Getting Chicks

We got our chicks yesterday. My wife and I had been holding out for the chick arrival at a nearby feed store in a few weeks, but we journeyed to a different farm and ranch supply and decided to buy three small, energetic, balls of fluff on the spot. I’d avoided the urge a few weeks ago, despite their uncontrollable cuteness, because the store employees had no idea what breeds the chicks were. The other, local feed store staff knows precisely what they are getting, but we’ve been chomping at the bit to get chicks and didn’t want any more delay so we decided to take the plunge into the unknown.

Our new baby chicks

Last year I wrote about choosing specific breeds of chickens for specific purposes (see the bottom of the page). We live in a very cold region, want lots of eggs, and have grandchildren that will play with the chickens. Not every chicken breed can handle the cold, will lay in quantity, and are calm and social enough to tolerate kids. After researching their differences, I selected a handful of breeds that fit easily into all three of those categories.

By buying chicks without a known pedigree, we were putting ourselves at risk for choosing chickens that are inappropriate for our plan. But, gosh, they sure are cute.

I was also determined to get female chicks, or pullets, because laying is our primary reason for getting chickens. When you purchase chicks you typically have two options: buy “straight run” chicks that are pulled straight from the incubator after hatching and are a mix of male and female chicks; or buy “pullets” that have been sexed by an expert to identify them as female. The sexing process adds about a dollar to the price of the pullets, but I think it’s worth it to avoid the 50/50 chance that a straight run chick might turn into a rooster.

But my wife was in a gambling mood and thought it would be fun to try a straight run chick. So we went home with two unidentified pullets and a chick of unknown sex.

The brooder was ready for them. I built it a few weeks ago in preparation of our inevitable purchase. With the food, water, heat lamp, and shaved wood bedding in place, my wife placed them in their new home and we stood back, grinning, like new, proud parents.

Chicks in the brooder

And like a proud papa I took photos of the event. Partly to document the process, but also to start working on the identification of these unknown orphans. Like a TV detective, I started combing the internet for clues.

A bit surprisingly, I didn’t find a central database for baby chicks. Most of the photos and identification charts have been compiled by average people who like chickens and put together websites on the subject. Most just document a few different breeds. Even many of the university or extension sites link to these website efforts of passionate chickeners. One of the best is feathersite.com. It offers pages of chick photos for comparison.

Two of my favorite sites, mypetchicken.com and backyardchickens.com, have great photos but you have to know what you’re looking for to begin. They don’t have the grand chart that shows all of the different chicks side by side so you can look and decide. Like feathersite.com, you enter with the name of a breed and then see what the results are.

Luckily, because on my earlier research, I had a basic idea of what chicks we had. At least enough of an idea to make the search relatively quick.

The first chick I confirmed is a Rhode Island Red. This is good news because this was one of my finalists in the chicken selection competition I conducted last year. They’re good layers, are friendly, and handle cold well.

Rhode Island Red chick

The second chick was a little more difficult to identify because it looks like so many other chicks in a blind, random internet search. I’m pretty sure it’s a New Hampshire Red. This news isn’t as good, but isn’t bad. Though New Hampshire Reds were derived from Rhode island Reds, they tend to produce fewer eggs. However, they can handle the cold and are friendly.

New Hampshire Red chick

The third chick, the possible rooster, was the hardest to figure out and I’m pretty sure, but not positive, that’s it’s an Ameraucana or Easter Egger. Those names are often used interchangeably and depending on the source each is the preferred title; it depends on how purebred they are. This breed just missed the cut on my earlier list so it’s not a bad determination. Easter Eggers are friendly and calm and lay colored eggs, perfect for grandkids.

Easter Egger chick

So it looks like our impulse buy turned out okay. I think I might still get a couple more chicks from the feed store when they come in, assuming they are among my top-five choices, but for a starter flock these three will work fine.

Now the day-to-day chicken chores begin. They need regular and clean food and water. They also need lots of warmth and cleanliness in their home. I have little doubt they’ll get much attention and love.

I’ll write about the entire chicken journey as it progresses. It’s already great fun.

Link to:

My “Choosing Chickens” blog
feathersite.com chick page
backyardchickens.com
mypetchicken.com

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