Chicks or Hens? Which is better to buy to start or add to a flock?
There's nothing cuter than walking into a Farm Store and seeing cute little baby chicks peeping away all fluffy and tiny. You just want to hold them and snuggle them to pieces! And for just $5-$10 a piece, it's so easy to convince yourself to take home just a few or 15 lol. What a great addition to your family with a bonus of "Free" eggs! Right?!
Well, not so fast.. like with any baby.. They may be cute, they may be tiny. But, they will be costly to care for and require a lot of special attention. Not to mention, you may be bringing home roosters.
Did you know that chicks can die? It's actually common. Almost everyone will experience this at some point, even with their very first purchase it can happen. Yes, so many people bring home baby chicks and do not understand their needs. So they die. And even if all care was properly given. They sometimes die still because chicks are susceptible to many causes of death.
I want to cover pros and cons with buying chickens and why I highly recommend jumping to pullets for some people instead of chicks. It seems most people will buy chicks not pullets, but why? I will cover that too.
*Disclaimer: This is a summery of my opinions and advice on deciding for standard backyard chicken owners This doesn't apply to breeders. There is no way I can cover every detail. So I am highlighting my go-to points here. Feel free to add to this topic in the comments. Thank you
Roo/rooster: adult male domestic chicken
Hen: female chicken especially over a year old
Pullet: a young hen, especially one less than one year old.
Cockerel: a young rooster.
Cost: They're cheep. See what I did there? lol
Chicks can be bought for as little as just a few dollars and when on sale or clearance as low as .25 each! When buying from hatcheries and local breeders the prices for pullets on avg range from $4.00 - $10.00 depending on breed; cockerels are priced lower. Hatcheries chicks unsexed are priced lower than females, but higher than males.
Pricing Examples: Males $3.25 Females: $7.45 Unsexed $5.35
- Cuteness factor: Seriously.... They're so cute! It's so hard to resist those fluff balls.
Ability to know how they're raised: Quality of feed, environment, and health history.
When you raise your chicks you know they didn't come from a backyard breeder who didn't give them a quality of life they deserve. There is a risk with buying chickens from strangers, and knowing if the chickens were well cared for or just kept in small, tight areas with very little health standards provided. It is just about money not quality to those type of breeders.
- Increases biosecurity safety: Little worry of introducing health risks to your flock. * There is still risk from buying chicks especially from breeders vs hatcheries. They will handle their chicks around or with their flock. Even if kept in a different space cross contamination is still possible as they're on same property and handled by the same people who tend to their own flock each day.
- Learning opportunity: When raising your chickens from chicks you get a lot of time to learn a lot about raising chickens. There is so much work involved and so much care needed, you really almost don't have a choice but to learn about chickens as they grow. You also get to bond with them while learning as you'll get so involved.
- More Common: Finding chicks in the breeds you want is much easier than finding 4+ month pullets. Since raising chicks to laying age is so much work and requires a lot of space and set up. They are less common to find, especially when trying to find specific breeds.
Cost: While buying chicks are cheap. The set up needed can be pricey. Those who try to do it as cheap as possible put added risks to the health and safety of chicks.
Needs: Heat Lamp, Brooder Box, Waterers, Feeders, cost of feed, vitamins, bedding etc..
- Feed Costs: This is part of costs but I am adding separately to address this more specifically. Chicks eat a lot of feed, way more than an adult chicken. They also need a higher protein feed which is more expensive than feed for older chickens. By the time you spend the money on their feed over the course of the next 4-6 months this really adds up. You also graduate from chick feed, to grower feed, then finally to layer feed once they're at laying age. So you need to remember to do that.
Chick Care: This is a really hard part. There is so much involved in chick care that I won't get into all the specifics. But, once you bring them home that first week is super fragile. They have to recover from stress and can get pasty butt. Which is where they have really wet poop that sticks to their fluff on their bum, then it clogs their vent and they die. You must pay attention as this can happen in a couple days. Even if you clean their bums, if not caught in time. They still die. They also simply could have had too much stress and die without pasty butt. This usually happens in the first few days.
If brooder conditions are not right, they die. If power outage and you lose heat lamp too long...they can die so you have to supplement heat. If too many chicks, they can get trampled and die. If they get to crowed by the waterer, they can drown by others trying to drink to at same time. This is just the first 2 weeks.
Older Chick Care: If they make it past 2 weeks they're in the yellow area.. but still they are vulnerable. If their brooder box isn't cleaned enough they can get coccidia which is a parasite in their intestines. This will spread and kill them fast. There is a treatment (Corid) to help save them. But, the ones lost are gone. There's other illnesses too they can get sick from and die.
You also face fighting in the brooders and other problems if they get too big for the space you created for them. That can lead to injury and death. Theres other illness risks and they just die because of failure to thrive or other things that just happen to chickens at this young of an age.
- Heat lamp withdraw: You will need to keep them in 95 degree temp as new baby chicks. As they get older you drop the temp by 5 degrees each week until weaned at 6 weeks.
Stay in brooder until 6 -7 weeks of age: Chicks have to be kept in brooder until they're 6-7 weeks old. When they graduate they still cannot go in with your flock. They will get killed. You now graduate them to a grow-out pen. This is an extra cost. So you'll need an area built just fro them with their own shelter and run area.
If this is your first flock you will need to fortify your coop and run set up so they can't get out. They're small and will escape any way they can. So some of the standard fencing for runs seen for chickens tend to have holes they can squeeze through. They also can push under fencing that isn't secured to the ground.
Predators will also have it easy to reach and grab them then pull them through. So you will also have to be cautious of snakes, raccoons, cats, opossums, rats, etc...
In fall/winter time you have to acclimate them to outside temperatures since they've spent their lives in warm brooder boxes. That takes time to take them inside then outside everyday. Or use heat lamps in their grow-out pen which is risky for fires.
Cleaning and Dust Ball Situation: This is actually something many people do not know until they have chicks. Mulched straw bedding and hay is dusty. You will have that dustiness in the room they're kept. It can be bad to breath too. So make sure to have well ventilated room. Also, the chick feed gives off a lot of dust. A powdery dust will cover the room. The floor, furniture, selves, everything will get this dust on it. So, be sure to be ready to clean almost daily around them.
To note: This dust is not good for their breathing and can lead to respiratory illness. So again, well ventilated area.
Brooder boxes need cleaned often. They should be cleaned once a week, and often times more if their water leaks into the brooder. Wet living areas are breeding grounds for illness that can lead to death.
Feeder and waterers tend to be cleaned multiple times a week if they poop in them. Sometimes multiple times a day. This depends on the feeder or water systems you use. Dirty food and water, especially with poop in it can make them sick and also lead to deaths.
Roo Oppsies: Unless you buy from a hatchery, or someone trained to sex chicks, you will most likely end up with roosters. Even still there is no guarantee you won't take home a roo or two. I once bought 6 chicks and they all were roosters. I drove an hour, that's a lot of gas money to get them, and paid $7.00 a chick. Huge loss! This cuts into your costs too.
If you didn't want Roosters the price you paid for them as chicks, to get them and and to raise them is a loss to you. You can recoup some of it by eating the rooster or trying to sell him. But, typically you'd have spent more to raise him than you'll gain in return. Not to mention your time spent and the fact you'll now need to replace them. If you buy more chicks, you go though all the raising them again and the risks. Plus, the lost time and waiting longer for those eggs.
- Losses: Overall the risk in financial costs, possible deaths, roosters (unwanted), and time invested.
- Waiting: It takes upwards of 4.5 - 10 months for pullets to lay eggs for the first time. Typically Spring chicks will lay sooner than Summer chicks. This is due to when chicks born in Summer are close to age laying when Fall and Winter sets in. During this time there is less daylight and in some chickens it also means molting. This is the time of year that chickens slow down or stop laying altogether. Makes no sense to lay if no babies are intended to be hatched by them. So unless supplemental lighting is given and adequate environment, and feed is provided. You'll have to wait for Spring and more daylight to see eggs with many breeds of chickens. And even then that doesn't guarantee they will lay and not still wait for Spring.
Almost laying/laying Pullets:
- Less waiting time. Pullets 4 months and older are closer to egg laying. So you will not have to wait as long for eggs.
- Less investment costs: You skip out on all the brooder, grow out coop and extra security costs. You also save on all the cost of chick feed. As mentioned before, chick feed requires more protein, and young chicks are eating machines
- Less risk of loss from deaths: By 4 months of age you have almost gotten to the green zone where your chickens are pretty much past most health issue risks chicks under 4 months of age struggle with, this includes coccidia. However, there is a still a risk up until 6 months of age of coccidia while they are building their immunity. But, the risk has dramatically gone down as many chickens by 4 months have been exposed to indoor and outdoor environments, other chickens, and other wildlife droppings etc.. So their immune system is already been hard at work making them stronger at prevention.
- No Roo Oppsies: Well, depending on breed that is since some breeds like Polish are harder to tell. There is a small chance a Roo may still end up bring purchased as a pullet if 4-5 months old. But, most experienced breeders can tell the difference by now. The bonus is any honest breeder would swap out that Roo for a pullet for you at no cost to you.
Easier to care for: I have to admit I rarely think about my older chickens. Obviously we care for them daily. But, I mean I don't worry about them or check on them several times a day to make sure they're ok.
We just provide a water barrel, with watering lines, we only have to fill 2xs at most a month. And feed buckets we fill once or twice a week. We do go out to collect eggs and while out we look around to make sure they're all happy and no symptoms of injuries or illness. Aside from regular coop and maintenance care it's pretty basic care.
While we're out there we will bring them treats from the kitchen and walk around them as they follow us around. We just enjoy watching our chickens play and just be chickens. They all have their own personalities, so it's funny too watching them do their chicken thing their way.
* We have a section on our blog to cover medical care to learn more on what to look for to monitor the health of your chickens.
- Learning as much not as necessary: Bringing home older chickens means less work involved. So you don't need to learn as much about your chickens. And, you will still get to learn about them as they grow older in your care. We recommend joining Facebook groups, chicken forums, or finding ways to research online. Our blog is a great resource and we will be adding more useful information each month.
- Biosecurity & Quarantine: When bringing home chickens you buy from someone else you should always quarantine them for 30 days.
Unknown medical history: There is very little way to know the health of the chicken and what it may have been exposed to in its flock. Some breeders just raise chickens in small spaces and might even put antibiotics and such in them to coverup illness. Or they may not know there was a recent exposer to viruses or bacteria at time time of sell. Some breeders will allow other people in their chicken areas, this is very unsafe and a biosecurity risk as that can bring in illness to their flock.
It's important to be able to see the environment the chickens are raised in without going into the chicken areas. Stay a safe distance. It's also important to be sure to get chickens from known breeders with a good reputation.
How they're raised: When we raise our chickens they get to know us, we see them everyday and hand raise them. We take great care to give them a healthy, safe, bully-free, spacious environment. The results is they are happy and well behaved. Even our Roosters are family friendly Roosters. We raise our chickens on trust. We do not sell or breed bully or aggressive chickens. Those chickens become part of our meat chickens.
Unfortunately, not everyone cares as much. So you may bring home chickens that are not people friendly or adaptable, especially a risk of mean roosters.
- Cost: Well, Not really. I know some people think its more affordable to buy chicks than pullets. But, for most cases, it's actually not.
- No cuteness factor: Ok, We have to admit. We still love cuteness and grown chickens while beautiful.. they're not tiny and fluffy. lol
- Less common: It's much harder to find breeders that sell older pullets than chicks. So, you may not find what you are looking for when searching for almost laying/laying pullets.
Now that I have covered my [highlight] pros and cons we can move into the thinking factors of people and why they still buy chicks vs pullets in so many cases. But, why instead it's better for some people to skip the chicks and go straight to pullets.
When buying a pullet you'll pay approx $20-$30 for a 4 month old and $25-$35 for a 5 month -1yr old for standard breed chickens.
Chicks are about $4 -$10 for standard breed chicks.
* More rare breeds are not included. They also tend to be very hard to find as pullets. But, their chick costs are more expensive too.
Let compare: $7x10 = $70 or $30x$10=$300. Wow, big difference. And this is why people go straight for the chicks. It's much more affordable, Right?
Cost break down: (Based on avg brand and usage costs)
Chicks ($70), Heat lamp/plate ($15-$50), Brooder Box ($10-$50), Bedding for 6-7 weeks ($10-$25), Vitamins ($7), Deaths (loss of/replacement cost $7-$14- could be more), Roosters (loss of/replacement cost $7-$14 -could be more), Chick Feed ($20), Waterer ($10), Feeder ($14), This is just for the first 6-7 weeks.
From 6 weeks to 4+ Months - Feed ($60+), medical care if sickness ($20+), grow out area ($50-$150).
This is just a basic avg estimate cost list and without the grow-out and using the lower and in-between numbers I am already at $280. This doesn't include meal worms or other treats you may buy, or losses from deaths at older ages like a 2 month old chick, or other costs I am not thinking of at this time.
This also does not include the time and effort involved like the daily checking on chicks and worrying about them, cleaning their bums, checking the heat temperatures, building their brooders and grow out pens, weekly cleaning of their brooders and grow out pens, the dusty mess to deal with, the water spills so additional cleaning of brooders, and so much more involved with the care of raising chicks to almost laying/laying age.
Remember the older they are the more investment saved. The reason is when they're 5 months the price usually stays the same up until 1 yr. I do advised to buy between 4 months and 8 months because that's the optimal time when they begin to lay after that you're losing egg laying months. Chickens lay the best the first 2.5 years after that their egg laying abilities go down as they age. So in essence each month counts.
Ultimately, when factoring in your time as $$$ and everything I explained it just makes more sense to buy pullets, as it's not usually more affordable to buy chicks. It saves time, headache, sadness from any dead chicks, stress from all their needs, and money.
You're spending it anyway by the time they reach the pullet age to buy them as almost/laying pullets.. so let the breeders do the work for you and you gain the enjoyment of much easier to care for chickens who will give you your eggs much sooner. And you know they all will give eggs and not just crows! lol
But, if you're wanting to start younger... We sell hatching eggs and chicks too!