The Christmas and New Year’s holidays have come and gone. Though it is a long ways away in Montana, my mind has already turned to spring. With spring comes the Easter babies…. bunnies, lambs and chicks. I don’t raise rabbits, and any lamb we have are raised by a local Montana rancher, but we do have a small flock of chickens.
Baby chicks don’t start arriving at the local farm supply until late March, because our weather is just too darn cold for them before then. If you are willing to pick your chicks based on what the farm supply ordered then talking chickens in January is too early for you. If you are like me and you’d rather pick your own breeds and willing to pay extra to have them sexed now is the time to get your order for the spring in.
For those of you not familiar with this process, chicks are ordered from hatcheries.
BREEDS There are several major and even more secondary hatcheries in the US. Each of them have certain breeds with lots of overlap on availability on some of the more popular breeds, but other rarer breeds may only be found at just a few hatcheries.
GENDER Sexing hour old chicks is not a perfect science. Some breeds are called sex-linked. Sex linked are birds, that the male and female have different color genes and it is apparent as soon as they come out of the shell, based on the color of their down. The others require someone to take a peak at their private parts. As a result each hatchery only attempts to sex certain breeds. A person should expect to pay more for females as they are the preferred gender for their eggs.
ORDER SIZE It used to be you ordered 25 chicks of one breed, period. With the revival of backyard chickens and folks caring more about where their food comes from and humane treatment, the hatcheries have been changing the rules. Small orders are available, but folks should expect to pay more. Another option is to find another local who wants to order their birds and split up an order. Some hatcheries insist on overnight mailing and other’s two day service has been an age old tradition that has worked and continues to be an option.
TIMING The season for ordering chicks starts right after New Year’s. Folks in warmer climates have already started placing their orders and some breeds are already sold out for January. If you live where it is still cold and snow is on the ground, it does not mean you can wait. It means you need to put your order together now and submit it. The most important part of this process is to ask them not to deliver your chicks until you and your weather is ready; give the hatchery a desired delivery date.
So I have books and catalogues out. I am looking back on what types of birds I have already had and how in retrospect I feel about them. In the next few days will be doing my 2012 chick order. I will keep you posted on what I do.