I don’t have any real “in” with hatcheries here in the US and I hate to paint all the hatcheries we use with the same brush. Each one is an independent company, often family run, with different individuals making the decisions on which chickens go in their breeding pens. The different criteria each uses means there will be differences in the chicks we get from the same breed from different hatcheries, appearance as well as behaviors. They (with maybe one exception, I think Sand Hill tries) are not set up to provide true SOP quality birds, they are set up to mass produce somewhat representative birds at mass production prices. Some of these people may select for certain traits, like if a specific breed is known to go broody, but I’m sure some don’t. They are commercial operations with incubators. They don’t need broody hens, they need hens that lay eggs. And the ”pen breeding” system they use is not conducive to producing SOP birds but it helps keep their genetic diversity up. Quality breeders carefully select which rooster goes with which hen. That makes a lot of difference.
The ones we buy from are not set up for the commercial industry. I’m sure they sell some chicks to commercial operations, probably small independent operations, not the big boys though. The major commercial operations, hybrid laying pullets and hybrid broilers, generally run their own hatcheries and provide chicks to the people that grow them out. The hatcheries we buy from might hatch 80,000 to 100,000 chicks a week in peak season and shut down for the off season. The commercial hatcheries might hatch 1,000,000 chicks a week 52 weeks a year. They have several of these hatcheries scattered across the US.
I find a lot of differences in “breeders” too. Each have their own goals and abilities. Some breed for only what the judge sees and don’t worry at all about behavioral traits. Some include various behavioral or production traits in their criteria. Some take hatchery chicks and with very little knowledge of the SOP when selecting which chickens to mate sell purebred chicks. You can go from chickens that are really close to what the breed should be to chicks that are not really as good as most hatchery chicks.
I do not have any real knowledge of the UK baby chick market but I’m sure you are right. There are differences in the hatcheries we buy from in the US and your market in the UK.
My flock is a mix of breeder chicks and hatchery chicks. By mix I mean a barnyard mix, not close to any breed SOP. I’ve selected for broodiness so they often go broody. It’s a small flock, usually 6 to 8 hens of laying age. A couple of years back I had so many going broody it sometimes took several days to get enough eggs to put under a broody. That broody buster stayed busy all summer.
I don’t keep a lot of hatchery pullets when I get them so I don’t have a true representative sample to go by. Now I just want a rooster for genetic diversity. But when I started this flock they were pure hatchery birds. With my limited selection I noticed breeds of hatchery birds that are “supposed to” go broody a lot didn’t, Buff Orpington for example. But my Black Australorp, which “can” go broody, did a lot. But that is with a very limited selection to look at.
Mine are a mix from three different hatcheries and one breeder. That may be part of why mine are not real consistent about when they molt. People seem to think that chickens are consistent in what they do. In general, yes, but in the details I just don’t see that. I have six hens of laying age right now, not pullets in their first year. The broody hen that molted in late summer is back to laying. One has not started the molt yet and is still laying. One looks like she’s about finished and should crank back up soon, her comb and wattles are getting red and her feathers look really nice. The other three are still molting.