The real answer to the question of how to start raising chickens for egg production is… it depends.
Both little chicks and adult hens have their advantages and disadvantages as methods to start your flock and it is more your individual situation that will dictate what works best for your flock.
Most people start with little chicks lured in by the ubiquitous “chick days” at the local feed store in the Spring. Let’s face it those little guys are so stinking cute and fluffy! They are like homestead potato chips, you can’t have just one!
Our experience with chickens started out a little differently when we acquired my sister’s flock of adult hens. These noisy ladies ran afoul of the noise ordinance violations in the suburbs necessitating their relocation to the country.
I will lay out possible advantages and disadvantages of each of these scenarios to help you explore both sides of this coin and determine what is right for your backyard or homestead.
Chick Advantages/ Adult Disadvantages
You will likely have more breed choices with baby chicks. Chicks are available not only at the feed store but can be shipped in the mail from suppliers allowing you to get multiple varieties of chicks.
On the other hand, it may be more challenging to find a flock of adult chickens in the specific breed you want available when you want them. While some people do raise chickens to sell as adults more often it is people who have grown tired of their flock that are giving them away.
Same Age Flock This also allows you to start with a set of chicks that grow up together allowing for less drama with introducing new members to the flock.
Pecking order is a real thing and new members must be added carefully to avoid unnecessary fighting and injuries. This is especially true when adding younger smaller members to an established flock or trying to mingle two established adult flocks from multiple locations.
Bear in mind that if you decide you like chicken keeping you will often want to add to your flock anyway and introductions will need to be made amongst the chickens.
Bonding with the Chickens
This particular topic could be seen as an advantage or disadvantage. Do you want pets that produce breakfast or do you want a dual purpose bird that is going to hit the stew pot as soon as she drops in egg production. Bear in mind, for most people it is easier to slaughter an animal they haven’t grown attached to prior to killing it.
Raising the little fluffy balls into egg producing hens can be a great experience for children and adults alike, allowing you to train them if you want more personable birds if this is what you desire.
FYI – Remember the first rule of meat production don’t name it if you are going to slaughter it. Consider the purpose of your birds and know this going in. You can change your mind but it is easier if you know what you are dealing with from the start. Especially, if kids are involved.
More Eggs Overall
You will have to wait for chicks to be old enough to lay eggs but once they start you get all of the eggs for yourself. Chickens like humans have a limited number of eggs for their lifetime when they are born/hatched. Once you use them up they are done, no more eggs.
A typical adult chicken that was acquired after a year of age has already used up about 200-250 eggs in its first year. Some chickens will continue to lay for years to come but production does drop somewhat after about 2 years of age and will continue to drop as the hen ages.
Advantages of Adult Chickens/Disadvantages to Chicks
Known Sex of Chicken
It is obvious the difference between adult hens and roosters. There is little chance of ending up with an unknown rooster in your flock if you adopt adult chickens. This is extremely important if you are in the suburbs where roosters are usually not allowed.
Chicks on the other hand while giving some clues as to their gender can at times make this task difficult. It’s not much fun to realize out of your flock of 8, 5 of them are roosters who are noisy and are lacking in the egg department.
Chicks Require Extra Equipment
You will need a separate space to raise the chicks before they are ready to go out to the coop as well as warming lights. If hatching your own eggs, you will also need an incubator. You can at least reuse the food and water containers in your adult coop.
For me this is the major benefit to starting with an adult flock! Once your flock of adults settles in from the move in a day or two (possibly even the day of move-in) you get eggs! There is no wait for production, it just happens. It is the ultimate in instant gratification. So many homesteading projects, gardening, animal production, etc take time and patience so it is a very welcome change to just start a project and immediately be rewarded.
Chicks on the other hand need to mature on average to around 20-24 weeks depending on the individual chicken, breed, and weather. That’s 4-5 months of chicken upkeep before you see so much as one lousy omelet!
Adult hens are not as susceptible to changes in weather and temperature. They have figured out how to eat and drink from feeders without getting themselves stuck or drowning. Although the danger is always present adults are somewhat less prone to predator attack than a young chick. They have more experience to stay out of the hawks grasp than the young chickens.
While I had been dreaming about getting little chicks to start a flock I’ve loved our insta-flock adults. We will do chicks at some point as I have plans to expand this fall with new chicks starting them early enough to handle the chill in the winter but ready to have them laying in the spring! Shhhh… don’t tell my husband! While I’ve mentioned it I don’t think he took me seriously when I said we could never have too many chickens!
Whether you choose the fluffy chicks or instant egg producers I think you will find that like me, you can never have too many chickens!