For those who are new to chickens there are a few things that you absolutely need to know.
First of all, baby chicks, like baby cats and dogs, are adorable. But just like kittens and puppies they grow up. Quickly. Don’t purchase chicks as pets for children unless you are committed to raising a flock. Chickens are flock birds, you need at least 2-3 for them to feel safe and to not be stressed. A single bird is not going to be happy (unless you are raising it in your TV room and your kids are acting as a segregate flock.)
And like cats and dogs, chickens have special needs (food, bedding, roost bars.) In New Hampshire you must buy a minimum of 12 chicks at one time if you are buying from a feed store (it’s an old agricultural law that ensures only true chicken owners buy the birds and not some kid with a few dollars in his back pocket.) Just warning you here, don’t buy the chicks because they are cute, buy them because you want to raise them.
If you are going to buy chicks, then you need to know some terminology.
Pullets – these are female chicks and when you buy chicks that are pullets you are usually buying sex-linked birds. These are birds that have been bred to be one color if they are female and another if they are male. For the most part, the males are destroyed at birth. We have Golden-comets and Black Sex-linked birds in our flock. Sex-linked birds are also bred to be efficient egg layers, they are usually hardy and if you are looking for a productive flock, these are your birds.
Cockerels – these are the young male birds. If you plan on breeding your chickens you are going to need a male bird. If you just want eggs, you DO NOT NEED A ROOSTER (can’t tell you how often I’m asked about that one.)
Roosters make noise. They make a lot of noise. If you are living in an urban setting, roosters do not belong in your flock (and this from someone who has adored her roosters.) Trust me, if you want to keep peace in the neighborhood, stay away from the boys.
Straight Run – this is the Cracker-Jack prize of chickens, you don’t know what you are going to get. When you buy from a straight-run you’ll probably get a few roosters in the mix. So why would you do this? If you plan on eating your birds, chances are you will be harvesting them before they mature enough to get to the crowing stage. Straight-run birds are usually a bit cheaper than just pullets.
Meat birds – The first time I saw some meat birds I was tempted to get a few so that I could “save” them. Forget it. Meat birds are bred so that they have a lot of breast meat. They are designed to be harvested at about the 3-4 month stage. If you let them go much longer often they have leg and balance problems, it’s not pretty. Let those who are interested in eating their birds buy the meat ones and if you are only interested in eggs, then go on over and check out those pullets.