What age chicken to buy - A beginner's guide to getting the right chickens for you

What age chicken should I buy? 

Yay! You’re getting chickens! You might already have your chicken coop all set up, have researched different breeds, and know where to buy chickens, but there is one more decision - what age chickens to buy.

That’s right, you can buy chickens at any age you like: from cute, fluffy chicks right up to retired layers usually called rescue hens. 

So what is the best age chicken to buy? Every age has different pros and cons, from cost to the breeds available.

Before looking at the pros and cons of the different options, you need to think about why you are getting chickens.

What age chickens can you buy?

You can buy chickens at almost any age. Here are the most common options, so that you know what to ask for:

  • Fertilised eggs - These eggs are ready for incubation
  • Day-old chicks - Chicks need a brooder with a heat source to keep them warm. Some day-old chicks are 'sexed' which means you can just get hens, but there is a margin of error when they are so small!
  • Pullets - Pullets are hens with adult feathers. They no longer require a brooder or heat source, but they aren't yet old enough to produce eggs.
  • Point of lay birds - These hens are the right age to begin producing eggs, so laying is imminent.
  • Adult birds - Adult hens are proven layers and are often purchased as breeding stock.
  • Rescue hens - Rescue birds are "retired" layers from commercial farms, although they will usually still be producing eggs. They are 2-3 years old and would be killed if they were not rescued.

Why are you getting chickens?

The reason why you are getting chickens will help decide the best age birds to buy

Reason for getting chickensThe best age chicken to buy
As petsFertilised eggs or day-old chicks make the best pets because they really bond with you. Rescue hens are another good option because you are really making a difference in their lives.
For eggsPullets and point-of-lay birds are going to produce eggs most quickly.
To save moneyFertilised eggs or day-old chicks are the cheapest option, but you may have to buy equipment. You will also be feeding the birds for months before eggs are produced.
For the kidsFertilised eggs or day-old chicks provide the best opportunity to experience the wonders of nature and engage with the food supply. Alternatively, rescue hens provide an opportunity for kids to understand industrial farming.

If you have no experience with chickens, you may like to start out with older birds like pullets because they require less set up and attention.

Many experienced chicken keepers prefer to raise their own birds from eggs. This gives you more control over genetics and your flock. Fertilised eggs also provide the most affordable access to rare breeds and specialised genetics. If you have children or want to really understand the food supply, then fertilised eggs or day-old chicks are a great choice. You get to be really hands on with your birds and experience the wonder of nature. 

The pros and cons of different aged chickens

Fertilised eggs

Fertilised eggs are obviously the most natural way to get chickens. They can be hatched in an incubator or under a broody hen.

ProsCons
  • Hatching your own chicks is a magical experience for children and great for family bonding
  • Fertilised eggs are the cheapest way to get chickens and they can often be had for free
  • Hand-raised chicks make great pets!
  • Fertilised eggs are an affordable way to get rare-breed (and therefore expensive) chickens
  • Provides access to a wider range of breeds and special genetic traits
  • The easiest way to get chickens from a breeder that is far away from you
  • You will have to dispose of some roosters
  • Fertility and hatch rate can vary
  • Requires an incubator and brooder, or a broody hen
  • Putting eggs under a broody hen isn’t always successful

Click to find out where you can get fertilised eggs for incubating.

Day-old chicks

Day-old chicks are absolutely adorable little balls of fluff, but raising chicks can be labour-intensive.

ProsCons
  • Day old chicks are so cute!
  • Raising chicks is great for kids
  • Hand-raised chicks make great pets!
  • They are cheaper than grown birds
  • Chicks from breeders are usually vaccinated
  • Chicks are often available sexed, so you don’t have to dispose of roosters
  • You get the benefit of raising chicks without needing an incubator
  • You may still end up with unwanted roosters
  • It will be some time before you get eggs
  • You need a brooder to keep the chicks warm and healthy
  • If you already have chickens, you will need to keep the chicks separate for a few months
  • Chicks are delicate
  • Often only available in common, commercial breeds

Pullets

Pullets are often the most economical option - they are closer to laying than chicks and don't require a brooder. They are cheaper than older birds but more expensive than chicks or eggs.

ProsCons
  • You can request birds by sex and there won’t be any mistakes!
  • Pullets are big enough to be quite hardy, independent and able to look after themselves
  • Because they are young, pullets often adapt quite well and become good pets
  • Pullets from breeders have usually been vaccinated against common diseases
  • They don't require special facilities
  • Pullets are not always available
  • Care needs to be taken when introducing pullets to an existing flock as their slightly smaller size makes them a target for older chickens
  • You still have to wait a month or so before they begin to lay
  • Often only available in common breeds

Point of lay birds

Point-of-lay birds are not cheap, but you can expect an egg within weeks of purchase!

ProsCons
  • Point of lay birds are sexed, so no roosters
  • These birds are either beginning to lay or a few weeks from doing so
  • They are hardy and well able to look after themselves within a flock
  • Birds from breeders are usually vaccinated against common diseases
  • These are one of the most expensive age chickens to buy

Adult birds

These birds are adults and the hens are proven layers. If bought from stores, laying hens are usually in their first year of laying, but chickens bought online or from the classifieds can be any age.

ProsCons
  • Birds from reputable breeders will be proven layers or breeders
  • These are fully grown birds which do not require any special care
  • Often the best way to acquire certain genetic traits and rare breeds
  • Adult birds tend to carry more diseases and parasites than younger birds, putting your flock at risk
  • Egg production declines with age, particularly with birds older than 2
  • Dishonest sellers can lie about a hen’s true age and there is no way to tell for sure

Rescue hens

Rescue hens usually come from a commercial farm and have been rescued from being culled.

ProsCons
  • You are saving a chicken's life
  • You are giving a good life to a bird that may never have even been outside, let alone foraged for food or had treats like Mealworms!
  • These hens usually continue to lay
  • Rescue hens often have health problems
  • These hens often have a fairly short life expectancy after rescue (2-3 years)
  • They may not know how to forage, perch etc.
  • They do not lay as well as other chickens of a similar age due to the stress of the commercial system