Raising your own backyard flock of chickens has become very common in the past few years. Chicken raising for egg or meat production is no longer left for the country dwelling farmer; there are several large cities that now allow backyard chickens for egg production. Many of these restrictions are very strict but it’s a move in the right direction when it comes to being self-sustaining. I am going to look at the benefits of hatching your own eggs (or eggs you have purchased) VS purchasing chicks or laying chickens from a breeder.
Should You Hatch Your Own Chickens?
There are many reasons to hatch your own chickens at home. Some are just for fun and others are for practicality. These are: Cost, Education, Trait isolation and Show quality, Continuous rotation, and it’s Fun. There are other reasons I am sure but these seem to be some of the most common.
The cost comes mostly in the need for supplies. To hatch your eggs at home you need two things: an incubator, and eggs. The incubator is the big item here. You can do this one of three ways: you can purchase an incubator, build one, or you can obtain a broody chicken.
The chicken is typically the most fool proof and the least amount of “work” from you. You can’t just find a chicken and expect it to do the job, some breeds are broodier than others. Broody breeds dedicate themselves to hatching eggs; for someone with only a few hens this is a problem because they stop laying. Throw an ad out on a sale site and you may find a deal on a hen to hatch some babies.
If a broody chicken is not a possibility for you then it’s on to an artificial incubator. If you choose to build your own there are tons of plans online. All you need is a heat source, and a container to hold in humidity. Commercially produced incubators can come with all sorts of additional things – thermometer, hydrometer, egg turner, day countdown, and more. I have found that research is a must when purchasing an incubator. Not all are created equal. A new commercially made incubator can run $60 – $1000 with size, manufacture and add-ons all playing a part in price. There is some electricity cost associated with using an incubator; the make, model and external temperatures will all play a part in that.
Eggs can be collected from hens that are housed with a rooster or purchased from a breeder. Use caution when trying to hatch eggs that have been mailed to you. Eggs are very delicate and the postal system is not overly careful with them. If you decide on mailed eggs, there is special care required prior to incubating. The price of fertilized eggs varies depending on breeder, and breed. If you’re able to collect from your own or a friend’s hens, you can easily save some money.
Education is a great reason to try hatching eggs at home. Kids become very involved and excited watching an egg turn into a chicken. Many classrooms are now hatching eggs for the education portion. This can be added on to lesson plans for homeschooling and makes learning fun.
Trait isolation can be a very useful tool. If you are breeding for show quality or temperament you can choose eggs only from hens that pass your qualifications. This works the same way as the “temperament guarantee” on dogs. If you want friendly chickens only keep a friendly rooster and hatch the eggs from the friendly hens. This can help remove some of unwanted traits from your new flock. If you are breeding for show quality, choose the chickens closest to your standard and only collect eggs from those hens for incubation.
Having chicks hatch in smaller batches can take up less space as well as provide continuous production of eggs. Day old chicks, regardless of where they come from, need to stay warm – 90 degrees warm. Having 30, 40, 50, or more chicks in a single pen can cause problems if the spacing is not correct. Chicks tend to pile on top of each other causing the ones on the bottom to be smothered and die. Other issues can be fighting over the heat lamps, or pecking at each other. Any of these issues can cause death to a baby chick. With hatching small batches continuously, you can achieve the same number of chicks without the overcrowding issues.
Chicks lay their first egg approximately 24 weeks from the time they hatch and slow down after about a year in age. Chickens live on average 5-10 years but have been known to live as long as 22-25 years. A good rule of thumb is their egg production will decrease by 1/3 after every molt. By having your chicks continuously hatching you can offset so not all of them are molting at the same time or coming into old age together.
Hatching chicks is fun, exciting, and rewarding. There is something so rewarding about turning an egg three times a day and candling it to see the little chick grow. Then watching as the little chick makes it way out of its shell. There is some heartbreak and sorrow when a chick dies or an egg that was growing stops; these make the ones that do hatch such miracles. It truly is amazing to watch an egg go from breakfast to a little critter.
Should You Purchase Your Chickens?
If incubating is sounding like more work than it’s worth you still have options for acquiring your flock. You can purchase chicks and chickens. There are mass producing hatcheries that will ship your day old babies to your door almost year round (barring a few weather restrictions). You can also typically find local breeders that will sell hens that are not to their standard or hens that can no longer be bred to a certain rooster. Regardless, purchasing chickens is a practical option.
Some of the perks of purchasing chicks/chickens are: you can choose the age of your birds, quick startup, vary the breeds you have, cost, and gender selection. Chicks are a very easy item to find for sale. Check your local feed stores as well as local farm listings on sale sites. If you want chickens, you can find them without much difficulty.
When ordering online you are limited in age selection. Chicks at a day old are still absorbing the yolk and can go without food or water. Much past that and they would die of thirst during shipment. Local breeders and hatcheries often only keep birds for a short time to ensure new blood lines. These birds are either killed or sold. Getting a few different aged chickens can help with keeping a stable number of eggs being laid. This also would be a good option for someone looking for eggs without waiting the 24 weeks.
Start up with chicks is much quicker than with incubating. With chicks you get to come home from purchasing your birds and start forming a relationship. With eggs you have to wait 21 days before you even know if you will have birds to bond with. Bonding with your chickens tend to keep them friendlier and makes it easier to check eggs. This can also come in handy for sick birds that need care – it is easier to handle birds that are used to humans than ones that are not.
Different breeds of chickens carry different traits, egg color, temperament, egg production, and size are all different in different breeds. Choosing one breed and sticking with it is fine, however, mixing it up is nice too. Having a few chickens for looks, a few production layers, and a few specialty birds is becoming common in the backyard chicken world. Find breeds that work best in your situation. Are you in the city and need quiet birds? Do you want pretty eggs in multiple colors? Do you want birds that forage well in a free range setting? Questions like these will help choose what breed(s) is right for you.
Different breeds of birds run different prices, by watching sales at farm stores you can get chicks as low as $0.45 each. By purchasing from a breeder of rare specialty birds you could pay well over $100 each. There are chickens that run $2500 each. Really there is a chicken to fit any budget. The rest of the cost is the same for hatching and purchasing. Heat lamps, food, coop, bedding, and any medical. Chickens are extremely varied in the setup costs. There are coops for sale running $1000 – $10,000; some of these are fully decked out and nicer than many homes. You can also up-cycle just about anything to make a coop for chickens. Left without a coop chickens will find a place to call home and lay eggs.
Gender selection is a big draw to people purchasing chicks. When you hatch your eggs you can expect 50% will be roosters. So unless you are planning to eat them you will be getting eggs from 1/2 of what you hatched. With purchased chicks you can get them sexed. There is some discussion on the accuracy in sexing but on average it runs about 80-90%. This means your chances of ending up with a potentially grumpy freeloader are much lower.
Regardless of what method you choose for acquiring your chickens the steady flow of farm fresh eggs cannot be beat. Chickens are amazingly full of personality and quickly can become pets in a small personal flock.