So you are getting your first chicks! What do you need to know?
1. What kind of chicks do you want?
2. What do you need to care for little ones?
3. Where do I get chicks and how do I pick them out?
Chicks - the irresistible cute part of chicken raising! Chicks hatch out of fertilized eggs. Your hen will lay eggs, but they will not be fertile without a rooster. Hens are usually fertile for about 2-4 weeks after a rooster mates with them. A hen can sit on unfertile eggs, but they will never develop or hatch.
You can get chicks several ways:
1. You can buy baby chicks
2. You can hatch fertile eggs in an incubator
3. You can let a broody hen hatch chicks from fertile eggs.
This page is about buying baby chicks. You can buy chicks from online hatcheries, local stores/hatcheries, and from breeders. Larger hatcheries can give you a bigger selection and often a limited guarantee of female chicks. The downside? Not local (even larger local hatcheries sometimes order chicks), chicks not bred for health and looks. Hatchery chicks can live long lives, but can often die early from bad breeding issues. Local breeders (or long distance breeders) can be great - if they breed towards the Standard of Perfection for their breed, breed for health, and breed for personality. Downsides - you may have to get straight run (unsexed) chicks, or wait for a while to get what you want.
Now, what kind do you want? Large fowl or bantam? Large fowl lay larger eggs, bantams eat less (a lot less) and take up less room. Both are fun. I swore I'd never have bantams and now that's all I breed! Are eggs or personality more important? Does it matter if they are heavily prone to being broody or never broody? Do some research and ask others!
BE CAREFUL. Flock swaps (local meetups to buy birds) can be fun, but can also be a place to get rid of unwanted birds. Birds can have mites or other parasites. What to look for when you buy:
1. Do chicks have full crops and clean rear ends? You want to know they are eating well and that their digestive system is working well.
2. Does the fluff or do the feathers look clean and cared for? Look for sores, bare red or scabby skin. Are their feet fairly clean or caked in poop?
3. Are chicks healthy? Are they actively eating and drinking, or standing around all puffed up? Is anyone sneezing with runny eyes? Walk away from sick chicks. It is tempting to buy them and nurse them back to health - I have friends who do this. BUT most chicken viruses are very contagious and can result in lifelong carriers. If you have other birds, you may infect them. Or you may end up with dead birds. Plus, you are encouraging business for someone who is selling sick birds.
4. How much will the breeder share with you? At a swap can they tell you what they eat, whether they live on wire or shavings, whether they are under a heat lamp or a heat shelf? Can you see the parents, or photos of the parents? Look or ask for recommendations - has anyone else heard of this breeder? Maybe not - or maybe you can see some great reviews (or not so great reviews).
4. Is there any followup? Can you contact the breeder with questions? This is not important for some people, and absolutely a deal breaker for others.
You will need a box to pick up chicks, and a lid for anything over 2-3 weeks old. You need a heat source if they are under 4-8 weeks depending on the breed. Water, food, shavings for the brooder. Yes, and you need a brooder. We have a whole page on those, so click on the brooder page to see how to set it all up.
Getting older chicks and want to integrate them into your present flock? Make sure they are old enough or they will get picked on (or killed). I have a very mellow flock who happily accepts chicks who are 3 months old. Younger than that causes issues. So I have a small coop inside the big coop where youngers can live parallel to the elders until they are all used to each other. Put out lots of interesting things (veggies, cement blocks, branches) to distract everyone while they integrate.