Backyard flocks of chickens can be started in several ways. It's possible to purchase fertilized eggs and hatch them in an incubator. It's also possible to buy “started” chickens, typically chickens from 3 to 6 months of age, to accelerate the time before they lay. Rarely, individuals sell adult birds to reduce their flocks. Many times, however, people buy 1-day-old chicks from hatcheries. These chicks are either sold sexed or in straight-run lots.
Pullets and Cockerels
Hatcheries employ people to vent sex chicks before they are sold. Pullets, the immature female chicks, are separated from the immature male chicks, called cockerels. Pullets are typically more expensive than either cockerels or straight run chicks, since they're the ones who will grow up to lay eggs. However, in some circumstances it is less expensive to purchase started pullets, rather than raising your hens from chicks.
“Straight run” chicks are chicks that are not sexed before they're sold. Rather, they are sold as a mix of male and female chicks. Ideally, 50 percent of all straight run chicks would be pullets; however, unless very large quantities are purchased in one lot, that ideal is not always met.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Buying Pullets
It is not necessary to have a rooster with your hens if you are interested only in producing eggs to eat or to sell. Therefore, it's only necessary to buy the quantity of pullets you expect to need without wasting money on raising unwanted or unnecessary male chicks. It's also illegal to have a rooster in some municipalities, so buying sexed chicks reduces the probability of breaking any laws. Buying pullets alone will cost more than buying straight run chicks. Unfortunately, not all chicks identified as being one sex or the other turn out to be that sex. It's difficult to tell the sex of day-old chicks, even using internal vent sexing, unless they are specifically bred to have sex-linked characteristics that are apparent when they hatch.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Buying Straight Run Chicks
Buying straight run chicks can be an economical choice for someone who wants to start a flock that will lay fertile eggs. Because of the strong probability of at least half the chicks being male, straight run chicks cost less than chicks of the same breed that have been separated by sex. Given that the sex ratios are not guaranteed, however, straight run chicks are best purchased when the distribution of sexes is unimportant or when it is possible to make alternate arrangements for what might be a large number of unwanted chicks (See References 1, 4).
- John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images