your area/town.
Now you need to decide how many chicks to get! It can be really tempting to pick up “extra” chicks. They are so tiny! And so cute! And so cheap (most places will sell them for $3-$5 each). But try hard to remember that each fluffy baby chick will become a big, pooping, eating, adult chicken—and you need to have space for them.
I recommend starting with 2-3 chicks, and going from there (you can always add more chickens in years to come). With that few, you can really give your chicks the attention they need, they’ll have friends to interact with, and you will get 2-3 eggs per day once they are laying.