Hatching Chicks vs Ordering: Which Is Best?

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Should you hatch chicks, order them from a hatchery, or buy them at the feed store?

Hatching chicks, ordering them from a hatchery, or buying them from a farm supply store is a fun activity for homesteading families. But which option is best? Some swear by hatching their own, while others can’t resist the little fluff balls at their feed store. And a quick search for poultry hatcheries will surely complicate matters when you see the numerous breeds available online! In this article we’ll discuss your options for adding chickens and other poultry to your homestead, plus the pros and cons of each.

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10 Best Broody Hen Breeds For A Self Reliant Flock

Momma hen and her chicks - let your hen hatch her own chicks!

Hatching Chicks At Home

If you have fertile eggs you can hatch them at home. Of course, you’ll need to keep a rooster in your flock to have fertile eggs. One rooster to every 8 to 12 hens should ensure a high fertility rate for those home raised eggs. Not sure whether your rooster is doing his job and the eggs are fertile? You can check before attempting a hatch. Here’s how:

  • Crack an egg into a bowl
  • Look for the small white spot on the yolk, called the blastodisc (not fertile) or blastoderm (fertile)
  • A blastodisc will look like a plain white spot on the yolk
  • A blastoderm will be a white spot with a ring around it

For a week or so before you wish to hatch your farm fresh eggs, check each egg that you crack open to cook. Look for a blastodisc or blastoderm. If most of the eggs you crack open have a blastoderm, you will know that your hens are laying fertile eggs.

No Fertile Eggs?

Even if you don’t have a flock of chickens or a rooster, you may order fertile eggs online. This can be costly and the shipping process may jostle eggs and reduce successful hatch rates. Order extra eggs in case some don’t hatch and try to order when weather conditions are mild. You may also check on your local Craigslist under the Farm section (be very careful picking up from Craigslist…follow safety precautions and bring a friend).

Eggs should be kept between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity levels around 75% for storage until hatching. They should be set under a broody hen or into an incubator within 7 to 10 days of laying, for best hatch rates.

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Broody hen hatching chicks

Advantages & Disadvantages Of Hatching At Home

Whether you hatch the eggs using an incubator or a broody hen, there are advantages, and some potential downfalls. You’ll need to base the decision on your situation and needs. Here are some of the pros and cons of hatching at home…

Pros

  • Save money – home hatched chicks cost less than hatchery chicks
  • Breed for your local conditions – develop your own landrace breed
  • Home hatched chicks are less stressed than shipped chicks
  • Biosecurity – decrease chances of disease being brought in
  • Self reliance – not as dependent on outside resources
  • Chicks may receive food and water as soon as they can eat
  • It is fun and educational!

Cons

  • Limited to breeds you have, unless you acquire fertile eggs from another source
  • 21 days to hatch for chicken eggs
  • No vaccinations unless you administer them
  • Inbreeding can be a problem unless new genetics are introduced from time to time
  • Must keep a rooster (not always possible)- or find fertile eggs elsewhere
  • Straight run only – you should expect approximately half male and half female
broody hen with chicks

Hatching With A Broody Hen

If you have hens that go broody, you can let them do the work for you and hatch the next generation. Not all hens will go broody and some are not reliable about setting for the full 21 days or rearing their young. Some breeds are more likely to go broody than others. Many breeds of chicken have had their maternal instincts bred out to increase their egg laying capacity. On the other hand, some hens have such strong broody traits that they’ll try to hatch a rock! They will readily accept fertile eggs from another hen, or even another species of poultry.

Pros

  • No electricity needed
  • Don’t need an incubator – less expense
  • Less work – no turning the eggs several times a day, filling humidity trays, or worrying over hatchlings
  • No brooder set up needed – no heat lamp or other source of heat

Cons

  • Some hens are not reliable and may abandon their nest before chicks hatch
  • Hens will not lay eggs while they are setting, fewer eggs for your table
  • Fewer eggs may be hatched by a hen, compared to incubators that hold 48 eggs
  • Hen should be removed from flock during hatch – you’ll need separate housing for her
Hatching Chicks - The New Homesteader's Almanac

Hatching With An Incubator

If you don’t have a broody hen, you will need an incubator to hatch eggs at home. A good incubator will have a turner, temperature control, and humidity trays to provide the ideal conditions for hatching. Some basic incubators need much more attention on your part, including turning the eggs 3 to 5 times a day, and checking the humidity trays and temperature regularly.

How to Hatch Chicken Eggs in an Incubator

Pros

  • Many incubators will hold 48 eggs, so you may hatch a large batch
  • Allows you to hatch eggs while hen continues to lay eggs
  • You may purchase an automatic incubator that turns eggs and keeps a constant temperature
  • Allows you to handle chicks so they are tame
  • Provides a homeschool lesson for your children

Cons

  • If electricity goes out, hatch may fail
  • Incubators that are not automatic need much more attention
  • Expense of purchasing incubator may be considerable
  • Eggs that are not turned or cared for properly are likely to develop embryos that are deformed, sick, or die before, or during hatch
  • Chicks will need your care after hatching
chick from hatchery order

Ordering Chicks From A Hatchery

If you are just starting out with poultry or you would like new breeds or species, you may want to order from a hatchery. There are many breeds of chickens and other poultry available when you order from a hatchery. You may choose to expedite shipping so your chicks arrive in less than 3 days to give them the best start in life. This will involve an additional fee. Most hatcheries guarantee 3 day shipping, although there is the occasional delay. Chicks are born with a 3 day supply of nutrition left from the yolk, which allows for the common practice of shipping day old poultry. Choose a reputable, pullorum free hatchery that is in your region to ensure you receive healthy chicks that arrive quickly.

Pros

  • Many breeds and species to choose from
  • Vaccinations may be provided, usually for a fee
  • Chicks may arrive sooner than 21 days
  • May order only pullets if you wish, no unwanted roosters
  • The work of hatching is done for you

Cons

  • Shipping can be stressful and some chicks may die
  • Chicks don’t receive food and water as soon as home hatched chicks
  • Most hatcheries have a minimum order or small order service fee, increasing cost
  • Potential for disease to be transferred from hatchery flocks is not zero
  • Cost is higher than hatching your own fertile eggs
  • Hatcheries may not breed for qualities you desire

Purchasing Chicks From The Feed Store

Many farm supply outlets and feed stores order in chicks each spring for ‘off the shelf’ sales. These chicks often sell quickly as an impulse item. It isn’t advisable to pick up chicks from the feed store just because they are cute and happen to ‘jump’ into your cart! You’ll want to be prepared for them before you bring them home.

Pros

  • Many feed stores take orders for customers, allowing you to choose breeds and plan ahead
  • You may get a better price since they order a larger quantity
  • It can be fun to pick out chicks at the feed store, especially with children
  • If staff is knowledgeable, chicks will receive proper care until you buy them
  • You can purchase the feed and supplies you need while you are there

Cons

  • Feed stores may not order vaccinated chicks
  • Impulse buying means you might not be ready for the responsibility
  • You’ll need to transport chicks home, which may be stressful for them
  • If staff is not trained, chicks may not receive proper care
  • You are limited to the breeds they offer, unless you order ahead
  • These chicks have been ordered from a hatchery and have been shipped, which could mean they have been stressed
Chicken egg hatching

What Is The Best Way To Get New Chicks?

Of course, there is ‘no one size fits all’ answer to this question! If you don’t have chickens and you want to start a new flock, you will need to acquire fertile eggs and hatch them yourself, purchase them at your feed store, or order them from a hatchery.

If you already have chickens, you can bring in new chicks to try a different breed, or you can hatch fertile eggs from your own flock. You’ll need to keep a rooster to have fertile eggs and some people prefer not to do this, or are prohibited from keeping roosters in their area. In that case you’ll need to buy chicks or fertile eggs to increase the size of your flock or replace old laying hens.

Choose the method that works best for your homestead and have fun raising your chicks!

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Lisa Lombardo

Freelance Writer & Blogger at Tohoca, LLC
Lisa writes in-depth articles about gardening and homesteading topics. She grew up on a farm and has continued learning about horticulture, animal husbandry, and home food preservation ever since. She has earned an Associate of Applied Science in Horticulture and a Bachelor of Fine Arts. She is a self proclaimed gardening freak and crazy chicken lady.

In addition to writing for her own websites, Lisa has contributed articles to The Prepper Project and Homestead.org.

The author lives outside of Chicago with her husband, son, 2 dogs, 1 cat, and a variety of poultry.
Lisa Lombardo
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About Lisa Lombardo

Lisa writes in-depth articles about gardening and homesteading topics. She grew up on a farm and has continued learning about horticulture, animal husbandry, and home food preservation ever since. She has earned an Associate of Applied Science in Horticulture and a Bachelor of Fine Arts. She is a self proclaimed gardening freak and crazy chicken lady. In addition to writing for her own websites, Lisa has contributed articles to The Prepper Project and Homestead.org. The author lives outside of Chicago with her husband, son, 2 dogs, 1 cat, and a variety of poultry.

22 comments on “Hatching Chicks vs Ordering: Which Is Best?

  1. Kyla C.N.

    Thank you! Have been considering this recently, and as much as we would love to hatch our own, probably the best choice for us at this time is buying. The information is great, as always! Will save for the future.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Lombardo Post author

      Hi Kyla,
      I’m glad that it was helpful to read this. Hatching is a lot of fun, but it can also be very demanding! Have fun picking out chicks!

      Reply
  2. WT Abernathy

    Hi Lisa, it’s great to connect with you:)

    In the past, we’ve added to our flock two ways. The first was picking up chicks at the feed store and nurturing them in the basement under heat lamps until they could move to the yard and learn the ways of the world.

    The second was when we culled some of our meat birds to move into the egg flock. They were NH and RI Reds and have worked beautifully so far. Their laying is almost as impressive as our old ISA Browns.

    We have talked about letting as broody hen try her hand at a natural lay, so if one of our current ladies decide that’s what they want todo, we’ll let it happen. Your note about moving her to a different coop was good info, and we all be sure to do that.

    Thank you for the great article!

    Reply
  3. Tamara Reid

    Another reason to hatch your own, is if you get involved in showing poultry. All three of my daughters were involved in 4-H showing poultry from 1st grade right up through high school. It was a wonderful experience for them to try and improve their chosen breeds to the written standard for that breed. Showing poultry is not very popular, and many people don’t even know about it! But just like there are standards written for dogs by the AKC for the Golden Retriever or the Basset Hound, their are standards written for not only each chicken breed but also for their variety (ie: color and/or feather pattern), by the American Poultry Association in the Standard of Perfection book.

    Thanks for this great article! It will be super helpful to anybody just getting started with raising chickens. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Lisa Lombardo Post author

      Great point, Tamara! I considered showing poultry when I first got started. The competition in our area is pretty fierce! Not sure I’m up for the cut-throat poultry exhibition world at my county fair! 🙂

      Reply
  4. Jennifer Cook

    Lisa, Thank you for this article. We cannot have farm animals on this rental homestead but I for sure want chickens when we move onto our forever homestead. Your information helps me a lot. I always seem to be at the feed stores when the baby chicks are there and I really want to be a good chicken mama. Your information is a great learning one for folks like me who are wanting chickens but need to learn beforehand. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Lombardo Post author

      Thank you for your kind words, Jennifer. I hope you can have chickens soon! I had to wait for quite a few years before we could move to our homestead. Now I have trouble imagining life without them. Best wishes!

      Reply
  5. Amy Colgan

    Awesome information! We recently ordered eggs and did a small hatch in an incubator. I think next time we would like to try and order live chicks. Thanks for the information all in one article!

    Reply
  6. Shelle

    Terrific information! I have not jumped into raising chicks in an incubator, but I have had great luck with feed store chicks and mail order. I’m hoping to get chicks in the spring.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Lombardo Post author

      Incubating eggs is fun and educational. 🙂 But you really do want to plan ahead and make sure to do it properly! Best wishes with your chicks this spring!

      Reply
  7. Kristi Stone

    Thank you for this, Lisa! This is going to be helpful for when I am ready to let my girls hatch their own chicks! I didn’t know about the blastoderm, I’ll be checking my eggs for those this week!

    Reply
  8. Nancy W

    Lisa,
    What a great post, so informative. We have not hatched any chicks yet. Usually we bought them from our local feed store and have always had good luck. I appreciate that you shared the pros and cons!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Lombardo Post author

      Thank you, Nancy…It is always fun to see the chicks at the feed store. 🙂 I have hatched, ordered, and picked up at the feed store with pretty good results.

      Reply
  9. Candy

    We have found that hatching chicken ourselves gives them a better head start in life. My rooster must be doing his duty I get maybe two unpatched eggs out of 20.

    Reply
  10. candy

    I ordered our chicks or bought them at store for several years. We started hatching out our own and wow are they healthier, grow faster and all around much better. Found you on Simple Homestead Blog Hop.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Lombardo Post author

      Hi Candy,
      I would much prefer to hatch my own for those reasons, and for the economics too. This year I really need to order a new breed…so back to the hatchery!

      Reply

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