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Today I want to share some ideas on ethical and humane options for adding chicks to your farm, homestead, or backyard. There are a lot of options for adding chicks to your flock, and we haven’t always followed these three options below; however, I feel these options are the best way to be connected with the whole process and to know you are supporting ethical and humane practices when it comes to chicks.
Unfortunately, there are many unethical practices when it comes to how individuals treat animals and profit off of them. This is very true when it comes to chicks, especially for the male chicks. Many large-scale hatcheries will kill male chicks at birth (and do so in ways that are FAR from humane). In the society we live in, it is easy to ignore the inhumane treatment when one can quickly go pick up chicks from a number of farm supply stores, not having to worry about the male chicks or what happened to them. With that being said, today I want to give you a few options that will allow you to be more connected with the whole process, a few ethical and humane ways to add chicks to your flock.
Before I introduce this topic further, I want to make this one thing clear: there is absolutely no judgement here! We have not always followed these strategies below, and it is okay if you haven’t either. But as we continue to learn and be exposed to what’s going on in the world of chicken keeping, we strive to make the most ethical choices possible, so I want to share a few ways you can do this too!
Three Ethical Ways to Add Chicks to Your Flock
Hatch chicks out at home using hatching eggs gathered from your own flock
Personally, this is my favorite option because you can be connected with the entire process. You know exactly where those eggs came from and how the chickens are cared for. This year we are hatching our eggs from our own flock for the first time. Just last week we hatched out silkies and olive eggers. We thoroughly enjoyed being connected with the entire process, from gathering the eggs, to seeing the tiny chicks hatch out of their shells. We even made a video about it, which you can watch below.
Hatch chicks using hatching eggs purchased locally (better) or online
The next best option is to purchase hatching eggs. This way, you can control the environment in which the chicks enter the world, and ensure any male chicks have a great start to life! There is a huge variety of hatching eggs available. Often times you can get a mix of really amazing and rare breeds.
In order to hatch out eggs at home you will need one of two things: 1) a reliable incubator or 2) a broody hen. It can be hard to time hatching eggs with hens being broody, but we successfully did it last year with our Silkie hens when they both went broody at the exact same time! We’ve also successfully used an incubator twice, and it was incredibly reliable. We use the Brinsea mini, it is AMAZING! We’ve had really high hatch rates both times, and I never have to worry about it failing on us.
We bought hatching eggs for the first time last Spring with an order of 1/2 a dozen hatching eggs. Three hatching eggs were Lavender Orpingtons, and three hatching eggs were Marans. They ALL hatched! We ended up with four roosters and two hens. As the roosters grew up, they began to fight, so over time we found good homes for three out of the four roosters, for the benefit of our flock. I was very patient with my search for new homes, and I made sure to choose homes where they were not going to be used for meat.
It’s important to be aware that if you do re-home roosters for free, especially through Craigslist or Facebook, there are a lot of people looking for free meals, and may even lie about their intentions with your rooster. Because of this I always have someone pay me for a rooster, and I build a relationship with them beforehand to ensure the home is a good one. This is something to think about beforehand and is another good reason to hatch out rare breeds, since it can be much easier to find good homes for roosters of breeds that are hard to find.
Purchase chicks locally straight-run (meaning both males and females)
I hear people often complain about chicks being sold as straight run. I want to flip the switch on this. Purchasing straight run means you get to be connected with the process. Purchasing pullets often means you’re supporting a highly unethical practice (male chicks being killed at birth), but you don’t have to acknowledge it. So let’s change this. When you purchase straight run chicks, you will undoubtedly end up with roosters, which is not at all a bad thing! Roosters have hilarious and wonderful personalities, can often be kept together in their own rooster coop, and make wonderful guardians for your flock. Additionally, you can always find good homes for extra roosters, especially if you are willing to be patient.
Since we are a plant-based, vegetarian, homestead. We do not eat meat, so killing roosters for meat is simply not an option for us. However, if you do eat meat, and you are planning on having meat animals, raising roosters and letting them live out their lives before being used for meat, is much more ethical (in my opinion) than unintentionally supporting the practice of male chicks being killed at birth.
So, with all of that being said, purchasing straight run chicks is a wonderful option, and it means you are allowing male chicks to grow up and experience the beauty of the world around us!
Locate and purchase from an ethical, humane hatchery
This option requires a lot of research, because anyone can use the term ethical or humane, without actually following practices that focus on animal-welfare. If you simply search “humane hatchery” or “ethical hatchery” you will find a number of articles of hatcheries that were calling themselves humane, but were actually following some really awful practices when it comes to killing male chicks.
So who can you trust? Well.. it is tricky friends! I think this requires a lot of research, and finding an organization that displays transparency in their practices. There are small family-run hatcheries that do not kill male chicks, but they are hard to find!
When you do find one, it is important that they answer your questions about how they are carrying out their mission of being an ethical and humane hatchery. Ask questions: what happens to male chicks? What ethical and humane practices are you committed to?
In my research and experiences with hatcheries, I have found ONE family-run hatchery that carries out ethical and humane practices: Alchemist Farm in Northern California. They even have an article that shares exactly how they carry out their mission, and value each life hatched out on their farm.
The key message is this: don’t simply trust the “humane” or “ethical” label when it is used. Question it, so that you have faith in the organization you are supporting, and can feel good about your choice to add chicks to your flock.
In the hatching industry, roosters are considered to have very little value, which means their lives are cut short, even at the most ethical or humane hatchery. If you are uncomfortable with supporting an organization where male chickens end up as meat, it is important to avoid purchasing from a hatchery all-together. Instead, you can choose to hatch out your own chicks using hatching eggs, or you can even rescue chicks, which I will talk about briefly below.
This is an option that I think is SO overlooked! Many, many, times, people purchase chicks on a whim, without an understanding of the care involved or a plan for how they will care for the teeny tiny chicks as they grow. This means there is often a high number of chicks in need of good homes, especially around Easter time. Contact your local humane societies to see if they ever take in chicks or chickens.
Around us we have a humane society that is a full fledged farm, we actually rescued our goats from there! Each Easter, I notice a huge increase in their number of chicks and young hens available, likely from people surrendering them after they realized that cute fluffy box of chicks was not such a good idea.
What About Adding Adult Birds?
In addition to the above options, you can also add adult hens or roosters to your flock, by rescuing, adopting, or purchasing from other chicken keepers. If you are going to take this approach, you will need to research beforehand how to quarantine chickens. This approach does have the potential of introducing disease into an existing flock, so proceed with caution if you are hoping to keep your flock disease-free.
Rescuing is a great option! Especially if you are hoping to have chickens on your homestead or farm for the many benefits that don’t include egg laying. Chickens are amazing at getting rid of pests, producing incredible compost, and providing never-ending entertainment and beauty. There are so many hens (and even more roos!!) in need of good homes. If you desire to rescue chickens, it is wise to keep rescues in a quarantined area from any other existing chickens as disease is likely when you are rescuing chickens from a variety of sources.
We have seen this on our own farm with our experience rescuing goats. While we absolutely adore our goats, and wouldn’t have it any other way, we know they carry disease (we have seen clear symptoms of it on multiple goats), and it is important for us to avoid adding other potentially healthy goats to our farm to reduce the spreading of disease.
Tips for Avoiding Unethical Practices
- Avoid hybrids or heavy egg layers. They are bred to produce so many eggs that often other aspects of their health or personality are compromised (e.g., they may be more aggressive with other birds, or more likely to have reproductive issues).
- Focus on heritage breeds. You can even find breeds that are located on the livestock conservancy list!
- Stay away from large-scale hatcheries, this is going to make it much harder to evaluate the ethics of what is really going on.
- Buy eggs or chicks from someone who you can actually talk to and ask to see the conditions of how the chickens are kept.
- Try to keep shipping to a minimum, especially for chicks. While you may be able to purchase chicks from across the country, it will make it much harder for those tiny little babies to survive the journey.
Well friends, I hope this post shared some information on ethical and humane ways for adding chicks to your flock this spring! Again, no judgement here, but I do want to challenge you to grow, just as we are challenging ourselves to grow, and that means taking what we learn and finding ways to make better choices based on the knowledge that we have.
That’s all for now friends,
All my best,