When planning your next order of chicks from the hatchery, give careful consideration to how many roosters you want (if any), and the real possibility that some of the chicks might not survive. Below are some important points to keep in mind when making your ordering decisions.
For many breeds you have the option of getting sexed chicks. These chicks are sorted according to whether they are pullets (females) or cockerels (males), with as much accuracy as current chick sexing technology allows. Sexing is not a perfect science. For most breeds the accuracy is only about 90%. Be prepared to receive some chicks that are not the sex you had hoped for.
Let’s say you order 10 pullets. At least 9 of them actually will be pullets, meaning at least one of them may be a cockerel. In one order I received for 10 pullets, that’s exactly what happened — one of them turned out to be a cockerel. He grew into a handsome rooster and I am delighted to have him in my flock.
If you absolutely don’t want a rooster, or if you live where you can’t legally keep one, have a plan in advance for the possibility that you might get one or more surprise roosters. For some breeds you may not know which chickens are pullets and which are cockerels until they are 4 to 6 months old. By that time you will probably be attached to them, so you need to be emotionally prepared for that eventuality.
The wrong-sex bird won’t necessarily be a cockerel. Last spring two ladies placed a joint order for 6 chicks, each desiring 2 pullets and one cockerel. As it turned out, 5 of the chicks were pullets and only one was a cockerel, so one of the unhappy ladies ended up without the rooster she desired.
Keep in mind that sexing accuracy is only about 90% at best, and plan your order accordingly. And please don’t expect the hatchery to reimburse your feed, time, and trouble for having raised a chicken of the wrong sex. It’s just a fact of life that every chicken keeper learns to deal with.
Straight Run Chicks
Straight run, or unsexed chicks, are chicks that have not been sorted by gender and therefore are mixed exactly as they hatch. Theoretically, each hatch should be 50% cockerels and 50% pullets, but that rarely happens. Some hatches have more pullets than cockerels. More often the ratio is 60% cockerels and 40% pullets or even 70% cockerels and 30% pullets.
And no — hatcheries do not put left-over sexed chicks (which are usually cockerels) in a straight run order. They simply pack the shipping box with the requisite number of chicks as they hatched in the company incubator. A straight run order of 10 chicks most likely will not be 5 pullets and 5 cockerels, but could end up 2 and 8, 3 and 7, 4 and 6.
The smaller the number of chicks, the more likely the ratio will be terribly skewed one way or the other. For instance, in an order I received last year for 6 straight run chicks, only 2 were pullets and the other 4 were cockerels. As with sexed chicks, be prepared to deal with the possibility of receiving excess cockerels.
Death in the Mail
Death is another fact of life in the chicken world, just as we humans must reckon with it in our lives. On rare occasions something may go horribly wrong and chicks die in transit from the hatchery. It might happen, for instance, if the shipment is delayed in transit, or the crate of chicks is stored for too long in a cold or drafty area.
Even though most chicks are delivered live and healthy, be prepared for the possibility that the chicks you order may arrive in poor condition. If small children are involved in your chicken keeping venture, make a plan for dealing with their grief.
Having made this dire warning, I hasten to point out that in more than 40 years of ordering chicks by mail (as well as ducklings, goslings, guinea keets, and turkey poults), I have not once had any of them arrive in less than chipper condition. Still, each time I order chicks I get myself psychologically prepared for the possibility of disaster.
So what do you do when that happens? Most hatcheries guarantee you will receive the number of live chicks that you ordered. Many hatcheries actually add an extra chick or two, just in case one doesn’t make it. However, if you receive fewer live chicks than you ordered, most hatcheries will either replace the dead chicks or reimburse you for the loss. Each hatchery posts its policy online or in their print catalog. Cackle Hatchery, for example, guarantees safe and live delivery and will make an adjustment for any loss reported to the hatchery within 3 days of receiving the chicks.
A good practice is to notify your local post office that you are expecting live chicks, and have them call you when the chicks arrive. Then, instead of letting the chicks bounce around for several more hours in a postal vehicle, go to the post office and pick them up yourself. While at the post office, check the condition of the chicks so you will have a witness in the unlikely event something has gone wrong.
Most likely your chicks will be eager to get to their new home, have a sip of warm water get rehydrated after their long journey, and then take a nice long nap in a warm brooder prepared in advance for their safe arrival.
And that’s today’s news from the Cackle Coop.
Gail Damerow, author, Hatching and Brooding Your Own Chicks (Chickens, Turkeys, Ducks, Geese, Guinea Fowl)