Do you want to get chickens but don’t know where to start? Pullet? Straight Run? I’m breaking down the lingo and sharing 10 terms that you should know before buying chickens.
Ok, so you know you want to get some chickens. That’s a start! But when you get to “Chick Days” at your local Tractor Supply Co. you might start to feel a little overwhelm creeping in. You see signs for pullets, straight runs, bantams, and broilers. If you’re like me when I bought my first chickies, you know what exactly none of these words mean, and instead, you wing it! My first chickens were straight runs that I chose primarily based on their cuteness. I knew their breed- Rhode Island Red, and that was enough for me.
If you’re reading this, I can already tell that you’re a little more organized than I was at that time. You’re exploring and looking to learn more about what it all means so that you can make a good, informed decision for yourself or your family. That’s why your should know these terms before buying chickens.
Let’s jump into the chicken vocabulary you will commonly see. Here are the 10 terms to know before buying chickens.
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At your local farm store, you’ll probably see a bin of chicks labeled “straight runs”. These are probably the less expensive variety of chicks as well and for good reason. The sex of these chicks has not been determined. That means that there’s a 50/50 chance (yep, I did the math) that you’ll be getting a rooster.
Pullets are chicks that have been sexed and were determined to be female. A pullet may be slightly more expensive than a straight run chick. If you are acquiring chickens for their eggs, you want pullets.
Remember, you don’t need roosters in your flock to get eggs, only to get eggs that can be hatched into chicks!
A broiler is that cute yellow fluffy butt chick at the farm store. Yes, it’s cute and cuddly but it’s typically not what most novice chicken keepers are looking for and here’s why. Broilers have a short life span. They are the “meat birds”. Broilers are intended to be grown up quickly within 7-12 weeks and then processed for meat. Purchasing broilers and hoping they will grow up and lay eggs doesn’t usually work out. Broilers have been bred for size and speed of growth which can lead to health problems long term.
A bantam chick is just a smaller version of a chicken breed. Think- teacup poodle. Almost all chicken breeds have a bantam version. The only thing to be aware of is that bantam roosters are known to be quite aggressive.
Straight Run, Pullet, Broiler, and Bantam are the top 4 of my “10 Chicken Terms You Must Know Before Buying” because they are critically important! Think about these things before you buy your first chickens. Ask yourself, “How many chickens can I have in my neighborhood/area?” “Am I allowed to own roosters?” and “Am I ok with smaller, bantam sized eggs?” Knowing what sex, size, and type of chickens that you’re purchasing will be critical to your success.
Now, onto the rest of my 10 chicken terms you must know before buying!
The vent is an important area to inspect when buying chicks. This is the bottom area of the chicken. You know the one. Both the poop and eventually, the eggs will pass through. Yes, that bottom. The vent in a chicken can tell you a lot about the chicken’s health. Pickup your chick and give its vent a quick peek so that you can quickly see if the chicken has had diarrhea or possibly a blocked vent. Any sign of poop around the vent area is best to avoid because this chicken could be ill.
The brooder box is where your chicks will live for the first several weeks of their life. It’s their safe place with food, water, and heat. A brooder box can be any number of set up’s so long as it keeps them contained, safe, and meets their essential needs.
Personally, I use a deep plastic storage tub for my chick’s initial brooder set up. Others have used galvanized tubs, an old playpen, or you can build something more permanent like a wood box for your chicks. Check around online for tons of inspiration for your brooder set up.
Bedding or litter is what you’ll use inside your brooder box (or later the coop) to catch the poop and give your chicks a cozy space. The bedding also keeps tiny chicks from slipping around and possibly injuring themselves. Some bedding that I recommend are things like pine shavings, pelleted horse bedding, or hay. Even a towel or paper towels in the brooder will work. The most important thing about your chicks’ bedding is that you keep it clean. Chicks are poop machines! You’ll need to tidy up whatever bedding you use, daily.
An important note about bedding: Never use cedar bedding for chickens. Cedar contains oils that can be deadly to chickens if eaten. Of course, it’s best to avoid this and use pine shavings only.
Your chickens will need a good quality feed from the time that you bring them home. Chicks should have a chick starter available to them at all times, as well as water. Choosing organic, medicated or non-medicated is a personal preference so be sure to do a little research about that too.
As your chicks grow, their nutritional needs change. If you want to learn more about the stages of chicken feed in my article here.
It’s good to be aware of grit and how important it is to your chickens from the get-go. Chicken grit is typically comprised of crushed granite or other rock. When a chicken eats, the food goes into its crop where it stays until it can be processed for digestion by the gizzard. Your farm store should sell both chick grit and regular grit. A small amount of grit can be mixed in with your chick’s feed or you can offer a separate small container of grit. Chickens will take only what they need of the tiny grit pieces (they are so smart!). Grit is something that should be offered throughout the life of the chicken so be sure to keep some on hand.
Coop & Run
It’s easy when you’re preparing to buy chicks to forget about the whole, “Where will they live?” aspect. Remember that your chicks will grow up quickly and in no time they’ll need more room than a brooder box. The coop and run are where your flock is permanently housed. Even if your chickens are going to free-range they’ll need a safe place to bed down at night and a place to lay their eggs. When I brought my first chicks home I had no coop and certainly, no chicken run built or even planned.
There are some incredible chicken coops, mobile chicken coop/run (called chicken tractors), and tons of DIY chicken coop plans to be found online. Plan ahead so that your flock is safe and happy for a long time.