Now you have decided to keep chickens and you have a house for them to live in you need to look for somewhere to buy them from. You may well have looked through books and researched the variety you want to keep however finding them can be a little challenging. Just finding chickens for sale can be difficult at certain times of the year. We set out looking for a specific variety of hen that would lay plenty of eggs. We came home with 3 different Heinz varieties, selected because they looked the friendliest, were soft and cuddly and just needed to come home with us. So much for the research.
Again there are 3 things to consider. Do you want pure breeds, hybrids or ex-battery and farmed hens. No matter what you eventually choose they are all chickens and they will each have their unique qualities.Spring and early summer is usually the best time of year to go looking for hens.
Unless buying ex-battery and farmed hens you should be buying your hens at point of lay. This means they are approximately 16 weeks old and will start laying eggs anytime soon. This does not mean you should not buy older chickens, after all a hen in need of a home deserves a new home no matter how old she is. Avoid buying them much younger than 16 weeks if you can unless you fancy rearing younger hens or hatching your own eggs. We haven’t been down the hatching road as
- we don’t want cockerels,
- the extra maintenance that chicks need or
- the cost of additional special equipment and special food.
Pure breed chickens
I have friends who show their pets, they find it a great hobby and a good way to make friends with the resulting social life. If one of the reasons you want to keep chickens is because you want to show them, then this is the road you need to travel. In addition to this going to a show is a great way to find out more about the individual breeds available and their quirks. You can meet the breeders to discuss the chickens and how to go about showing them. It is also a good route to sourcing your chosen variety.
Of the 3 options,pure breed chickens will be the most challenging to source and are likely to cost the most. They also produce the least eggs. If showing or going to a show is not your thing, the next best place to learn about pure breed chickens is to research on line, via books or to go to a domestic foul trust. As well as understanding what you will be taking on, you will be able to identify breed owners clubs or societies. This is the best route to getting the chickens you want. The society will be able to direct you to a breeder near you if there is one. However having identified a breeder does not mean that they will have hens available for you to buy when you want them. You may have to be patient.
Hybrids are generally bred to produce more eggs, so you will get more eggs. In some cases you could be in for 1 egg a day, every day, so if you eat plenty of eggs hybrids are definitely for you. They tend to be easier to find but you may need to be a little less choosy over which breed you have, especially if you don’t want to travel too far from home. They usually cost £20 - £30 each and are available most of the year round,
Many farms will have chickens for sale so you could take a drive around and see what you can find. If this is not an option you could look on-line for somewhere local to you. The best option is to chat to other chicken owners you know and find out where they went to get their chickens from. Ask whether they would go back for more or can make another recommendation. Another option is to visit a domestic foul trust or go to a show - hybrid chickens are shown too.
Our first batch came from the Domestic foul trust near Worcester, www.domesticfoultrust.co.uk. This was great for our first purchase as they had a good selection and sold everything else we could possibly need. But it was a good distance to travel for us. All the others were sourced at a local farm which we found whilst on the way to somewhere else, namely a meal at the three crowns, brinkworth. We stopped by unexpectedly and were able to have a look at what was available. We were impressed by the condition of the birds and their accommodation. We also like the knowledgeable responses we got from the owner. We were able to return another day to buy our hens as the farm was close to home. The hens were inexpensive and the owners sold feed at a good price too. We have been back for more hens and food since.
Ex-battery or farmed hens
Ex-battery or farmed hens are the ones used to provide most of the eggs we buy in the supermarket. Even so called free range hens may not be as free ranging as you might imagine. In all cases they are bred to produce lots of eggs and are housed in confined spaces or barns until their lay rate starts to decline. At this point the entire flock are either sent to slaughter or are collected by hen rehousing agents. These hens are a deserving cause and should be given consideration if you are happy to take on older birds that may have issues. They are not always in the best of condition and may need special care to start with.
They often need;
- A special diet to begin with and special feeding equipment.
- To learn how to perch.
- A little extra love, they may not have many feathers. Their feathers will grow back but a bold hen is not so pretty to begin with.
- Not live for very long.
- Need additional warmth, especially if you buy them in the Autumn
- Not lay as many eggs as a younger hen, remember they will have passed their prime laying age.
When buying ex-farmed hens you should always seek out a valid supplier. They will be a middle man for the farmers and will check both you and the hens before you take them away. You will be validated to ensure you have the credentials necessary to provide a safe and comfortable environment for these birds. You will only be given birds that are well enough to be rehoused, they will have been given a thorough check up, pedicure and a beak trim if necessary. The best place to look for ex-battery or farmed hen suppliers is on-line.
Whichever route you take to buying your chickens it is vital that you have your hen house and all the sundries in place before you adopt them and that you only buy up to the maximum number of chickens that your house can accommodate. If you have not already done so, check out the hen house buying guide before you go any further. Remember your chickens need somewhere to lay their eggs, somewhere to roost and somewhere to roam as soon as you get them home.
We would love to hear how you are getting on. If you want to share your experiences, share some photo's and keep up to date with what our chickens are doing, we would love to hear from you or you can check our Facebook page.