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Chicks or Hatching Eggs? What’s the Difference?

baby chicks

When you are ready to raise a batch of baby chicks, should you buy chicks or hatching eggs? Each option has advantages and disadvantages. So how different is it when you start with eggs versus chicks?

Starting with Eggs

When you start with eggs that you plan to hatch, the first thing you need is fertile eggs of your chosen breed. If you already have a flock of chickens that includes at least one rooster, and you want more of the same, you could trying hatching your own eggs.

Otherwise you’ll need to find a source for the breed you want. Among others, Cackle Hatchery® offers eggs for hatching in a variety of chicken breeds, along with a few additional poultry species.

Do any breeders ship eggs rather than chicks? Yes, some private chicken breeders that don’t ship chicks will ship hatching eggs.

You’ll also need a way to incubate the eggs. If you have a broody hen, you’re all set. She’ll do all the work, whether the eggs are her own or purchased from elsewhere.

Otherwise you’ll need an incubator, along with knowledge on how to properly use it. When incubating eggs in a mechanical device, any number of things can go wrong. For instance, the power could go out. Or the eggs might not be fertile, and therefore won’t hatch. If the eggs were shipped, they could have been roughly handled in transit, which would definitely affect their hatchability.

And, of course, if you’re hoping for mostly pullets (young hens) you might end up with mostly cockerels (young roosters). Think ahead about how you will deal with unwanted roosters.

If you plan on incubating eggs, you might find these links helpful:

Tips for Hatching Chicken Eggs in an Incubator

How Long Does It Take for an Egg to Hatch?

No Guarantees When Ordering Hatching Eggs by Mail

Starting with Chicks

When you start with baby chicks, you skip the anxiety of waiting the requisite number of days until you learn if the hatch is successful. Plus, compared to eggs that have been shipped through the mail, shipped chicks travel much more safely.

When you order chicks from a hatchery, you have the option of having them vaccinated. Cackle Hatchery, for instance, offers vaccination against Marek’s disease.

You can order chicks from a hatchery that are straight run, or unsexed, just like chicks you hatch yourself. Straight run means the chicks come in the same gender ratio as they hatched. Some hatches just naturally turn out to be nearly all cockerels, while others might be nearly all pullets.

Or you could order sexed chicks, which are sorted by gender so you get exactly as many pullets or cockerels as you want. Within a given breed, usually sexed pullets cost the most, straight run next, and sexed cockerels the least.

Chicks sent by mail usually come with some sort of money-back live guarantee. The exact terms depend on the shipper.

When starting with chicks, you might find these links helpful:

The Best Time to Order Chicks

When Ordering Chicks, How Many Are Enough?

Got Chicks! Now What? 8 Chicken Facts That Surprise First Time Owners

To Summarize

Hatching eggs:

  • Availability of fertile eggs
  • Incubation required
  • Unsexed
  • No guarantee

Live chicks:

  • Availability of desired breed
  • Sexing option
  • Vaccination option
  • Live guarantee

Whether you decide to buy chicks or hatching eggs, make sure you get them from a source you can count on to provide healthy birds or eggs. Cackle Hatchery, for example, is among many sources that are members of NPIP. Most states require NPIP health certification for any chicks or hatching eggs that cross state lines.

And that’s today’s news from the Cackle Coop.

Gail Damerow is the author of Hatching and Brooding Your Own Chicks: Chickens, Turkeys, Ducks, Geese, Guinea Fowl.

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