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How to make money hatching and selling chicks

If this was advice on how to “get rich quick” you can be sure I would be charging you money for the info, rather than publish it online for free. The only way to make a million dollars in the poultry business is to start with 2 million dollars. If you manage to break even you are doing well. And you will be working for free, or at least far less than the minimum wage, such are the economics of this hobby.

If you really think you have what it takes, or just want to try, here are the “secrets” I have discovered over the years:

  • Explore your local market – see who else is selling chicks and how much they are getting for them.
  • Invest in premium stock from reputable breeders. It takes as much feed and time to maintain a flock of Easter Eggers from a hatchery as a flock of standard bred Ameraucanas. I have had people drive many hours to get real Ameraucanas, then pay 5 times what TSC sells their EE’s for.
  • Pick breeds and hybrids that have some existing demand. A corallary here is that chicks that you can sex (autosexing or sexlinked) will sell much better than straight run. I have found that I sell at least 10 times more pullet chicks than straight run. Your market may differ, but will still be very small if all you offer are straigh run.
  • If you sell pullet chicks, figure out ahead of time what you will do with the cockerels. Don’t assume people will buy them, even if cheap or free.

What breeds sell best ?

Anything that is sexable and lays unusually colored eggs.

Sexable chicks

Sexable chicks have special genetics that make the sexes look different at hatch. This uses the special case of genes that reside on the sex chromosome. Males have 2 copies of these genes, whereas females have only 1 copy and the breeder takes advantage of that difference with carefully arranged matings.

Autosexing Breeds

These have become very popular since the introduction of Cream Legbars into this country. They remain the most popular of these breeds, for very good reasons. I keep flocks of these breeds because they are so easy to sex and lay a lot of eggs, making them my best sellers.

Sex-linked Hybrids

While the autosexing breeds all look somewhat similar in pattern (because they have the gene for sexlinked barring), sexlinked hybrids are typically solid colored pullets. Not all the crosses you can make with sexlinked genes are possible to sex at hatch. For example, the color dilution genes blue and lavender make the chicks much harder to sex by the presence/absence of the head spot.

There are 2 types of color sex-linked hybrids:

  • Black sexlinks – This uses breeds whose base color is black and where one breed has the gene for sex-linked barring and the other breed does not. Female barred rocks, for example, can create black sexlinks with a wide variety of breeds that are non-barred. Both parent breeds contribute qualities to the chicks, so if you use, for example, a black Ameraucana rooster with your barred rock hens, all the pure black chicks will lay light green eggs.
  • Gold/Silver sexlinks – The very common production sexlink is of this type, a white rock (actually silver in color, which looks white) hen and a Rhode Island Red cock (these have the gold sexlinked gene). Resulting chicks are gold/red if female and yellow/silver if male.

Straight run chicks

Selling chicks straight run has benefits for the seller – you can raise any breed, not just ones that are sexable at hatch, and you don’t have to dispose of the male chicks. However, you will certainly find the market to be much, much smaller. It can be hard to even give away straight run chicks at times. Go ahead and try it if you are really that sure you can sell the chicks, I hope I am wrong in your case.

If you want to sell unsexed chicks, keep your scale small and do your research about what breeds are truly in demand. Polish are an example of a breed that even hatcheries sell straight run, because the extra males are quite useless to everyone. If I bred polish, I could sell a few each year, probably 5 or 6, no more. But if you find out what breeds are in high demand (and this changes from time to time), you can do much better. These are the breeds that were in high demand in 2022 and will likely remain in demand for a few more years:

  • Ayam cemani – the all black chicken that even non-chicken people have heard of. Some breeders advertise high prices to give these an air of rarity, that it is a privilege to own these birds. That is an entirely artificial market restriction meant to maximize profit. The other end has novice breeders selling anything that hatches from an egg laid by a bird they bought as an AC. Many of the cheaper birds should be culled, or at least not sold as pure AC. If a chick has any white skin, even the tip of a toe, it should not be considered an AC. I think there is a market for good quality at a fair price ($99 per chick is not a fair price, that is absurd!).
  • Copper Marans – no other Marans are as popular and you can sell Copper Marans for a while even if the eggs they lay are not very dark, but eventually your market will slow as customers realize your chicks are just like they get from the major hatcheries. If you want to sell Marans, buy broodstock from the best breeders with a reputation for dark egg lines. You might think that you should buy eggs then, and that might work, but eggs are risk and Marans eggs are extra hard to hatch, even if not shipped. The prices you get per chick are less than the AC, but the market is broader and if you can learn to hatch the darker eggs effectively, you can make back the feed money on these birds. It is more effort to work with Copper Marans lines that lay dark eggs, you must constantly select for the darkest eggs, which tends to make productivity and hatchability suffer. There are lines of Copper Marans that have become legendary for very dark eggs, but these tend to die out from inbreeding or other problems. Keeping a line healthy, productive and still laying dark eggs, is a substantial challenge.

That’s the list, I don’t know of any other breeds/colors that will sell as straight run with any regularity.