From a disease, welfare and husbandry perspective, the best place you can source your fertilized eggs or baby chicks from is a farm or hatchery that is part of the National Poultry Improvement Program (NPIP). To be NPIP certified as a hatchery means that the birds on the farm are tested for various diseases possibly including Salmonella (it depends on which level of NPIP certification the farm/hatchery has) which can cause your eggs to be contaminated with a foodborne pathogen (aka it can get you sick). From a poultry health perspective NPIP requires testing for various other infectious diseases that help ensure the overall health of the chicks you are purchasing. Ask your breeder/feedstore to make sure they are part of or only purchase NPIP certified birds. That being said, some specialty breeds are only available through small breeders who may not be part of the NPIP and still do a great job. IF they are not part of the NPIP you will need to be more scrupulous. 

Finally, ensuring that the birds you introduce to your flock have received the Marek’s vaccine is critical to preventing Marek’s disease, a highly lethal disease caused by the highly pervasive Marek’s disease virus. The Marek’s vaccination only works if given in ovo (in the developing embryo before hatch) or at day one of age. Make sure you deal with a hatchery, feed store, or farm that vaccinates day one of age. See below for some other advantages/disadvantages of different sources of chicks. 

  • Mail Order Eggs:
    • Pros: Many hatcheries are part of the NPIP. There are a variety of breeds available. Mail order eggs are typically less expensive than ordering mail order chicks.
    • Cons: Poor hatch rates can occur. You can’t just select girls…
  • Mail Order Chicks:
    • Pros:Many hatcheries are part of the NPIP. There are a variety of breeds available . You can order males or females. 
    • Cons: Do not always arrive alive or healthy
  • Chicks From Feed Store:
    • Pros: Common breeds easily available. Sexed chicks (you can get only females).
    • Cons: Unknown biosecurity at the farm and feedstore Not always vaccinated
  • Chicks From a small Farm/backyard Breeder:
    • Pros: Ideal when you are looking for unique breeds.
    • Cons: May have varying degrees of biosecurity, which you may or may not be able to assess. 
  • Mail Order Pullets and websites such as Craig’s List:
    • Pros: Convenience…
    • Cons: Unknown biosecurity. Likely not part of NPIP

In conclusion, choose an egg or chick that’s vaccinated against Marek’s Disease. Finally, and just as importantly, get your hatching eggs or chicks from somewhere/someone you trust is doing their best to demonstrate they are practicing good husbandry and biosecurity.