Every flock of chickens first starts with a batch of day-old baby chicks. These chicks are readily available at hatcheries in your local area. You incubate them, care for them, and watch them grow until you raise a flock of backyard chickens ready to produce high-quality poultry for you.
But buying your chicks isn’t as simple as picking a breed and then paying for them. You also need to carefully consider what sex of chicks you want to get. You can either buy sexed chicks—male or female—or take your chances with straight-run lots.
Most chicken farmers prefer either female pullets or straight run chickens. But what are the differences between the two? Which one makes for a better investment? Today, we’ll talk all about straight run vs pullet chickens to help you figure out which chicks are the right fit for you.
The Three Sexing Options When Buying Chicks
1. Pullets (Female Chicks)
First, you have the female birds, also called “pullets.” Pullets are the most popular sex of chicks because these fine ladies turn into egg-laying hens in adulthood. They are the most expensive sex class in chicks because they are the most in-demand in the poultry world.
To get these immature female chicks, hatchery experts will check the sex of the chicks and separate the males from the females. All chickens have the same genitalia—the cloaca—so it takes a sexing expert to check a chick’s gender.
This is most often done through a process called internal vent sexing. The expert will hold a chick upside down and gently squeeze them to expose their vent area. If there is a small bump that shows in this area, they are classified as male.
2. Straight Run Chicks
Next, we have straight run chickens, which are basically just unsexed chicks. Instead of sexing the chickens to give the buyer their preferred gender, hatcheries will give them a random mix of chicks. These lots will likely be half male and half female.
It takes a while for you to be able to tell the sex of these straight run chickens. If you’re not a sexing expert, it may take a month or two for you to notice the signs.
Want to see how a flock of straight run chickens operate by the time it’s possible to sex them? Check out this video by Grazing Acres:
3. Cockerels (Male Chicks)
Lastly, you can opt to buy male chicks. These are the cheapest kind of chicks because they aren’t necessary for egg-laying. They’re also known to be aggressive on the farm and cause problems among the other birds, so they’re not exactly a top candidate for the coops.
The immature male chicks are sometimes kept by the hatcheries for cheap sales, but many times, they are tossed or killed.
The Benefits of Purchasing Pullets
As you may now realize, it’s way more advantageous to buy pullets or straight run chickens than it is to invest in male chicks. But which one is better? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of these two types of chicks, starting with the benefits of purchasing pullets.
1. Higher egg production
By buying exclusively young females, you can build an army of egg layers to produce plenty of delicious eggs for your farm. You don’t need roosters for egg production. Buying a large number of pullets guarantees that every chick you pay for will be useful to you.
2. You know what you’ll get
When you buy pullets, you won’t have to worry about the distribution of sexes. Some chicken raisers who opt for straight run lots sometimes stress over what they will do with the cockerels. But buying strictly pullets only means you know what you’ll get every time.
3. No legal issues with roosters
Some suburban areas and municipalities have legal restrictions for owning roosters. Male chickens can be rowdy, loud, and aggressive, which can be unsafe or disturbing for some neighborhoods. By buying female chicks only, you don’t have to face legal issues with your area of residence.
The Disadvantages of Buying Pullets
1. It can be expensive
Because pullets are so in demand, they’re the most expensive sex of day-old chicks. Another reason they can be pricey is because of the vent sexing service, which only professionals can do. This extra step can be costly, especially when your hatchery hires only the best chicken sexers.
2. It supports the killing of unnecessary male chicks
There’s a school of thought that says when you buy female chicks only, you are indirectly supporting chick culling or the common yet cruel practice of killing unwanted male chicks.
After separating the pullets from the cockerels, hatcheries are left with a large number of unwanted chicks. Males are then tossed into a grinder or poisoned with carbon dioxide to get rid of them. Some hatcheries even go as far as electrocuting these poor baby cockerels.
While it makes sense to buy female chicks for the benefit of your farm, it directly impacts the lives of the male chicks you leave behind. This may creep up on the conscience of many chicken raisers, especially those that love their roosters.
The Benefits of Purchasing Straight Run Chicks
Now, let’s take a look at some of the great things about opting for straight run chicks instead.
1. It’s the economical choice
Buying straight run 1-day-old chicks is way more affordable than buying pullets. Because half of your flock will likely turn out to be male, straight run lots are sold for cheaper. It’s for sure the better option for chicken raisers on a budget.
2. Great for meat birds
If you’re raising broiler chickens—chickens meant to grow quickly to turn into meat—the sex of your chickens doesn’t matter. All you have to focus on is fattening up your chickens regardless of sex so that they can produce juicy, flavorful chicken meat.
By buying straight run chicks instead of pullets, you’ll save more money while producing the same amount of meat you would have if you bought exclusively female chicks.
3. Gives male chicks a better life
Many chicken advocates believe that by opting to buy straight run chicken lots, you are giving male chicks a chance to live a better, higher-quality life. Since their life will be in your hands, you have the option to be more humane in how they are treated or eliminated.
People don’t like the idea of killing male chicks. They pay extra to have someone else do it for them so that they’re left only with the females. But if you get both female and male chicks, you can care for the baby cockerels properly and give them more purpose.
For example, if you buy a straight-run lot and get half females and half males, you can keep all the hens and one or two roosters for the egg-laying coop. Instead of killing the rest of the roosters, you can raise them well and turn them into meat after they live a full, abundant life.
The Disadvantages of Buying Straight Run Chicks
1. Sex ratios will not be guaranteed
When buying straight run chicks, their sex ratio is always a game of chance. Ideally, half of your flock will be male, and the other half female, but it’s not always guaranteed.
If you buy straight run lots even if you know you only want hens in your flock, you might be forced to kill off your male chicks later on. This can be a huge source of despair for novice chicken raisers.
2. Dishonest hatcheries can scam you
Some hatcheries might not give you a good deal if you get a straight run lot. Sketchy hatcheries might intentionally give you more cockerels than pullets and save the females for those willing to spend more money on them.
When buying chicks, make sure it’s only from a reputable hatchery that you trust and have a good relationship with already.
3. Fighting among the male chickens
Another watch-out for straight run lots is how aggressive male chickens are. As they grow older, your young cockerels may turn into territorial roosters that often get into fights and injure each other. One way around this issue is to buy straight run chickens of a tamer breed, like ISA Browns.
When buying chicks for your farm, the sex matters. Most chicken raisers prefer pullets that will grow into egg-laying hens. However, other farmers will stick with the less expensive, unsexed, straight run chicks to save on some cash.
There are pros and cons to each kind of chicken. Pullets are great for egg production but are quite expensive and support the cruel killing of male chicks.
Whichever type of chicken you purchase is completely up to you and your farm’s needs and circumstances. Assess your poultry farm goals and go back to this list of pros and cons to serve as your guide before investing in either straight run or pullet chickens. Hope we were able to help!