Choosing your Chickens

Buying chickens - choosing your hens

Choosing your Chickens

Where do you go to buy your chickens? There is not a shortage of people selling chickens, in fact as the demand increases so does the amount of suppliers. If you are a first-time buyer it's best to source a supplier who is going to give you advice and back-up when you get the girls home. You will undoubtedly have lots of questions to ask prior to buying the girls, and if things go wrong you will need to discuss with the supplier before spending out on vets. Without doubt the best way to source a local supplier is to talk to neighbours or friends who have chickens, as they will soon tell you if their contacts are to be recommended or not. You will find adverts for breeders in local papers and websites, and there are auctions that you could attend as well as various markets. However, without doubt, I would strongly recommend using an established outlet that will spend the time to discuss the health and welfare of your new girls.

Buying chickens - which breed?

Which Breed?

There are literally thousands and thousands of breeds to choose from; pedigree stock carrying designer price tags, glamorous-looking types, those laying green and blue eggs, even feathered leg varieties and the elegant hat-wearing types - you could fall in love with them all. Now let’s get back to reality: what do you want from the chicken? Admiration from the neighbours or a regular supply of eggs to feed the family? If it’s the egg supply then you will need to look at the hybrids. These are birds that were bred to simply produce eggs back in the 1950s when there was need to produce more eggs as cheaply as possible.

The Perfect Egg Laying Chicken?

Different strains of chickens were matched up together to find the perfect egg-laying bird, one that would lay over 300 good size eggs a year, not eat too much food, small enough to put into a cage with a few more, and most importantly very docile to avoid them fighting each other. Therefore this type of chicken comes with a guarantee of producing lots of eggs when given a loving home.

Buying chickens - cost

How Much Will the Chickens Cost?

There is a very large difference in the price of chickens. Again, the hybrids should be the cheapest with the very fancy breeds carrying an expensive price tag. The chickens that we sell at Longdown Activity Farm are £12.50 each. They are hybrids - Warrens (Rhode Island Red normally crossed with Plymouth Rock). Sometimes the hybrids come with different fancy names but to be truthful all hybrids will provide you with a regular supply of eggs - but do not expect to get a Sunday roast from them when they have finished laying!

If you are looking for the fancy breed of bird then you will need to look for a specialist breeder; search engines are good for this.

What to Ask when Viewing Chickens

You may be an expert or a novice, it really does not matter, but there are some things that you need to know when you purchase your new girls:

Buying chickens - which breed?

What breed are they?

You should be told exactly what breed they are. If you are buying traditional breeds it's worth knowing who the original breeder was for future reference when choosing future breeding stock.

Point of lay chickens

What age are they?

An ideal age to buy your chickens is 16 - 20 weeks. These are classified as Point of Lay; it does not guarantee that they will lay when you get them home - that will depend on many other factors. It is very unlikely that a chicken would have had all its vaccinations and been wormed if they are younger than 14 weeks.

Egg laying chickens

Are they guaranteed females?

Assuming that you are buying your chickens to lay eggs, then it would not make sense to buy a cockerel. It is no advantage having a boy amongst the girls, in fact it would cause more problems than it's worth. Chickens will produce eggs quite happily without any boys being present; obviously they will not be fertile. The girls are normally friendlier without the presence of a male strutting about amongst them and no matter how nicely you speak to your young man he will still upset the neighbours at whichever time he chooses with his vocal outburst.

Buying chickens - innoculations

Have they been fully inoculated and if so do you have a list of what with?

All commercial poultry rearers vaccinate their stock with a large number of different vaccines; these can change depending on different geographical circumstances. Many smaller producers do not worry about vaccinating their stock, but personally I feel that it is better to be safe than sorry. Rearers normally are happy to give you a list of all vaccines that the girls have had.

Buying chickens - have they been wormed?

Have they been wormed and if so with what and when was the last wormer administered?

Most rearers will commence a worming programme when the girls are about 14 weeks old and treat them with a product called Flubenvet. There are others who will prefer not to worm them in case the new owners prefer to use an organic product, this a personal choice.

Buying chickens - feeding

What are they being fed on now?

Moving a chicken to a new home can be very stressful for the poor girls, therefore to change their feed at the same time is adding to the problem, so it's worth asking for a small bag of the feed to reduce this risk or simply make sure you have the same type in stock.

Buying chickens - housed in litter or perched

Are they housed in deep litter or are they trained on perches?

Many rearers keep their chickens on deep litter therefore the girls are not used to using the perches in their new house. It's worth knowing this from the start as you then will know that you will need to lift some of them up onto the perches when it gets dark; this will help prevent them from sleeping in their nest boxes and spoiling the eggs.

Buying chickens - wings clipped

Have they had their wing clipped?

To prevent your chickens attempting to scale the neighbour’s fence it's advisable to clip a wing. Don't clip both wings otherwise they will soon regrow and off she will go. Most rearers will happily show you how this is done; it is one of those jobs that is easy when you know how. If you are not letting your girls out in the garden or would prefer to let the girls fly up into the trees then there is no need to clip the wings, but even if that is the case then it would be best to have been shown in case you need to do it later.

Buying chickens - warranty

Do you get a warranty on your chickens?

Would you consider buying a car or electrical appliance without a warranty? Now chicken do not come with a three-year guarantee, however a reputable supplier should offer some form of assurance that if you have problems with your girls they will give you support. At Longdown Activity Farm all our livestock carry a 28-day warranty. If things go wrong for any health reason we will give support and advice, but we cannot take chickens back to re-home due to our strict movement regulations. Our after-sales advice continues throughout the chicken’s lifetime.

How do I tell if it's healthy?

Are They Healthy?

Most rearers will let you choose your own chickens, therefore there are just a few things that you need to consider when viewing them. If you are not happy with the girls do not be afraid to say so, you do not want to take home problems!

  • Watch the chickens walking; they should walk with their head up high and their tail facing upwards or at least straight; if the tail is tucked down this indicates a digestive problem. When they walk they should raise their legs elegantly and be weight bearing on both feet.
  • The comb and wattle should be a pink or reddish colour depending on their age.
  • Do not be alarmed if the chickens do not want to be caught as this has probably happened before when they have been chased and injected. If you crouch down in their area they will come to you. Do not be tempted to go for the smallest or weakest as that will bring a costly veterinary bill with it.
  • With the young lady tucked firmly under your arm, check the nostrils are clean and free of mucus; the beak may be trimmed at the point (this is common practice for hybrid chickens). Listen to the breathing: if it sounds chesty or rattling, put it down; if you find another one similar, say goodbye to the rearer (politely), as this would be an indication that there is a respiratory problem on the premises.
  • Feel the legs; they should be fairly smooth. They will vary in colour. Check the feet; toes are sometimes disjointed but make sure that there is not a build-up of dirt on them.
  • Gently pull back the feathers to check for any little grey creepy crawlies or clutches of white eggs as this would indicate a parasite problem; the outer feathers should be glossy and shine.
  • Finally check the production end; the vent should be clean with soft fluffy down feathers around it; these should not be contaminated with any droppings.

If you are happy with your girls, head home as soon as possible.

How do I get my chickens home?

How do I get my Chickens Home?

If you have arranged to view some chickens with the consideration of taking them home with you, then it would be advisable to be prepared and have a suitable box or carrier to take them home in, as you will not be able to sit them on your lap in the car on the way home.

If you have a plastic pet carrier (the type used to take a cat to the vet) that would be perfect, however it's not cost effective to buy one for just one journey. There are many cardboard types on the market or, cheaper still, use a large cardboard box with plenty of holes (at least 25mm) cut near the top to allow the hot air to escape and give maximum air flow. It would be kinder for the girls and your passengers to drive with the windows open. Please do not stop on the way home to get supplies as a locked car will get hot extremely quickly. Next section: What to do when I get the Girls home? >