It’s been a few months since I posted here, and it’s been crazy. As you probably know, we had a horrible wildfire season here this year, and so posting on the blog took a backseat to dealing with that. Then we moved into fall, and with it came the rains. Let’s just say that we’ve been scrambling to get things ready for winter.
Part of that has been trying to get our chicken flock up to speed. We got some hybrid dual purpose chicks from a very solid local breeder when we first moved here, and they’ve been laying very steadily this fall, Enough for me to sell some eggs here and there, and still have plenty to use myself. The only problem is, none of the hens are very good mothers; in fact, if I don’t collect eggs several times a day, one of the hens will make sure to peck all the eggs that aren’t hers. Not the most positive character trait. I wanted to let the hens raise their own eggs, and eventually move into breeding and selling chicks and hatching eggs, but my Black Stars weren’t having that.
Off I went to Ebay, to take a look at their offerings, and what a variety! Every kind of chicken, game birds, turkeys, and more seemed to be available in the form of hatching eggs. Lots of the common ‘barnyard mix,’ like Rhode Island Reds and Easter Eggers, but also some of the more rare varieties as well like the Ayam Cemani — a chicken so black its bones, tongue, and even meat is black too.
I fell in love with two breeds — the American Bresse and the Icelandics. I ordered a bunch of eggs and started planning my flocks. True to my personality type, I researched each breed, created spreadsheets and timelines to track progress and costs, and generally treated it all like I was managing a project — and truth be told, that’s exactly what I’m doing.
I got eggs of both breed and started planning…and then I learned why “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched” is a long-standing saying.
None of them hatched that first round, and that brings me to the point of this post — should you buy hatching eggs on Ebay? The short answer is, “Yes, you should, if you do your homework and properly prepare for them with realistic expectations.”
Understand Your Goals
- What is your end goal? Are you simply looking to have enough chickens to provide you and your family with fresh eggs? Are you hoping to have a solid meat source? Or are you wanting to turn chickens into an income stream through selling your eggs and meat? These questions should make a big difference in the breeds you end up looking at.
- Are you trying to expand your flock for breeding purposes; i.e., are you looking to buy more breeding stock? Or are you just planning to ‘get more chickens’? If flock size is your only goal and you care more about function (eggs, meat, etc.) than breed, you might be better off buying from a local farm. You can almost always find day-old chicks on Craiglist in your area.
- If you have your heart set on pure breed chickens, what are the characteristics of the breed you’re looking at? Sure, an Ayam Cemani flock would look amazing in your yard with their shiny black plumage, but do you want all of your chicken meat to be black? If the auburn feathers of a Rhode Island Red are what draw you in, do you want a breed where the roosters are known to be meaner than others? And if you’re raising for meat, how long are you willing to wait until they’re ready to butcher?
Once you’ve gotten a few preliminaries out of the way, you can finally start to shop.
Research the Seller
There are more things to understand about buying hatching eggs on Ebay than just your own setup. You’re buying hatching eggs from a farm or breeder you’ve never seen, so make sure that you look at each seller carefully. If they have a website, visit it. If they don’t have one listed but their username is something like “southridgefarm” then Google it and see if you can find a website.
Look at the item descriptions carefully; guaranteed fertility is a good thing; guaranteed hatching is not. The truth is, there’s no way to guarantee a hatch rate, since everyone has a different incubator or hen setup. Some sellers try to claim guaranteed hatch rate but really what they’re promising is to replace eggs that don’t hatch. That adds another 24-28 days onto your timeline: another month before you have chicks, and if some of the original eggs did hatch that also means you’ll have two sets of chicks a month apart, which necessitates two different places for them (you don’t want to put chicks together over a week apart or so).
If you’re looking to get purebred chickens of a specific breed and want purity in the lines, ideally you’ll want to order from a breeder that only raises the breed you want. Failing that, you should ask the seller how they guard against cross-breeding. Obviously if all the chickens are together regardless of breed, you’re not going to have pure lines. Because of how chickens breed and how long a rooster can fertilize eggs for, you also need to make sure that if they’re separating their breeds, that there is no possible way for a hen to be bred by the wrong rooster.
Also find out if the chickens are free range, cooped up, etc. How the chickens live will affect their breeding, egg quality, and a host of other things. It’s okay to ask these questions — a reputable seller won’t mind, and will be happy to talk about how they keep their flocks and what precautions they take to keep their birds happy and healthy.
Pay Attention to the Description
Sure, the photos are fun to look at but there is very specific information that needs to be in the description, and reputable sellers ensure it’s in there. Likewise, there are certain things that you’ll want to stay away from depending on what your goals are.
You might see something like “NPIP certified.” That means that the National Poultry Improvement Plan program has deemed the seller to be in compliance with its anti-disease protocols. Whether that lends weight to your decision depends largely on how much you trust government programs — a non-NPIP farm doesn’t mean they’re disease-ridden fowl. In fact, in the entire state of Montana, only five breeders are listed as NPIP certified, and I can assure you that the thousands of chicken owners and breeders in Montana are not all languishing in salmonella epidemics. In short, it’s up to you how much attention you want to pay to the NPIP certs.
You may also see something like “Greenfire Farm Lines” or have a name mentioned in the description. This is a fairly good thing — those who have been around chickens, especially certain breeds, get to know the top breeders in the country. Greenfire Farms, for instance, raises rare breeds and maintains solid, top quality lines. Others, such as Whippoorwill Farm in northern Wisconsin, specialize in one specific breed, and constantly improve the lines based upon stellar breeding practices. If you do research you’ll get to know the names to trust; there’s just one problem.
Even if your seller’s eggs came from the top breeder in the country, there’s no guarantee that they didn’t end up breeding them with lesser stock — whether through accident or laziness. If you’re looking to stay with pure lines, your seller should have no problem providing you with documentation showing that your eggs are pure bred and have a proven lineage. That won’t matter so much for your standard barnyard mix, but if you’re looking to get Icelandics, German Bielfelders, and other rare breeds, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting what you pay for.
In the photos on the description, pay attention not just to the chickens, but to what’s around them. Does their space look clean and well-maintained? Are they on grass or in a dirt pen? Do the chickens appear to be fenced into a little area when they claim to be free-range? Some sellers also mention the type of feed their chickens are on; what chickens eat and how they live has a big effect on the quality of the eggs you’re buying, so take a close look at their environment as best you can. And again — ask questions.
Be a Good Buyer
Once you’re satisfied with the seller’s answers to your questions and you’ve decided to buy, pay special attention to when they plan to ship. Eggs can’t sit around forever and still be viable when you get them, so make sure you know how old the eggs will be and when the seller will be sending them. Part of that process includes you paying promptly after the auction is over — ideally, you’ll be paying immediately within the first few minutes after it ends. That ensures that your end is taken care of and the seller can ship your eggs promptly. Don’t expect feedback, however. In all my dealings with chicken people on Ebay, I’ve never received any feedback at all. I would guess they have better things to do…like getting my eggs shipped out.
Prepare Your Spot — and Your Expectations
It’s a well-documented and somewhat sad fact that shipping eggs is a risky business. Reputable sellers pack them so they won’t break, and usually include a few extra eggs just in case the post office decides to ignore the “FRAGILE” markings on the box. Unfortunately, however, getting intact eggs isn’t a guarantee that you’ll have fluffy chicks in 21 days either. There’s still a lot of work to be done.
- Make sure that your incubator, if you’re using that instead of a broody hen, is already heated and ready to go with proper heat and humidity.
- When you receive your eggs, let them sit for 24 hours before placing them in the incubator. They need a bit of time to get the air pocket re-situated and settle down from their trip.
- Make sure you’re following the proper protocols for incubating eggs; turn them on a schedule if you don’t have an auto-turner, make sure the temp and humidity stay in the safe range, and keep the incubator away from drafts and sunlight.
- Candle them around day 10-12 to make sure they’re fertile and developing; discard ones that aren’t.
Above all, understand that with shipped eggs, 50% is a great hatch rate. That means even if you do everything right, out of a dozen eggs you might get only a few to hatch. Some people account for that by negotiating with the seller to buy more eggs if they’re available. and some bypass Ebay entirely and go straight to the farms’ websites. Some, like me, simply do what we can and hope for the best — and have the multiple setups necessary for chicks at several age levels.
Buying eggs from Ebay can be a positive experience — and you might do some solid networking as you get familiar with certain sellers. Just make sure that you’ve done the research and prepared both your space and yourself. Happy egg-buying!