Why YOU need to know what you want

Last week one of my BFFs came over to deliver five backyard chickens that a friend of hers decided she didn’t want to keep anymore. I’m not exactly sure the story behind how we ended up with them (they are in quarantine so I’m not concerned about illness), but I was more than happy to give them a good home. What I did know was that they had been purchased sometime early last spring and were getting close to being a year old.

The amount of shock and horror I experienced when I opened their cage upon arrival was probably a sight to be seen. Three of the five chickens were backyard laying hens, very well taken care of hens I might add. Two of them were not. Don’t get me wrong, these were well cared for chickens. These were well cared for, gigantic, nearly year old, Cornish Cross chickens. If you are like most people and have no clue what breed of chicken is what, let me explain. Cornish Cross is the breed most commonly used for meat production. They are specifically bred to grow very quick, very fast, and have much more breast meat than a regular chicken. While most chickens reach full size (8ish lbs average) at around 7-8 months, Cornish Crosses are bred to reach 5lbs in 6- 8 weeks, at which point they are slaughtered. Typically at this size, because they grew so big so fast, they have a hard time walking and often have issues with their feet.

The birds that arrived on our farm were absolutely gigantic. Probably close to 10lbs. Massive. They were also really well cared for. Only one of them had issues with their legs, although not bad enough that they couldn’t walk. I was quite impressed with how healthy they were.

What upset me was how they had ended up with these birds in the first place. Apparently the person at the big box farm supply store had absolutely no clue what he was doing when he loaded up these chicks for them. They pointed at a chicken and he packed them in a box, no questions asked. This is the frustrating part of purchasing chickens from a place like this, you have to go in knowing what exactly you want, what you don’t want, and how to know the difference.

So for those of you who are considering making the leap into buying backyard chickens and are planning on doing so from your local farm supply store, let me break down the lingo for you:

  1. Sometimes they put non chickens in with chickens. If they sign says that there are turkeys, or guineas, in with chickens, make sure you either know the difference or that the person loading up your chicks knows the difference. The last thing you want to do is expect a little chicken and have it turn into a giant turkey, or a very loud guinea.
  2. Look up the breeds you want. This can be done while you are at the store, just google the ones you think are cute and see if they are layers.
  3. Cornish Cross (Cornish x) are meat birds, don’t buy those unless you plan on doing some meat processing in about 2-3 months.
  4. Know if you want hens or a mixture of hens and roosters. If you want just hens then make sure you buy from containers that say “X breed pullets” and not “X breed straight run”. Straight run means they are unsexed. Pullets are females.
  5. When in doubt, wait until someone more knowledgeable is available, or purchase from a breeder.
  6. Finally, have fun with your chickens. They are amazing, and entertaining, and wonderful.
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