Baby chicks are a springtime staple at feed stores and farm supply stores. A visit to the store is usually accompanied by the unmistakable peeping of baby chicks. Here’s a look at what you may find and how to get what you want.
Baby Chicks in the Store
In the center of the store, under a sea of heat lamps, there are usually stock tanks with assorted levels of peeping. Common varieties like amberlinks, golden comets, black sex links and red stars, are all hybrids with an excellent track record as backyard birds. These fluffy babies bring smiles to shoppers.
Unfortunately, though, just because a store sells something, that does not mean its employees are experts on the inventory. Most staffers are simply trying to earn a living wage, with little or no knowledge of everyday animal husbandry. Ask about the different breeds of baby chicks, and, well, caveat emptor: Let the buyer beware.
Here are some mistakes I have witnessed…
- A tank of chocolate khaki campbell ducklings mislabeled as Pekin ducklings (which are sunshine yellow).
- A tank of easter eggers mislabeled (and misspelled) as “Americanas, a common barnyard bird.” (True ameraucanas are not common barnyard birds.)
- A tank of golden baby chicks misidentified as barred rocks (barred rock chicks are black with creamy underbellies and a creamy white spot on their heads).
- A tank of sandy-beige chicks misidentified as Plymouth blues (the breed/variety is blue Plymouth rocks; the chicks are very similar in appearance to barred [Plymouth] rocks).
Mislabeling like this is sadly common. Not a single Chick Days event has gone by without my encountering at least one incorrectly identified set of baby birds at a local feed store or farm supply center. While I’m well versed enough in poultry breeds not to be misled by erroneous signs, not everybody is. Avoid coming home with cornish crosses when you were planning on buff orpingtons by following these suggestions.
1. Know Your Baby Chicken Varieties
Determine which chicken varieties you want before you head to the store. Having a specific variety of bird in mind keeps you from being overwhelmed by the assortment of chicks your store might stock. Going in knowing you are looking for silver-laced wyandotte chicks, for example, keeps you on track instead of melting over every bit of baby fluff you see.
2. Know What Different Chicken Breeds Look Like
Familiarize yourself with the appearance of your desired breed’s chicks. If you want Rhode Island reds, recognize that these chicks are auburn with pale-yellow chests. Looking for white-crested black polish babies? Those pale-yellow chicks look like they are wearing little black vests and cream-colored pompom hats. If you can, save a photo of the chicks you want on your smartphone as a reference to use for comparison while you are at the store.
3. Know What Baby Chicks Your Store Carries
Call the store to confirm which breeds they have in stock. Ask whoever answers to check the inventory list provided to the store by its supplying hatchery. This master list is frequently set aside and forgotten when it comes time to unbox the new arrivals, which is why tanks are often mislabeled or just marked as “assorted pullets.”
4. Know Your Chicken Breed’s Desired Traits
If you haven’t decided on a specific breed or variety of bird, make a list of the traits you want in your backyard flock. Bring your list and a chicken reference book, such as Storey’s Illustrated Guide to Poultry, with you to the store. This way, you can narrow down your in-store selections according to the characteristics you desire, such as which breeds are cold hardy, which are active foragers, which are docile, which go broody and so on.
5. Know Your Store’s Shortcomings
Assume that the staff members at your farm store could just as easily be stocking cereal at a supermarket as they are stocking chick and duck grower feed. If you’re lucky, your sales associate will readily admit to having limited knowledge when it comes to poultry. If you’re not so lucky, be polite as you thank your salesperson for inaccurate (or flagrantly incorrect) information, make your intended purchases, and then let the store management know what transpired.
This feedback is crucial because it might help your fellow flock-keepers down the road. You don’t want to discover six months after your purchase that your assorted bantam chicks are bobwhite quail. Why wish this on anyone else? Keeping a store informed and responsible for its poultry stock can prevent future mixups on the floor and in the barnyard.
This story about buying baby chicks was written for Hobby Farms magazine online. Click here to subscribe.