Doug Ottinger – Purchasing spent breeders from a poultry breeding farm and hatchery can be a promising option for backyard poultry keepers. A small flock owner may want to add just two or three more laying hens, a few new chicken breeds, or a couple of ducks to their little menagerie, and buying a box of 25, day-old chicks from a hatchery just makes no sense.
Battery hen rescue or saving spent laying hens from the meat processors has been practiced in Great Britain for many years. There are now organizations in the United States which also are involved in the same practice. If you want some hens just for pets and don’t mind a lack of egg production, this is one very good option.
However, if you want adult hens who will still produce eggs, one of the best choices available is buying spent, or finished breeder (parent) stock that hatcheries and poultry breeding farms are getting rid of and possibly rehoming. Be aware that these birds are sometimes hard to find. Not all hatcheries are able to take the time to rehome their spent breeders. Even though these birds may not be available in all areas, many readers should still be able to take advantage of these breeder sales, as they occur. The key is to search them out and be diligent in your follow-ups, especially with auctions and scheduled poultry sales.
Most hatcheries and poultry breeding farms get rid of their parent stock at the end of the main hatching season. The barns are cleaned out and the new parent stock is put into the barns and raised to supply next year’s hatching eggs.
Chickens have the best laying production and the highest fertility rates in the first five or six months of laying. This is one reason that many hatcheries change over their breeding stock every single year. Some hatcheries begin to do this as early as June, and others wait until August through October. Even though the birds are done for breeding purposes, most have lots of production life left in them for backyard owners or small, local egg producers.
Etta Culver, owner of Schlecht Hatchery in Miles, Iowa, said she has regular customers who will buy 50 or more of these birds every year just for egg production. Most breeders are only 11 to 12-months-old when they are done for commercial hatching egg production and then sold.
Most hatcheries are not in the business of selling adult fowl, and many larger ones find it logistically impossible to sell 50,000 or more adult birds on a retail basis. Consequently, many hatcheries and commercial breeding flock owners sell the birds by the semi-truck load, to either meat processors, or to poultry middle-men, who in turn sell them to retail buyers through auctions, swap meets, or their own farms. It is generally the smaller, local hatcheries, that are most willing to sell their spent breeders, a few at a time, to retail customers.
According to Meyer Hatchery, they sell much of their spent breeder stock themselves. Government regulations and industry rules for bio-security do not allow buyers to go to their poultry breeding farms to purchase. The birds are brought to a central location for sale, and customers can buy them there. Meyer’s adult sales will start in August of this year and are anticipated to run into mid-October. Customers can call or email at the end of July and beginning of August for location details. According to information supplied by both Cackle and Mt. Healthy Hatcheries, they sell their finished breeding stock, in bulk, to poultry dealers, who then sell the birds to retail buyers, through auctions or their own farms.
What to Expect
One thing to remember is that the birds may look a little ragged. Very rarely will they be in pristine condition. Breeding hens may have torn up feathers on their backs from constant mating. The combs may have some scabs where overly-eager roosters grabbed. A few might be beginning their first molt. Unfortunately, this is a reality with fowl and is just a part of chicken life. Don’t let the poor looks deceive you. Missing feathers will regrow and scabs on combs will heal.
Breeders are some of the best cared for birds in the poultry industry. Both hens and roosters must be in good health and receive peak nutrition to be fertile and reproduce. The hatcheries’ very existence depends on this. Consequently, the birds have received the best of care and nutrition. The birds have also been free to roam in their pens. Customers must be prepared to pick up these birds themselves. The hatcheries are not set up to ship spent breeders.
Are You Ready to Go and Buy Some New Birds?
Whether it is a 30-minute drive or an all-day adventure, is there anything more exciting than going on a trip to buy some new additions to the flock? With a little planning, you can make it a memorable trip.
Where to Go
The following list is not all-inclusive, but it does showcase some of the hatcheries, which try to rehome their spent breeders, and where poultry owners can find these birds. There are many other hatcheries across the country, any of which are potential sources.
According to both Cackle and Mt. Healthy Hatcheries, many of their birds are taken to auctions in the southern states, from Georgia all the way to Texas. If you live in areas where regular poultry auctions or swaps are held, start watching them from mid-summer through mid-fall for these birds. If you call prior to auction day, some auctions may be able to tell you if spent breeders are scheduled for a particular sale.
Here are a some of the hatcheries that sell directly to retail buyers:
Meyer Hatchery, Polk, Ohio. (meyerhatchery.com or call 888-568-9755). Sales are scheduled to start in August.
Schlecht Hatchery, Miles Iowa. (schlechthatchery.com or call 563-682-7865). Schlecht Hatchery starts selling off its parent stock in June.
Happy Feet Hatchery, Eustis, Florida. (happyfeethatchery.com or call 407-733-4427). Happy Feet has a variety of various adult fowl available year-round.
Johnson’s Waterfowl, Middle River, Minnesota. (johnsonswaterfowl.com or call 218-222-3556). Johnson’s sells off standard and Call Duck breeders for a brief period in June each year. Emily Johnson asks that she receive notices of customer interest by the end of May. Johnson’s also has a smaller sale of mainly drakes in September of each year.
Deer Run Farm, Emmitsburg, Maryland. (717-357-4521 / deerrunfarmMD.com) Breeders are sold at the end of the summer.
Moyer’s Chicks, Quakertown, Pennsylvania. (moyerschicks.com / 215-703-2845). While Moyer’s does not sell spent breeders to the public, they do raise and sell ready-to-lay pullets, which are generally pre-ordered and can be picked up in the fall. Moyer’s is well known to local farmers and poultry people in Southeast Pennsylvania and surrounding areas. If you live within driving distance of Quakertown, and you are looking to buy some adult layers, this could be a promising option. Prices for Moyer’s ready-to-lay pullets are reasonable and comparable to adult breeders sold in some other markets.
There are numerous hatcheries and poultry breeding farms across the country that are hidden sources for adult fowl. If you have found a good place to buy adult birds for your own flock, please share in the comments below.