Buying chickens- What to look for?

By CherriesBrood · May 28, 2016 · Updated May 29, 2016 · ·
  1. CherriesBrood
    Buying Chickens- What to look for?


    When buying chickens, whether it's for the first time or not, we all get excited. We know though that it requires research and sometimes that can take a lot of time. In this article, I have combined almost all of the basic information you need to get started. In my last article I discussed getting the right breeds for you, now I'm going to discuss what to look for when buying new chickens. I'll go through these questions: How to tell if the birds you are buying are healthy? How to tell pullets from cockerels? How to tell if you are getting good laying hens? This article will give you a few tips and help to make your job a whole lot easier.

    How to tell if the birds you are buying are healthy-


    Buying healthy birds is always important. You want to make sure you are getting healthy birds so you don't have to spend money to treat them or so that they won't infect the rest of your flock. Here's some signs to look for, not just in the birds but from the place you are buying them from too.

    -Check the holding. (Clean tidy farms are an indication of better hygiene therefore their birds are less likely to have disease)
    -Check the other birds on the farm to see if they seem bright, alert and active.
    -Check your chosen chicken(s). - Are they bright, active and scratching around? (Note: Dull, withdrawn, hunched chickens are generally unwell)
    -Check for diarrhea in the pen.
    -Check the bird’s vent is not pasty. (Droppings sticking to the feathers which can block the poop, this can be fatal)
    -Listen for sneezing and congestion.
    -Check for runny or swelling in the eyes.
    -Check the eyes are bright and clear with no discharge.
    -Look at the feathers of the chicken. (If they are ruffled and the feathers don't seem neatly together they are likely unhealthy)
    -Check for mites and lice.
    -Look for scaly leg. (Symptoms are raised encrusted, thickened scales)
    -Check the muscle on either side of its breast bone. (Very prominent breast bones are a sign of being underweight)
    -Check the pads of the chickens feet for abscesses and ulcers.

    Now if the chickens have a couple of these signs it might be okay to bring them home you can nurse them back to health if you wish, but just remember that if you have other birds, quarantine your new ones from them for 3 weeks just to make sure they don't have some illness and they won't infect your existing flock.
    Keep in mind also, if you buy from a NPIP flock the birds are tested yearly, and the facility is inspected by a USDA or State Veterinarian, you will most likely not be able to visit the chicks or pens because of biosecurity rules.

    How to tell pullets from cockerels-


    When buying new chickens you want to be able to tell females from males, especially if you want them for egg laying. Above 5 months of age chickens are generally pretty easy to tell which ones are females and which ones are males, but what about when they are still young?

    By one week old, pullets (females) usually have wing and tail feathers developing earlier than cockerels (males).

    By five weeks old:
    -Cockerels are usually bigger than pullets.
    -Cockerels have a bigger, redder comb.
    -Cockerels are braver and more friendly.
    -Cockerels have longer, thicker legs.
    -Cockerels have a curved, stumpy tail.
    -The feathering in cockerels is less developed all over - on the legs, back, side of neck, crops, wing bows and flank you may see quills or down rather than well developed feathers.
    (Keep in mind some techniques may not work because of the breed and the temperatures that the chicks were raised with, as this will affect their feathering)

    One great trick that will work with any chick is to note their behavior when you put your finger in front of their faces/beaks. Pullets will cower down, while cockerels will stand up to you.

    How to tell if you are getting good laying hens-


    When buying chickens for laying eggs you want to make sure that they are at the right age of egg laying and that they aren't "lemons". As a rule, go for bright eyed, active birds with bright, red combs rather than those that look dull and depressed.
    Ones that have a brighter comb are usually good egg layers and in their first year of egg laying. Pullets with little or no comb coloration are probably still young and are not at the egg laying age yet which is 6 months. The picture below is how to tell egg layers and non egg layers apart.


    In a hen that is actively laying, the pelvic (hip) bones are widely spaced, and the keel (breastbone) is tilted downward. These two changes provide more room for the development of eggs inside the abdomen. On the other hand, a non-layer’s hips will be narrowly spaced, and less distant from its breastbone.

    Thanks so much for reading everyone! I hope this article has helped you in your chicken adventure. Look for the first part of this article, Buying chickens- What breeds are right for you?

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    About Author

    My main goal is to help others learn more about chickens. I throughly enjoy writing, researching, learning and helping others wherever I can. :)

Recent User Reviews

  1. RachelGM
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Sep 9, 2018
    Very useful, thank you. I will re-read this before getting any new hens!
    CherriesBrood likes this.
  2. ronott1
    "Good Article"
    3/5, 3 out of 5, reviewed Aug 3, 2018
    Nice General article!

    Methods for telling gender at a week old are not very accurate. You will have a 50% chance with these methods. The best bet is to buy sexlinked pullets or purchase as pullets from a hatchery or feed store. That is 95 to 99% accurate
  3. mrs_organized_chaos
    "Good place to start"
    3/5, 3 out of 5, reviewed Jul 24, 2018
    This article is a good for some general guidelines to follow for chickens overall. Once you pick a specific breed, you can do more in depth research on what to look for when buying your chickens.


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  1. dogkahuna
    In my opinion the most important thing to look for is young age, as in 'are they still young chicks?' Unless, you are a veterinary physician who knows how to evaluate avian health and you quarantine older birds you want to introduce, you can never be sure you aren't bringing in a bio-hazard.

    Get your chicks, ducklings, goslings, etc. from a reputable dealer and eschew acquiring older poultry. It's a crap-shoot if you do.
  2. puffypoo
    nice work! Very helpful.
      CherriesBrood likes this.
  3. chuckachucka
    Saying that cockerels will have 'curved stumpy tails' and be less well feathered at five weeks is too generalised. This largely depends on breed and feathering in times is also affected by the temperatures the chicks are kept at. Otherwise some very good points.
      Whittni, CherriesBrood and Srod79 like this.
    1. CherriesBrood
      Yes you’re right, I was referring to the majority, but I’ll add that in to the article.
      Whittni and chuckachucka like this.
  4. Fishkeeper
    Does most of this also apply to other fowl?
    1. CherriesBrood
      I’m not sure. I’ve only raised chickens, I’m not experienced with any other fowl.
  5. Chickamamma
  6. cukuriku
    Very helpful, thanks so much!
  7. chicken4prez
  8. BoomChickaPop
  9. KoopOnTruckin
    Wonderful article, very good info! I read this and immediately went in to test out the theory on my 1 week olds, I could (almost?) positively identify 4 cockerels and 5 pullets from the 12 I have, which is way better than I could yesterday. Thank you for taking the time to put this together
  10. CherriesBrood
  11. Mountain Peeps
  12. Whittni
    Lab jump suits also work great for farm visitors because you can just wash them rather than waste the potential buyers' time.

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