Growing up, my Dad was GREAT about letting me be part of his various building projects. From laying floors, to building rabbit hutches, to roofing the chicken-house, he let me be part of it all. When I was twelve or thirteen, we tackled an especially exciting little project. We followed some plans in a chicken-raising book, and built our own homemade incubator.
From cutting the pieces of plywood, to wiring up the thermostat, to carefully taping the edges of the glass lid – Dad let me help him with every step. Little did he know, he was helping set me on a path to a very special addiction. Hatchaholism.
I can still remember the colors of each adorable chick we hatched out, from that first batch of eggs we set in our new incubator. I can almost hear their little “cheep, cheep, peep” sounds… Actually, wait. That’s the sound coming from my kitchen. (Because you know, it’s hatch day. Again!)
Though my first hatching experience with that little homemade incubator immediately had me hooked, I never could have imagined that one day I’d be hatching out hundreds of chicks and ducklings in my own little farmhouse kitchen every spring. If I could have imagined such a thing, it would have sounded like a dream come true, to that chicken-loving farm kid.
These days, this chicken-loving farm mama is hatching chicks for more than just the fun of it. Hatching has become a delightful seasonal job for me. Starting in late February, the sound of hatching chicks is the soundtrack of my Fridays. And over the weekend, a steady trickle of folks find their way to my farm gate, out here in the boonies. We chat chickens, ducks, and homesteading, and a short while later they leave with smiles on their faces, and a box of adorable fluff balls cradled in their hands.
Izzy, who’s just turned three, thoroughly enjoys the whole process. From setting eggs and turning them, to cradling chicks and singing them lullabies, she wants “in” on every step of the process. And that’s music to this mama’s soul. As I listened to her singing “baa baa black sheep” to a charcoal-colored chick today, I thought about how grateful I am that this little homestead enterprise of hatching and selling chicks, plays a very real role in helping me to stay here on the homestead, raising my babies.
Just a few homestead income streams, each bringing in a few hundred extra dollars a month, can go such a long way to helping make it so I don’t have to work a “town” job. I’m sure I’m not the only homestead mama finding creative ways to make it work! So I thought I’d share a few tips I’ve learned, as I’ve stumbled into this wonderful little backyard hatchery business. I hope you might find them helpful, if you’re considering doing the same!
Tips for making extra income with hatching & selling chicks
Choose a breed you really love.
I think this is important, because if you truly have a great enthusiasm for the breed you’re working with, it makes you want to share that breed with everyone. And that makes you your own best marketer! In my case, I keep Icelandic landrace chickens. They’re rare, but their popularity is spreading, because they really have so many delightful traits. They’re incredibly colorful, which makes for a beautiful backyard flock. They’re hardy, predator-wary, excellent foragers, wonderful mothers, and full of personality. I love them, which means I love chatting them up, and sharing this wonderful breed with other homesteaders in my state. Whatever breed gets you excited – invest in the best stock you can, and go for it!
Decide whether to keep a single breed, or manage multiple breeding flocks.
For me, it’s important that ALL my chickens be allowed to free-range. So I keep one flock, with two beautiful roosters, and sell just that one breed. One thing I really like about keeping a single breed, is that it allows me to have many breeding hens, and multiple roosters of the same breed. If I were keeping several breeds, I’d have to really limit the number I kept of each variety.
I manage my sizable flock in a way that maximizes genetic diversity, which makes for stronger chicks, and good fertility in second and third generation chicks. This works very well for me, especially since the breed I’ve chosen is in high demand, and I can sell as many chicks as I can hatch, even though I’m only offering one variety of chick.
However, from a profitability standpoint, many backyard hatcheries do find it preferable to invest in multiple, small flocks of different breeds. If this is what you’re interested in doing, keep in mind that it’s absolutely vital that each breed be separated from the others, at least 4 weeks prior to keeping eggs for hatching, to ensure purity of the offspring. This means having multiple breeding pens, so startup costs can be quite a bit higher. Friends I know who manage multiple small flocks in this way do feel that they maximize profitability, and from a financial standpoint feel it’s worth the extra effort of maintaining separate flocks. Only you can decide what will work best for your family.
Invest in good equipment
It’s always disappointing when something goes wrong with an incubator, and you have a poor hatch, or lose the hatch all together. But when you have customers waiting for chicks that don’t end up hatching, and it’s for your business, it’s really devastating.
I cannot over stress the importance of having reliable equipment that you enjoy using, and can count on. This doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money, but it does mean knowing what to look for. Low-end styrofoam incubators, and those cheap yellow digital incubators that are popping up everywhere, are almost guaranteed to cause heartache. If not on the first hatch, than soon after.
On the other hand, anything by Hovabator or Brinsea has always treated me right. I think it’s pretty hard to beat the Hovabator 1602N with the circulated fan for reliable quality, under the $200 price point. And for sheer ease of use, and consistently superior hatch rate, the Brinsea Octagon series is fantastic.
If those are out of your price range, don’t despair. Keep your eyes open for used ones on Craigslist, Ebay, and your local Facebook swap & sell groups. I find that these often pop up at amazing prices right after hatch season. If you can nab one for next year, you’ll be ahead of the game!
Create a hatching calendar
Within a few hours of posting chicks for sale, for the first time, I quickly realized I was going to have a waiting list. A long one. And people didn’t want to just know that I’d contact them when I had more. They wanted to know what day they could plan on picking them up!
Now I buy a cheap weekly planner at the beginning of the year, and in January, I plan out my hatching calendar for the entire year. Using three incubators, and hatching out both chicks and ducklings, it really helps to keep me organized. And my customers love knowing that they can plan ahead and know exactly when to expect their new fluffy babies.
Don’t forget to allow at least two days between hatching one batch of eggs, and setting the next batch. If for some reason you end up with a bit of a late hatch, or a weaker chick that needs an extra day in the incubator, you don’t want to stress about getting off schedule. I find that allowing about 48 hours between hatch day, and setting the next round of eggs, keeps things low-stress.
Take lots of adorable photos, and advertise.
Cute, fluffy pictures sell chicks. Get as many great photos as you can from your first hatch, and use them in all of your ads. People can’t resist adorable fluff balls! Some great places to advertise are:
- Your Facebook farm page
- Local Facebook swap & sell, homesteading, farming, or poultry groups
- Your local feed stores
Decide whether to sell chicks straight run, or sexed.
You don’t want to get caught by surprise, when you’re asked if you’ll sell “just girls”. Personally, I sell all of my chicks straight-run. I don’t sex them, and so people get a pretty reliable 50/50 mix of male and female chicks.
If you do sell sexed chicks, you’ll have to make a plan for what to do with all the extra cockerels. If you’re raising a heavier dual-breed chick, you may be able to give them away to another homesteader who’d like to raise them out for meat. Otherwise, you may find yourself raising out lots of extra male chicks yourself – and maybe that works well for you! Myself, I avoid raising out chickens for meat, more than once a season. So I stick with advertising my chicks as straight-run only. Whatever you decide, making a decision and then sticking with it, makes communicating clearly with your customers much easier.
Make a policy about holding chicks.
Another thing I found I needed to make a firm decision about, was whether or not to hold chicks for people who have ordered them. For the most part, I have awesome customers. I really love the folks who come buy our chicks. But in all honesty, there are a few that have been…interesting. While you or I would probably never dream of ordering chicks, and then postponing the pickup date 3 times – it happens.
I have found it helpful to have a policy that I’ll hold chicks for up to 48 hours after hatch, and will re-schedule the pickup date once. It makes it easy to be able to quote your own policy in a friendly way, when someone asks if you can “just” brood out their chicks for them, for another week or two!
Create a yearly price list – and be confident about it.
While many would say that I’m a natural saleswoman (I do love chatting about my chicks and ducklings!), when asked how much they cost, I used to get embarrassed. I don’t know why I found it so hard to name my price, and do it with confidence. After practically giving away my first batch of ducklings, I realized I needed a price list. And I needed to stick with it.
I set my price list by seeing what other small hatcheries in my state were charging for their chicks and ducklings. And then I also looked at the prices of other small hatcheries around the US, who are selling the same rare breeds that I’m working with. Armed with that information, I created a price list that I felt good about. I put it in writing, and now it’s easy for me to just send it to folks who are interested in buying chicks or ducklings. I also found it helpful to decide ahead of time on a special discount price for friends and repeat customers. It makes it easy, not having to come up with a number on the fly!
Stock up on supplies before hatching season starts.
Aside from the usual chick-hatching supplies like electrolytes and starter crumbles, there are a few items I like to keep on hand for hatching and selling chicks.
- Boxes. I like to keep a good stash of boxes in various sizes on hand, so that I don’t need to depend on customers to bring their own. It’s also handy, in case I’m meeting a customer in town – I often offer to meet up at the feed store to make it easy. For small orders of 6 or so chicks, I find that smaller Amazon boxes and bulk baby wipe boxes are great sizes. For orders of 10 or more, I actually really love beer boxes – and they usually come with small finger-hole flaps, so you don’t need to bother cutting any breathing holes in the box.
- Nesting liners. You don’t want those little chicky legs to slip, as they’re in transit to their new home. So lining boxes with something smooth, like newspaper, is not a good idea. Some straw or hay works well for lining boxes, but my favorite thing to use is nesting box liner. I buy packs of these at the end of the season when they’re on sale, dirt cheap. I cut them in half, or even quarters, depending on the size of the box, and spread it out so it covers the whole bottom of the box.
- Heating packs. Because I live in New England, and people start buying chicks as early as February, it can be very cold when some of my chick orders go off to their new homes. Some folks drive an hour or two to get to me, so I like to make sure those little day-old chicks don’t get chilled on the long drive. I use clean old socks, or ones that have lost their mates, to make up a stash of small heating packs to send with early-season orders. 1/2 cup of feed corn, in a sock, makes a perfect little heating pack. I use the warming drawer of my oven to heat them up before sending off with a chick order, but about 2 minutes in the microwave should do the trick as well.
- Small disposable containers, or baggies. More than once I’ve had folks pick up chicks on a Sunday afternoon after the feed store was closed – and then remember they hadn’t picked up any started crumble. I like to keep a few little disposable containers (like small sour cream or yogurt tubs) on hand, so that I can send some food along with the chicks to get them started, if need be.
Treat everyone like a friend.
I really find that trying to treat every customer like a friend, even before meeting them, often means we do end up becoming friends once we meet. And so often, those friends end up coming back for more! Here are a few things I do, as I try to put this into practice:
- Be available to answer as many questions as they have. Whether it’s questions about the breed, about raising chicks, setting up the chicken coop, or even how to hatch their own eggs once their new chickens start laying, I try to make myself available to help, even months after the sale.
- I send photos when their “babies” are hatching. Most people LOVE getting a little photo update with a picture of a newly-hatched chick, just out of the shell, and reminder about their pickup date.
- I try to include an extra chick whenever possible.
- Give great directions, and include your phone number in case they get lost.
- Take your time, with each customer. If you’re ok with people being in your incubating/hatching/brooding areas, let them see your setup. I’m always surprised at how extremely interested my customers are, in how I set up my brooding tubs, and in the incubators lined up along the wall. Getting “the tour” really means a lot to many of them!
Those are the tips I’ve learned so far, in this “hatching and selling chicks” adventure. I hope some of these prove useful, if you’re considering doing the same. Hatching heritage-breed chicks has provided a helpful little stream of income for our homesteading family, and perhaps it would be a great fit for yours as well! If you have any questions about getting started, don’t hesitate to shoot me a line – you know I love chatting about chicks!
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