Spring on a farm can be stressful as you try to fit everything that needs attention into the time you have available, and it’s often equally stressful to look at your bank account. It sometimes seems that all you have are expenses, with very little income before crops are ready. One way we diversify our income is by offering baby poultry for sale. I truly enjoy watching baby birds hatch, even after years of experience and thousands of eggs. I still get excited each time I open the incubator. I’ve hatched chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, quail, guineas and peafowl (peacocks). This spring I hatched and sold Barred Rock & Ameraucana chicks, Bourbon Red turkey poults, Coturnix quail, and am anticipating the first peachicks next week. I also hatched about 25 Delaware chicks so I can once again have a breeding flock. I lost my rooster, and am going to choose only the best rooster and hens to keep over the winter for next year. I’m also extremely excited to be getting into raising heritage breed ducks. I have hatched out Khaki Campbell and Welsh Harlequin ducklings with Anconas still on the way. When it comes to poultry, I am the one who selects breeds and oversees chores, incubation, hatching and sales. My husband trusts my judgment but is always there if I need a hand. I jokingly refer to it as my poultry empire.
What to Hatch?
If you have a rooster and some hens, your eggs should be fertile, but you should have a better business plan than just selling anything you can hatch. I see plenty of ads for mixed-breed chicks every spring, and I’m willing to bet lots of them don’t sell. Like anything else, it’s much easier to find a buyer if you’re offering purebred stock rather than mixed-breed mutts. You’ll also want to keep in mind that some of the more popular egg-laying varieties like Golden Comets or Red Stars are not breeds, but hybrids. They are prolific layers, plus they can be easily sexed upon hatching as males and females are different colors. However, you cannot breed a Red Star hen to a Red Star rooster and have Red Star chicks. To produce these chicks you need to have parents of different breeds (typically a Rhode Island Red rooster x Rhode Island White hen, but other variations exist). Meanwhile, heritage breeds will breed true and are gaining in popularity each year. These are old-time breeds, and there are many from which to choose. Some are layers, others are dual purpose. Some do well in hot climates while others are very cold hardy. Not only are they old breeds that have been part of the agricultural heritage passed down to us from previous generations, but many don’t do well on factory farms and are in literal danger of extinction. Personally, I love raising heritage breeds and find great fulfillment in not only making a little money, but also playing a small part in saving a breed from going extinct and being lost forever.
Thoughts on Breeding
The quality of your birds will affect the quality of the chicks you hatch. My advice is always to buy the best breeding stock you can find and afford when you are looking. In hindsight, I’ve never regretted the money spent, but I have regretted buying inferior stock because the animals or birds were a “good deal”. My opinion is that small, private breeders who focus on just a select number of breeds often offer better stock than many of the large hatcheries, but in any case it’s best to do your homework. I look at the feed store bulletin boards and classifieds in local and ag-specific newspapers when looking to buy new breeding stock, but ultimately have more frequent luck on Craigslist and another online classified site in our region. But again, anyone can sell, so inspect what you’re buying and know what a good example of the breed looks like. If I don’t see what I’m looking for, I’ve had success placing an ISO (in search of) ad, and folks responded. But even this is not foolproof, your results will vary greatly depending on where you live and what breed/species you are seeking. I typically find a breeder willing to ship hatching eggs when I’m looking for a new bloodline or breed if I can’t find hatchlings or eggs locally. Surprisingly enough, eBay allows sellers to offer hatching eggs (also a good thing to remember if you’re overrun with fertile eggs and short on incubator space!). As your chicks mature, keep only the best to breed. Consult the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection or the descriptions of heritage breeds provided by The Livestock Conservancy for detailed information of what traits good stock should have.
I appreciate the income this generates, and also feel a sense of purpose and pride that I can be a small part in helping others start their own flock of heritage breed birds. For many, this is their first venture into keeping poultry, or their first heritage breed. I feel an ethical duty to help them, and the breeds I love, succeed. I feel it’s extremely important to be honest about what you sell, and not to pass off sickly birds or ones with problems, whose genetics should not be bred on. And from a strict business perspective, breeding and selling quality birds will earn you repeat customers. Good word of mouth is the very best advertising, especially when selling to your local community. I’m also happy to answer questions about my methods, experiences and recommendations. I answer honestly that I don’t know or haven’t tried something if that is the case. I encourage them to contact me if they have questions, and respond when some do. I know how exciting it feels to embark on a new livestock adventure, and the joy when you find a rare breed you’ve been dreaming of to add to your homestead. As a buyer, I’ve had sellers who were happy to serve as mentors to help me and the breed. It can be heartwarming and fulfilling as well as profitable to be on the other side of that transaction.
There are numerous other concerns when deciding to pursue hatching poultry as a source of income, so it is a topic I’ll return to in future posts. You’ll need to consider things like equipment and how to find buyers, and I’m excited to share what I’ve found works. Stay tuned!