Chickens are some of the most varied animals ever domesticated by humans. The APA recognizes 65 breeds alone and there are many, many more hobby breeds, fancy breeds, and interesting egg layers beyond that.
Have you ever found a chicken on an internet search and wished you could have a few of that breed, but had no idea how to acquire such an interesting bird? Many of us feel limited to the selection of chicks that our local farm store gets in each spring.
Our feed store does get in a nice variety, but never anything rare or fancy. It’s usually a selection of red layers, Leghorns, Buff Orpingtons, Cornish Cross and a few Bantams.
You could expand your flock by placing an order with a hatchery, but there is usually a shipping minimum of around 20-25 birds. (to keep the birds warm during shipping) This quantity is usually too high for the small, backyard chicken keeper who wants to keep only 6-10 hens.
In my experience, buying hatching eggs are the best way to acquire exactly what you want.
Ordering hatching eggs reminds me a lot of ordering garden seeds. Eggs are, in a sense, chicken seeds. Seeds can be shipped all across the world, then planted, watered and enjoyed. The seed stays dormant until moisture and heat are added.
Eggs are very similar, though their shelf life isn’t as long as a seed, a fertilized egg will stay viable for around 10-14 days. It should be kept under 70 degrees until incubation for optimal hatch rate. Once incubated, it grows into a chicken!
Getting Started with Hatching Eggs
- Get an incubator
Make sure you have a working incubator and an understanding of how to use it before you order any eggs. Shipping can be quite fast when it comes to hatching eggs. So you want to make sure you have your incubator before your eggs come. The faster you get them in the ‘bator, the better your hatch rate.
You can also use an actively broody hen. Make sure your hen is in full-on brood mode before relying on her to sit on your eggs. Placing eggs under a hen will not necessarily encourage broody behavior. It would be a shame to loose your eggs waiting for a fickle hen.
- Decide on a breed
Is there that one chicken that you’ve wanted for years? Maybe it’s a dark laying Maran, or a fancy Frizzle? Maybe a quality line that you’d love to take to show? Or something rare that you’d like to perpetuate? Hatching Eggs will open up these options.
- Find a Breeder
Finding a breeder can be tough, but I like to think of it as a treasure hunt with quality chickens as the prize!
Here’s a few places to start:
- Contact the Livestock Breed Conservancy. They can direct you to breeders of rare livestock.
- Join an online chicken group. There are many on Facebook, or there are specific sites dedicated to a particular breed. Get in contact with these people.
- Go to chicken shows. I found a breeder of Lavender Orphingtons at a Poultry Show who lived 3 states over.
- Contact hatcheries, many offer hatching eggs at a smaller quantity than live chicks.
- Order your eggs
Usually hatching eggs are sold by the dozen and are mailed express mail (around $20 USA shipping)
Prices can vary depending on the breed. I’ve noticed auction style becoming a popular selling method.
Sellers often use Pay Pal, so be sure you have an account set up.
Pros and Cons of Hatching Eggs vs Live Birds
- You will have to buy an incubator. In my experience, with incubators you get what you pay for. My favorite brand of incubators are Brinsea. They make incubating fool proof. (And they are not sponsoring this post.) You pretty much set the eggs and 21 days later you have chicks. The incubator does everything but top off the water every few days.
- Another con is that your chicks will not be sexed. So if you can’t keep a rooster, you will have to figure out what to do with male chicks. You cannot sex eggs. (although there are some wives tales out there that might say otherwise.)
- You will have to wait 21 days for your chicks to hatch.
- The world of available chicken breeds will open up!
- You can order (or hatch) the number of birds you want without dealing with shipping quantities from hatcheries.
- You get to see the miracle of birth! Watching chicks hatch is an amazing process!
- Shipping live birds is expensive and stressful to the bird. It can also be a pain orchestrating Post Office pick ups, delivery etc.
Things to ask the breeder:
- Hatching rate- ask what the average hatching rate is. Above 75% is good. If it’s below that, consider if the price is worth the risk. Some breeds just don’t hatch well.
- Ask what the shipping procedure is, and if the eggs are guaranteed.
- Ask to see a photo of the flock or parent chickens. If you are buying for egg color, ask to see a photo of the eggs.
- Tell the breeder if you want the eggs delivered to your house, or held for pick up. This is handy if the eggs are being shipped during extreme temperatures or if you are away from home when the eggs are delivered.
If you’re new to incubating chicks check out my series on Incubation to answer all your questions!
Let us know if you plan to order hatching eggs this spring. Visit the Community Chickens Facebook Page, or leave a comment below!