Sunday, March 13, 2016

Feed Store Chick Buying Guide

While feed stores make it very easy for the average person to obtain chicks to raise their own flocks, they have many different breeds of many different uses. To make matters more confusing, feed store staff often do not specialize in poultry and can't offer much help as to the breed and their uses. Every spring, chicken forums and facebook groups are flooded with posts trying to figure out what breed or gender their chicks are, because they just got whatever their feed store had. With my guide, learn to get the breeds you want, leave the ones you don't, or find out which ones you already have!

For Part 2: Choosing Healthy Chicks, Click here!

If the bin says "Red Sexlink (or Red Star, Golden Comet, Golden Buff, Cinnamon Queen, Isa Brown)"

The red sexlink is not a true breed, but a hybrid of a red male (such as a Rhode Island Red) and a silver-gene female (often a white leghorn with a silver gene). This causes them to be sexable at hatching, via their down color. The exact genetic background of these birds can vary depending on the hatchery. Because they are a hybrid, there isn't a standard that hatcheries have to follow, so there are many varieties and many names to describe them. However, hatcheries breed this bird to be the best-of-the-best in laying. They are practically laying machines. If you're looking for super huge eggs and a whole lot of them, this is for you! I have several! They are often in pullet assortments. Males grow to be white with creamy-colored hackle feathers and reddish feathers on their wings, while females are red with white down. 
Red, one of my red sexlink hens

If the bin says "Black Sexlink (or Black Star)"

Like the red sexlink, this bird is a hybrid bred to be sexed by it's down color. They are a hybrid of a red male and a barred female, usually a barred Plymouth Rock. It also has several different names that are often used to label them. Males of this hybrid grow to be barred, while females are black with red leakage around the neck and breast. They lay very well, and are known for a calm temperament. 

If the bin says "Pullets"

Pullets are not a breed of chicken. Pullets are young female chickens, so the pullet bin is full of laying or dual-purpose breeds that are female. The most common breeds in pullet assortments are red sexlinks, black sexlinks, White Leghorns, and Rhode Island Reds or Production Reds. However, you may also get Buff Orpingtons, California Whites, Plymouth Rocks, or Black Australorps. Sometimes there may be easter eggers. All of these have been sexed to the best of the hatchery's ability, but there may be a male or two in the bunch. 

If the bin says "Production Red"

The production red is sort of like the commoner's Rhode Island Red. They are lighter in color than the RIR, generally lighter in body weight, and taller. Basically, hatcheries bred their RIR stock purely for laying, some breeding in genes from other breeds such as the white leghorn, that they no longer could sell them as Rhode Island Reds. Most hatchery-bred Rhode Island Reds could be considered production reds. They can vary in color from light red to dark red, and are excellent layers. If you're looking for layers, these birds would be perfect. If you're looking for show, these birds will be disqualified.

If the bin says "Cornish Cross (or Cornish Rock)"

These chickens are specifically meat birds. That is their purpose. It is inadvisable to buy these birds, often coined "frankenchickens," because they can rarely live past processing age. If they do, they don't live as long, they don't lay well, and they can have damage to their legs due to their excessive weight. We've all heard stories about people saving these and raising them as pets, but there are far more (less interesting) stories about them flopping over with heart attacks or legs breaking under their massive weight. Sometimes these birds get mixed up in bins of white Plymouth Rocks or Leghorns, but they are usually twice the size of the normal chicks. If you're looking for a pet or layer, do NOT buy these chicks. 

If the bin says "Red Ranger (or Freedom Ranger, Dixie Rainbow)"

These birds were developed in France to replace the Cornish cross, so they are a meat bird. However, unlike the cornish cross, they are not so heavy and do not grow so fast that it causes heart attacks and broken legs. They are better at free-ranging and are actually able to breed on their own. They may make a decent pet bird, but do not lay well. They are often confused with red sexlinks, due to similar appearance and coined names, but they are very, very different! 

If the bin says "Americana (or Ameraucana, Easter Egger, Araucana)"

These are not Ameraucanas, I can almost guarantee it. Ameraucanas and Araucanas are very rare and expensive birds, and hatcheries often label Easter Eggers as such to trick people into buying them. Ameraucanas and Araucanas have a very specific and strict breed standard and only a handful of accepted colors and cost upwards of $20 a chick! There is not such bird as an "Americana". If you're getting them from a feed store for $2.99, they are Easter Eggers. Easter Eggers are a hybrid chicken between a blue-laying bird and a brown-laying bird, in order to produce a variety of colored eggs. They can lay blue, green, pinkish, or brown eggs, sometimes even white, depending on the breeding practices. There is nothing wrong with Easter Eggers, as they are very hardy, friendly, and provide those beautiful blue eggs at a price that everyone can afford! The blue gene does not breed true with these birds, however, so the second generation will lay brown eggs as well as blue. 

If the bin says "Assorted Bantams"

Bantams are not a breed of chicken, but a size of chickens. Some breeds are a "true bantam," meaning there is no standard sized version of them. Some are smaller versions of standard breeds. Some true bantams that may be in these bins are Sebrights (golden and silver), Japanese Booted Bantam, and Silkie (which are a true bantam in the US, but not Europe). Smaller versions of standard breeds that may be in these assortments include Bantam Cochin, Olde English Game bantam, and Bantam Wyandotte. It is the hatchery's choice what to put in these assortments, so it could really be any bantam breed that they hatch! These assortments are generally straight run, or unsexed, as bantams are even more difficult to sex than standard chicks! 

If the bin mentions a specific true breed (Plymouth Rock, Orpington, Rhode Island Red, Wyandotte, Australorp, Marans, Brahma, etc.)

This will generally be the breed that is stated. On occasion, there is a mix up, but it's usually not drastic and isn't as common. Just research the breeds you want, and if you see them at the feed store, grab them up before they're gone! 

It may be confusing to buy from feed stores, but hopefully, I helped make it a little easier! Remember to follow us on Facebook! We also post regular updates on Instagram of our own feathery family!