Buying Live Poultry
When the time comes to start, expand, or introduce new bloodlines into your flock, the quickest and most simple method is to purchase live poultry.
Live poultry offered for sale is usually classified into one of the following age groups:
Day-old chick = A chick that will be sold within a few days of hatching (not always exactly one day old). It's possible to tell the sex of some breeds as soon as they hatch, while other breeds cannot be sexed until they are a few months old. Day-old chicks will usually cost around four times less than buying point-of-lay hens.
Transporting chicks in the post is uncommon in Australia. You'll usually need to pick up the chicks from the breeder. The chicks can be transported from the breeder to their new home using a cardboard box. The biggest risk with transporting day-old chicks is overheating inside the cardboard box, so always ensure there are plenty of ventilation holes. Also make sure the floor of the box is covered with something for the chick's feet to grip to. Placing an old towel on the floor of the box is one way to achieve this. The chicks won't need food or water in the box while being transported.
Once the day-old chicks arrive at their new home they will need a brooder box, a chick brooder heat plate or brooder shade, chick crumble and water. For further information on raising chicks visit Poultry Australia's Raising Chicks Guide.
Point-of-lay = A hen that is just about ready to start laying eggs. Point-of-lay hens are fully feathered and don't require a brooder. This means they can go straight into their coop and run. Whenever introducing new poultry it's always a good idea to keep them locked in the run for at least one week so they get used to their new environment. Until the hens get used to their new environment they may run away if given the chance to free range. If your run has an automatic coop door to allow the hens to free range in the afternoon, always change the setting to manual opening until the hens have settled in.
Pullet = A hen under one year old. Pullets are the most expensive age group to buy as they are proven egg layers with a long productive life ahead of them. While more expensive to purchase, pullets will start earning their keep immediately. Sometimes young poultry will be sold as a trio, meaning two pullets (hens) and one cockerel (a young rooster).
Mature = A bird over one year old. Mature poultry are usually sold when their owner decides to downsize their flock, change breed, or no longer keep poultry.
When buying mature chickens it’s important to know the age of the birds. A hen’s egg production will decrease and eventually stop as she ages. Older roosters also become less fertile over time. The life expectancy of chickens will depend on the breed. Commercially bred chickens such as Isa Browns have a much shorter life expectancy than traditional purebred poultry. The typical life expectancy of a chicken ranges from four to 12 years. Many hens will live for years after they stop laying eggs. While older chickens can still make great pets, they will be less productive than younger birds.
Sourcing live poultry
The best way to source live poultry is through breeders who are passionate about breeding quality birds. Some of the breeders with fertile egg listings on the Poultry Australia website sell live poultry as well. Contacting your nearest poultry club is another great way to find a breeder who will be happy to help you start your flock. Poultry clubs often hold shows and poultry auctions where the public can buy chickens from experienced breeders. Poultry clubs also usually have contacts for many different chicken breeds.
Another reputable way to start your own flock is by purchasing chickens from a local hobby farm or agricultural supply store. It’s common for hobby farmers to sell day-old chicks and point-of-lay hens as it’s often more profitable than selling eggs or chicken meat. Asking your local poultry club if they have any contacts for reputable hobby farms is the best way to find one in your area. Some agricultural supply shops also purchase live poultry from hobby farms to retail at their store. The disadvantage of purchasing chickens from a hobby farm or agricultural supply store is they’ll usually only have one or two different breeds available.
Some commercial chicken farms also sell live poultry. They usually sell mature Isa Brown (a common cross-breed of chicken known for high egg production) hens that are no longer meeting their egg production requirements. This can be an affordable way to source a flock, as the hens have little value to the commercial farms. It can also be rewarding to know you’re giving the hens a better life than they’ve had at the commercial farm. Because the hens at commercial poultry farms have been bred for a short and productive life, they have a shorter life expectancy than purebred alternatives.
The last option is to find a backyard poultry seller through sources such as Gumtree. If you decide to buy poultry from a site such as Gumtree, make sure you view where the chickens are kept before agreeing to buy them. If you can’t see the whole flock, then the best option is to walk away. Only purchase poultry from the seller if:
The chickens are kept in a clean enclosure with recently changed bedding.
The enclosures are not overcrowded.
The chickens are fed a shop bought food pellet (this ensures they receive all of the required nutrients to stay healthy).
All of the chickens have access to water.
The chickens look healthy (note: some chickens may look scruffy because they are moulting. It’s normal for chickens to moult once per year. Ask the seller if you’re not sure whether a chicken looks scruffy because it’s unhealthy or moulting).
How much does live poultry cost?
There are four main factors that influence the price of poultry:
1. The age of the chicken
The age of the chicken is one of the main factors that influences its price. In general, day-old chicks and mature chickens are the cheapest way to purchase live poultry, while point-of-lay hens and pullets are the most expensive. The average price for a day-old chick or mature chicken is around $15, while you can expect an average price of $50 for a point-of-lay hen or pullet.
2. The sex of the chicken
Hens are usually more expensive than roosters. The exception to this rule are roosters that are deemed fit for breeding purposes. In this case roosters can fetch a premium over hens.
3. Demand and rarity of the breed
The breed of chicken is the third main factor that influences the price. Rare breeds will usually cost many times more than common chicken breeds. You can also expect to pay a premium for purebred chickens compared to crossbreeds. Less common breeds that are in high demand such as Brahmas will often cost over $120 each. Common purebred chicken breeds (such as Australorps) will usually cost around $60 each. Crossbred chickens are usually sold for around $35 each.
4. Reputation of the seller
You can expect to pay the highest price for chickens purchased from a reputable breeder or poultry club auction. Many breeders invest a large amount of time and money into their flock. This means you usually get good quality chickens but also pay a premium price. Hobby farms and agricultural supply stores are often the second most expensive way to purchase live poultry. The most affordable way to purchase live poultry is usually through backyard sellers or commercial poultry farms. Paying a higher price to purchase live poultry from a reputable seller can result in a healthier and more productive flock in the long run. These benefits often offset the higher purchase price over time.
Also see Poultry Australia’s guide to Purchasing Fertile Eggs.