If you want to start breeding chickens in order to perpetuate your flock, there are several different ways you can start:
- hatch fertile eggs — get eggs from a breeder and begin hatching those
- buy adult birds — get adult (already laying) hens and a rooster from a breeder, begin hatching eggs that they produce
- buy started chickens — get young adult birds from a breeder, raise them to laying age, and use them as your breeders
- baby chicks — buy baby chicks from a breeder, raise those, then select the best to become your breeders
Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of each approach.
Starting with Hatching Eggs
Unless you know of a reputable breeder that you can get eggs from inexpensively, I don’t recommend fertile hatching eggs as a way to start, although, obviously hatching eggs from your own flocks will be essential once you get your breeding flocks going.
Why do I not recommend starting with eggs?
For one, fertile hatching eggs are usually quite expensive. You wouldn’t necessarily save any money (or not much) as compared to starting with baby chicks.
Second, you don’t really know the quality of the stock that you are getting, since all you’re getting is eggs. It’s far better to have chickens that you can look at and assess.
Third, hatching eggs that are shipped by mail are unpredictable. Sometimes they will hatch well and sometimes they won’t. The jostling and temperature changes that occur during shipment aren’t very good for hatching eggs.
Once you get your flock started, then you’ll need to hatch eggs from your own hens each year, but to get your flock started, buying hatching eggs isn’t the best approach.
Buy Adult Chickens
This involves finding a breeder that you trust and buying adult birds from him — chickens that are already mature and laying. You would need at least one hen, preferably two and a rooster.
I don’t recommend this approach.
For one, you can be nearly 100% certain that the breeder is not going to give you his best, or even his second or third best birds. How could he, since he needs to keep those for himself to perpetuate his own breeding program. He is hopefully culling his worst chickens and using them for meat, but these will be somewhere between his worst and the lowest of his best. There are simply better options than this.
Buying adult birds also increases the risk that you will be bringing disease or other problems (such as mites) into your own flocks.
Buy Started Chickens
Started chickens is perhaps a little better than buying adult chickens.
Although I often advise started chickens to people who have no prior experience raising chickens, I don’t think it’s the best approach for breeders.
The main reasons started chickens are good for people who are new to chickens are:
- It’s simpler — you don’t need a brooder
- There’s a better chance they’ll all survive
- It gives you a few weeks head start towards getting to egg production
But if you’re going to start breeding chickens it makes less sense to get started chickens, for several reasons. You need a brooder anyway, and you need to get used to brooding and raising chicks, so there’s no long term advantage. You’ll also pay more for started chickens than you will for chicks.
Raising Baby Chicks then Selecting Your Breeders
If you know of a reputable breeder for the breed that you’re wanting to get, I think this is your best option. I would recommend asking lots of questions and looking at his adult birds first before placing an order.
The advantage of getting baby chicks is that the breeder is likely to sell you good birds. His reputation depends on it. Baby chicks are too young to select from, so all chicks that are free from obvious deformities and healthy are about equally likely to develop into good quality adult chickens.
You’ll still need to select once they’re grown, but if you buy a large number of chicks (50-100) and if you ask enough questions to make sure that these are offspring from breeding quality stock, then you will likely be able to raise some good quality breeders that you can use as the foundation for your own flocks.
When you select, you’ll only be keeping about 10% of the males and about 20% of the females, so you’ll need to purchase plenty of chicks to make sure you have a large pool to select from. I recommend a minimum of 50, which would give you about 25 males and about 25 females. That would give you 2 top males and 5 females. 100 would be even better.
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