Raising Baby Chicks During COVID-19

Should you brood some baby chicks during the COVID-19 outbreak? Of course you should! But … how?

Answer: Pretty much the same as always, but you might need to be a little more flexible, especially if you usually use feed-store chicks and your local store doesn’t have any (for whatever reason). Here are some tips:

  • You haven’t missed the window. Our local feed stores push baby chicks really hard in March, but April, May, and June are even better for starting baby chicks.
  • Consider mail-order chicks. I’ve actually had better luck with mail-order chicks than feed-store chicks, which is pretty weird, because we hand-pick feed-store chicks for vim and vigor. So don’t be afraid of mail order. The minimum order in usually 25 chicks. If that’s too many, you can probably off-load the surplus to neighbors or on Craigslist without the slightest difficulty.
  • Order soon. A baby chick in the hand is worth two on order. Who knows what the next few months will bring? Not me! And the whole world is having an unexpected surge in back-to-the-land interest that the hatcheries didn’t plan for. Will that cause a shortage? Maybe? I have no idea.
  • Order pullet (female) chicks only. If you haven’t butchered your own chickens before and thinkĀ  you’re going to enjoy the experience, you’re fooling yourself. (There’s a workmanlike satisfaction once you get good at it, but that takes a while.) So forget about meat and focus on eggs. Roosters don’t lay any eggs, so avoid them by ordering only pullet chicks. (The hatcheries will probably slip a couple of rooster chicks in anyway, even if you order pullets. They’re mischievous little scamps that way.)
  • Pick a commercial laying breed. If you want eggs, order breeds that lay lots of eggs. This means commercial hybrid layers. People will tell you that some of the standard breeds lay lots of eggs. What they don’t tell you is that they mean “lots of eggs by the standards of 1900.” A period of global weirdness is no time to buy chickens who eat their heads off and hardly lay any eggs.
  • Insist on sweet-tempered, non-cannibalistic breeds. This is a good reason to call up the hatchery. Some breeds have a tendency to peck each other to death. Don’t buy those. Some breeds are panicky or nasty around humans. Don’t buy those, either. Ask the hatchery which of their commercial-quality egg chickens are the most docile and least cannibalistic and buy those.
  • I wouldn’t wait until this whole thing blows over, but you can, you know. Brooding baby chicks in September, October, and November works great.
  • Many hatcheries aren’t very Internet-savvy. If they look like they haven’t updated their Web pages in years, that’s normal for a hatchery. They might show a little more life on their Facebook pages. Then again, maybe not. When in doubt, call or email before ordering.
  • When in doubt, buy from a nearby-ish hatchery. Typically, chicks shipped a couple of hundred miles go by surface mail, while ones shipped across the country go by air freight. While air freight seems to be moving pretty well right now (it’s the passenger flights that are suffering), surface mail might be a bit more reliable. I bought chicks after September 11 from a hatchery a few hundred miles from me because all flights were shut down and I didn’t want the stranded chicks to die. They arrived promptly and did every well.
  • Buy my book. Success With Baby Chicks is full of practical chick-rearing tips, especially if you’re not doing the same old same-old this year. It’s available in paperback and as a Kindle book. You can also find a lot of answers to your questions on this very blog.
  • And wear a mask when you go out!

I Publish Books! Norton Creek Press

Thoughts? Questions? Comments?

I'm wondering what your thoughts are on this issue. Most of my posts are based on input from people like you, so leave a comment below!

Author: Robert Plamondon

Robert Plamondon has written three books, received over 30 U.S. patents, founded several businesses, is an expert on free-range chickens, and is a semi-struggling novelist. His publishing company, Norton Creek Press, is a treasure trove of the best poultry books of the last 100 years. In addition, he holds down a day job doing technical writing at Workspot.

2 thoughts on “Raising Baby Chicks During COVID-19”

  1. Hi, what breeds have you had the most success with? I live in Washington. I have been using the two wire fence system you describe on your website and it works great. Thanks.

  2. Thank you for curating and sharing this great chicken knowledge. I’m in the early stages of learning whether it would be practical to start a pastured chicken farm on the east coast. Would you be able to share more economic info either in a post or conversation?

    Much appreciated!

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