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Starting Your Flock the Fast Way

By Kelly Klober

Adult or started birds will give the beginning producer the fastest start. It is also the start that can be made with the greatest assurance of quality as you are beginning with made birds and in the desired ratio of the sexes. It is also the most costly way to make that start. Their worth is determined by the quality they manifest and their producer has a substantial investment in bringing them to a more developed stage. With adult birds you can be into production in literally a matter of weeks and with birds over which you have had great control in selecting. Factored into the costs of this option must be shipping fees, too. These can be very nearly as great as the cost of the birds themselves.

There are, roughly, two seasons of the year when adult birds are most readily available. The first is late-May to late-July when a lot of hatcheries and higher volume producers are dispersing their breeding flocks for the year. These are birds with a lot of lay left in them, but are no longer needed because the chick-shipping season has largely come to an end. A few of these adult birds will continue to hatch into the early fall and a very few hatch the year around.

pullet and cockerel
A Delaware cockerel and pullet.

The second adult bird season is in the late fall after all breeders have broken up their breeding pens and are making the final culling of the birds of the year. At this time you may access older birds that are being replaced by younger ones or the adult birds may be the last to be culled from birds that were being grown out as replacements.

These are generally good birds, but just not the elite of the year. You cannot expect another breeder to let go of his or her very best. However, much can be done with birds that are slightly past their prime or are the sibs and cousins to an established breeder’s better birds. Birds bought in the summer can actually produce a goodly number of chicks in the weeks that follow.

Such birds should he transported gently, handled with no break in feedstuffs variety, and be kept comfortable and well supplemented through any hot weather stress. A few years ago we traded some Buff Wyandottes for Blue Wyandottes from a breeder in Ohio. They were birds coming straight away from a show there. He placed them in solid-sided transport boxes, loaded them in his van in the evening, and pulled into my front yard at daybreak the following morning. One hen laid the second day, both were laying steadily within the week, and we had chicks less than a month later.

A good “starting to breed” age bird now will cost from ten to one hundred and fifty dollars. Yes, this is quite a range in price, but there is also quite a range in birds now available. Factors like rarity and quality enter into the pricing along with the cooperative nature of some producers anxious to see their chosen breed placed into more hands. The first pair of Penedesencas that I was aware of being offered for public sale brought a bit over seven hundred dollars at auction. They were a young pair of around eight weeks of age. Two years later similar pairs were selling for twenty dollars at our local farmers’ market.

Adult trio prices normally fall into the thirty-five to one hundred dollar range. I once paid thirty-five dollars for a young pair of birds I thought I absolutely had to have and have sold a couple of seventy-five dollar trios. If sending such birds through the U.S. mail, expect to pay ten to twenty dollars per bird for postage and the proper shipping container.

java birds
Java birds.

The U.S. Mail will accept live, adult birds if shipped in containers with the approved liners designed to check microbe spread. The boxes with replaceable liners can be reused with fresh liners. The boxes are sent as high priority mail and should be sent no farther than distances that can be covered in forty-eight hours or less. Into the boxes will be placed a couple of apple halves or some of the new hydrating gel products to keep the birds content and hydrated while in transit.

With the purchase of adult birds you gain at least a full year of production time. Also, you can acquire birds of proven conformation and color and in the exact numbers desired.

Ideally, you should acquire pairs or trios from two or three distinct genetic sources from which to then begin assembling your own breeding line. If finances won’t stretch that for — mine seldom do — try to acquire a trio of not too closely related birds from a single source. You don’t want to begin with a complete outcross, but rather from a base that will support heavy breeding pressure while maintaining a fairly high degree of genetic consistency. The good ones will be truly prepotent for the traits that really matter.

Keep the new arrivals isolated from other birds on the farm for at least thirty days after their arrival. During that time monitor them carefully for health matters while really studying their type and breed character. Tend them last each time you do chores as an additional health control measure. Try to continue the new arrivals on the same ration they were receiving prior to being moved and enrich their drinking water with a good vitamin/electrolyte product. To smooth their transition, keep them dry, protected from drafts, well fed and watered, and in a unit that provides them with both adequate headroom and floor space.

There are several steps to acquiring the best adult birds possible for your needs.

  • Begin by preparing a list of potential breeders to be contacted. Such names should be available in periodicals like the Poultry Press and Poultry Enthusiast, the state and national directories for the Poultry Improvement Plan, and the American Poultry Association and breed groups. Much help is also available from the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and the Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities.
  • Contact prospective buyers with an early evening phone call or by mail with a letter including a return self-addressed stamped envelope.
  • Be very clear as to your wants and realistic in your price expectations. 
    Give yourself plenty of time for this shopping process.
  • Always seek quality over quantity, even if it means starting with as few birds as just one good pair.

As a group, poultry producers are good people and I have had only one bad experience with ordered birds from a private source over the years. Generally, when filling an order they have nearly all followed the old timers’ policy of “heaping the measure.” I once scrimped and saved to buy a trio of Rhode Island Red bantams when adult birds had to be sent by air freight only from one large airport to another. When the shipping box was opened, there was my good breeding trio exactly as promised and another good pair, a gift from the breeder.

Don’t count on there being a great distance between sources to assure that you are getting birds or eggs of different backgrounds. You must ask questions of even the largest of hatcheries. If they can’t or won’t answer your questions then they don’t need your money.

Neither live birds nor hatching eggs should be a spur of the moment purchase. Order them for a convenient delivery date, be fully prepared for their arrival, and communicate often with the supplier as questions arise.

Source: Talking Chicken