Buying local always makes sense. Check the online and print directories for hatcheries, farm store suppliers and other sellers. There are risks if you don’t go through an NPIP (National Poultry Improvement Plan)-certified breeder - that is, one who has voluntarily had his flock regularly checked for various health issues.
You can buy hens when they are still chicks, or you can opt for “started pullets”, also known as “point of lay” hens. These are birds that have just started, or are just about to start, laying. The obvious advantage of the latter is that you don’t have to wait very long for your egg baskets to fill.
Rhode Island Red chicks - cute but vulnerable!
If opting for chicks – or hatching eggs from your own stock – you will have to care for the young birds for the five months before they start laying. They are extremely cute but delicate little things, and easy prey for cats, rats and other creatures that wouldn’t attempt to attack a full sized hen.
Telling your Hens from your Roosters!
You need to be sure that you buy baby hens and not roosters. There are no external clues as to what sex a chick is, and anything sold “straight run” is a 50/50 mix of male and female. You need the chickens to be sexed to ensure you get hens.
If this is not possible, wait for started pullets to become available. Otherwise you must ask yourself whether you’re willing to kill the young roosters before they reach full maturity. Your local zoning laws will probably prohibit male adult birds, or limit you to one. In other words, you will not be allowed to keep them – and a rooster isn’t a bird you can hide away! He’s noisy – all day – and domineering.
Transporting Chickens Home
No chicken enjoys being placed in a box or cage and transferred onto a vehicle, the sight, sound and vibrations of which will be wholly alien to them. The trick is to make the journey as painless as possible. Source your hens as close to home as you can, and make sure they don’t get overheated (or too cold) on the way home.
Back home, you should have everything prepared beforehand so that the hens can move straight into their new coop and settle in. Leave food and water for them, but don’t fuss or otherwise disturb them for the rest of the day. Eventually they will venture outside, and a little later they will get used to their new surroundings and their human neighbors.
A Campine rooster - is he going to be welcome in your neighborhood?
Introducing Chickens to a New Coop
If the birds are new, or have been living elsewhere, they will take a little time to get used to a new coop and run. If the land you are keeping the birds on is small, the chickens will be fine. On larger plots, it’s a good idea to confine the hens to their coop and a smaller (temporarily fenced) run for two or three days. That way they will get it into their heads where the coop is, and will subsequently be able to return to it even if they have foraged far afield. You can buy Chicken Fencing from the Omlet Shop.