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~ Sourcing Quality Poultry ~
Once you've made the decision to purchase some pure-bred heritage chickens, the next step is finding a place to buy them. Finding a source for good quality chickens can be a challenge! Your best bet is a serious breeder who specializes in only a few breeds of chickens, including the kind you are looking for.
There can be big differences between different strains of a particular breed. Indeed, the disparity between strains can be as apparent as the differences between breeds! So ask the breeder about specific traits that are important to you. Whether your focus is more on egg production, carcass quality, exhibition, behaviors or other qualities, it's important to ask the right questions. This will give you a good idea of what you can expect out of your purchase.
Newly imported colors and breeds may be exciting to try, but the results can be disappointing. First of all, the cost of these trendy chickens is highly inflated due to the high demand (initially) and limited availability. Then, due to their scarcity they are often severly inbred. This often means poor performance - even to the point of hens that rarely lay an egg! To an enthusiastic novice this can be a real let down and a disheartening introduction to poultrykeeping. My recommendation is to seek out one of the many breeds that have a long successful history behind them. There are so many historic breeds and varieties that are worthy of consideration when choosing where to put one's husbandry resources.
If there is no one located in your area raising or selling the breeds you are most interested in, some people choose to order their chicks from a hatchery. Hatchery chicks are a low-cost option, and a good way to gain experience in caring for chickens. But it's important to know that the chicks you buy from a hatchery may not grow up to be proper representatives of the breed. There are a number of advantages to purchasing your stock from a reputable breeder when possible:
#1. Quality. Hatcheries are focused on filling orders, and that means hatching as many chicks as possible. This means their flocks will natural become heavily selected for egg production. Other important qualities such as size and color will begin to suffer. A responsible breeder is dedicated to preserving all of the qualities associated with her/his chosen breed and will only reproduce from parent stock that are specially selected for the breeding pen. As a breeder, I go to great lengths to produce the best chickens I possibly can with a good balance of traits. And as a buyer you should feel confident that you have purchased a good representation of the breed you have chosen to keep. This is especially important if you decide to hatch and raise your own chicks. You will need to start with genetically healthy hens and roosters with correct traits to ensure you are doing your part to preserve the integrity of the breed as well.
< This photo was sent to me by a customer who raised some chicks derived from hatchery stock along side some from Hawthorn Hill. The young cockerel on the left is Hawthorn Hill stock, bred to standard. The one on the right was hatched at the same time, raised and fed the same, but is a product of sub-standard hatchery stock. This customer writes, " there is just no comparison. The hatchery offspring are less than half the size, much redder and narrower."
Even if you do not exhibit your poultry, you can see the advantage to having superior genetics that will give your birds the potential to reach proper sizes. This means a larger, meatier bird for the table which is one of the main considerations for those wanting useful, practical, dual purpose chickens.
#2 Conservation. Another good reason to buy from private breeders is that, by doing so, you are contributing to their conservation efforts. People who have an interest in protecting the traditional poultry breeds will want to know that they are supporting a breeder who also truly cares about heritage breed conservation.
#3 Information. Breeders will know all about the breeds they raise and will be pleased to share these details with you. They understand the breed standard. You should feel comfortable asking about feeding and caring for your chickens while dealing with your breeder.
#4 Flexibility. Hatcheries most often supply only day-old chicks which means the customer needs to be set up for brooding and rearing them. I sell only carefully selected young-adult birds for breeding and exhibition, but sometimes have suitable females to offer up as laying hens. I feel it is important to find the right fit for the customer and will be happy to help you decide.
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