Thursday, June 13, 2013

Should I Start My Backyard Flock With Hens or Chicks?

Mary Lou Burke, thank you for asking me to contribute to your blog page.

A number of folks have asked us, “Where do we get our hens?”  They are also asking, “Are chicks or grown hens better?”

 It is my opinion that to start out, you are better off purchasing pullets, young hens that are just beginning to lay eggs. This way you will be sure that you are getting a hen not a rooster. You will be getting eggs shortly after your purchase resulting in an immediate return from your investment.  You also have at least 5 years of egg production ahead of you.  If you choose 1-2 year old hens it is the similar to purchasing pullets. Remember, hens drop in egg production each year, so I don't suggest starting out with older hens.

A lot of you would like to have chicks. Keep in mind that with chicks you cannot be 100% sure you are getting hens even if you ask the seller for hens only.  In a purchase of 25 straight pullets I recently received 3 roosters.  By the time you can positively tell your chicks are roosters, your family is attached to them, and you have to try to get rid of them. (Most city ordinances do not allow roosters). Chicks require time, food and steady care for several months, at least 5, before they begin to lay, hence delaying an immediate return on your purchase and care costs. In addition, several hatching businesses have a minimum amount you have to buy. The minimum is often 25, so you will need to find some other folks to order chicks with.  Remember, when ordering from a hatchery to specify you only want hens; a straight run is a mix of roosters and hens. 

*If you feel you must have chicks I would suggest you purchase ½ of the amount of hens you can have as pullets and ½ as chicks; that way, while you are waiting for the chicks to mature and lay, the pullets are laying for you.

 As to how to purchase your pullets or chicks, I would like to recommend a few words of caution. With the enthusiasm over backyard hens, sadly, comes a few unscrupulous sellers. Make sure you are buying from a reputable person/business. Take someone that is familiar with hens along with you when you buy your hens, do your research, and  KNOW  the difference between hens and roosters (when buying pullets it is easy to tell), ask for references and guarantees  IN WRITING.  If the seller REFUSES to give you a written guarantee that you are getting hens NOT roosters, and if they will not trade any roosters you get from them for hens, once they grow up and you can tell for sure, I suggest you purchase from someone else. Verbal guarantees do NOT hold.

 As to where to purchase your pullets or chicks, there are chicken swaps held at most feed stores, which are often posted on local Facebook chicken sites. Craigslist usually has hens listed; do not buy without seeing them. Other chicken folks may know someone with hens for sale, and the various chicken Facebook pages always have hens and chicks for sale. There are several commercial hatcheries online. Local feed stores are a great resource for finding chicks or hens.  

Contact a local Facebook Chicken group for assistance.

Some, but not all, local Hampton Roads Facebook chicken groups are:

1.   4 Chesapeake Hens

2.   Hampton Roads Hens

3.   Portsmouth Hen Keepers 

I hope this helps you; please feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns. We definitely want to know about the good news, but we also need to know about the bad so we can help others avoid it.

 Happy chicken-keeping, folks!

Portsmouth Hen Keepers founder, Sharon Jackson


  1. LOL, buying older pullets doesn't guarantee no roosters!!! :-(

    1. Lanette, you had some bad luck with Clara Belle!