Before you rush out to purchase new occupants for your coop, here are a few tips on buying chickens.
1. Always buy your chickens in person.
When buying chickens, you need to see what you are getting. Some companies will deliver them, but reputable breeders operate a collection-only policy, and with good reason. By buying in person, you can see the condition of your birds, how they are kept, and reject any that are obviously sickly, ill or not as described. If in any doubt, walk away – there are always other chickens.
2. Buy in the light
Buy your chickens in daylight, when you can properly see their condition. A healthy hen should be alert, active and bright-eyed during the day. Feathers should be glossy and complete, but this may not be the case if the hen is in moult, or is at the bottom of the pecking order. If so, she will grow new feathers once she is in your tender loving care.
3. Pick up your chicken
There is no substitute for picking up a chicken and feeling her condition for yourself. Look for smooth legs, good feather condition (see above) and a firm body, indicating good muscle and meat development. Gently part the feathers for a quick inspection for lice or skin conditions hidden below. Trust your instincts; if you like the bird and the bird likes you, buy it. If it (literally) feels wrong, walk away from the deal, or choose another chicken. Don’t take a sick or weak bird out of sympathy – it’ll cost you heartache and expense.
4. Don’t buy too many …. at first!
If you are new to this all then start small. A few hens 3 or 4 is ideal. Remember you can always get more in a few months, that is easy. The problem is that whilst most people have good intentions, they also have a tendency to rush in, and they forget or ignore the fact that keeping chickens requires the same amount of attention as a family cat or dog.
Unless you have chosen a particularly low egg-yielding breed, three to four chickens will easily supply your family with fresh eggs all year round. Overcrowded chickens are more prone to disease, mites and are more likely to step on eggs and damage them.
So, start with a smaller group of three and four, and build your flock once you have more experience.