This is the first of my series on raising chicks. I am not sure how many parts this series will have since I keep thinking of more posts to write on this topic. I have a lot to say about chickens, clearly. A classmate of mine recommended I start a business called "Cluck Cluck Consulting".
I told her that is the dream.
Decide on the best chicken breed for your purpose
There are hundreds of chicken breeds. Different breeds have different characteristics, and it is important to pick a breed for your purpose.
Do you want good layers? Are you planning on eating your chickens? Do you live in a residential neighborhood and need quiet birds? Do you want a breed that is docile and good with kids? Or a chicken that is an excellent forager? These are all things to keep in mind when getting chickens.
Most hatcheries and feed stores will sell pullets, which means they have been sexed and are young hens (not roosters). They will usually sell moderate to large sized breed pullets, but not bantam pullets. Bantams are a small variety of chicken, including breeds like sillkies and frizzles. Many bantam breeds are adorable and great for children to have as pets, however bantams cannot be accurately sexed when they are chicks. So if you buy bantams, you're rolling the die and risking getting a few roosters.
It is also important to pick a chicken well-suited for the climate where you live. This is important in Northern California where I am, since it often gets over 90°F in the summertime.
I prefer heritage breeds since these chickens are "old school" and not a breed designed by people for food production. Wyandottes and Australorps are great for backyard flocks since these chickens tend to be good layers, quiet, and not overly skiddish.
This year, I decided to choose a white leghorn and an Ameraucana for my backyard flock. I based my decision for selecting these birds solely on eggs. Leghorns are excellent layers and Ameraucanas lay the beautiful blue/green eggs. I did not take temperament into consideration, and that was a mistake. The two hens were constantly fighting, and the leghorn had no fear. Plus, they were loud. They clucked all day long. One morning, one of them started to crow. They were both definitely hens, but hens crowing is something that can happen if you have all hens and no rooster. One of them can start crowing and act rooster-like. At that point, I'd had enough and swapped those two hens out with two other hens at my work that I had raised. I chose a Wyandotte and an Australorp this time, and they have been wonderful.
Backyard Chickens is a great online resource with a lot of information on various chicken breeds.
Buy from a reputable distributor
Make sure the hatchery you are buying from has good reviews. If buying from a feed store, it is a good idea to ask what hatchery they purchase from. It is important to know where your chicks are coming from both to ensure they are healthy and if you want hens, not roosters. A good hatchery can sex chicks accurately and there will be less of a chance you will be woken up a few months down the road by a "cock-a-doodle-doo".
Picking your chicks
If buying from a feed store, you get the advantage of being able to pick out your own chicks. Choose chicks that are very active. If a chick is not moving around, is huddled under the light, or looks sickly then don't pick it. Once you find an active chick, check their body and feet especially for deformities. Also, check out the chick's back end. It is common for chicks to get "poop butt" or "pasty butt", especially during its first two weeks. What is poop butt, you ask? It's poop that gets caked to the chick's butt, simple as that. If gone unnoticed, the chick will get backed up and die. It is not a good idea to pick a chick who already has poop butt since this will likely be a recurring issue for it's first few weeks.
Stay tuned for more from the "How To Raise Chickens" series!