We always hear how great everything is and it’s easy to imagine or assume everything through rose-colored glasses. Life and farming don’t always work out that way however, so here are some considerations to pocket in your knowledge bank if venturing into selling chicks.
Biosecurity and sanitation
Keeping healthy chicks can be a challenge, but there are proactive ways to prevent a lot of the issues commonly faced with keeping and rearing chicks prior to sale.
Biosecurity is very important and it’s important to know whether hatching your own chicks from your own breeding stock or having live chicks or eggs brought in to hatch on your farm or homestead carries risk of disease.
Clean bedding areas, clean water free of fecal matter and preventing overcrowding of chicks in their enclosures are a few proactive ways to prevent the spread of illness in chick populations.
Cleaning your incubator frequently, using a separate hatcher and not loading the incubator with dirty eggs are also key elements to starting your chicks off right. A dry sponge or light sandpaper is one way to prepare a slightly dirty egg for the incubator without washing and removing the bloom. Removing the bloom allows bacteria to enter through the eggshell to the developing embryo/chick which may cause it to fail and rot.
Always candle your eggs and remove rotten eggs before they explode in incubation. If they explode, completely take apart and wash and sanitize all bacteria in the incubator to prevent bacteria growth.
Selling chicks is not a ‘get rich quick’ scheme and you should consider the actual costs of producing your chicks for sale, including the $150 permit/$50 annual renewal if you’re in California, feed, bedding, heat and other supplies when pricing your chicks.
Something to understand is unless you have an ultra rare, show quality or highly desired breed of chick you won’t beat Tractor Supply’s prices. Large feed stores don’t sell the chicks to necessarily make a profit on chicks, they sell them as a way to bring customers in the door and convert that customer acquisition to buying poultry supplies for years to come. They can always under price for this reason. You may need to educate your customer base on how your chicks are different and hold value.
I personally think it’s a common misconception that farmers and homesteaders are ‘suppose’ to lose money when producing product. If more of us price our goods at our actual cost of production *AND* also factor in paying ourselves something for our time invested, I think small local agriculture would prosper as a whole and community perspectives would see a shift in better valuing what we offer.
If you don’t have at least 40% of your potential customers saying your prices are too high, you’re probably not pricing your chicks high enough and are selling them too cheaply. We call this ‘leaving money on the table’. Which may not seem like a big deal, but in today’s rapidly changing world and increasing feed costs, it’s something that should be considered in covering your costs.
There are many great customers and great customer experiences. Also understand, customers can and will complain about anything which is part and parcel of chick and hatching egg sales. Most of the time it’s a lack of understanding or a misconception. Sometimes, hatching eggs for instance, they have different expectations than the outcome. Always be polite, always be respectful and hear what they have to say. Without condescension or judgement help educate them on their questions or concerns. If you don’t know the answer to their question, try to find out and share this new knowledge with them, helping both of you learn and grow.
Always always always inspect your chicks at time of sale transfer. How do their eyes look, are they active and alert or lethargic? How’s their vent look? Any fecal matter attached on their little bottoms? If you don’t know how to recognize these areas yet, wait to sell chicks to others until you do. Don’t send chicks home with someone if they’re not meeting visual checklists for 100% health. Sick or dead chicks are bad for business. If you’re new to chick care and aren’t sure how to recognize these signs yet, order some books for reading or reference and consider finding a local mentor who’s been rearing chicks for years and can help guide and answer questions as you grow your knowledge base.
Consider what your policies will be when a customer calls and says their chick is sick or dead, or didn’t thrive when they got it home. Will this be the same or different if they call same-day, 2 days later, 2 weeks later, or 2 months later. Sending home a care sheet or having an understanding of ‘expected care’ with your customers is something to consider including. Make sure basics get covered and everyone understands what and how to provide for their chicks or there may be issues. A little education and managing expectations goes a long way.
Many people buy chicks on a whim or spur of the moment, which may mean they’re not set-up for chicks yet at home. Maybe this isn’t a problem, except now the chicks they picked up from you are waiting to get their heat, water and food access on a hot or cold day, left in a drafty area or forgotten for hours. What happens if the store is out and no one local has a heat lamp or heat plate in stock? Maybe the local stores are out of chick feed for the next week. It happens and I’ve seen it happen in our own mountain community.
There’s no harm in having a conversation ahead of pick-up and encouraging the buyer to get fully set-up prior to picking up the chicks. We all get excited about chicks; sometimes the seller needs to be the voice of reason coaching responsible care and behavior with a buyer to help set-up both the buyer and chicks for long-term success over instant gratification. A feed store may or may not do this, but as a farm or homestead you have the opportunity to make this a great experience, memory and win customer loyalty by looking out for everyone’s best interests over a quick sale. There is nothing more special to me when someone is getting their first-ever chicks…from me. Their very first poutry experience and they’re chosen me and my farm. I want to do right by them and make this the best experience for them to build great memories on for years to come.
Now the other side of the coin which no farmer or homesteader enjoys… You can refuse service to a customer for any reason if you feel uncomfortable with the situation, the buyer or their behavior, or they’re not prepared with supplies to care for the fragility of live chicks. You might feel bad, you might be spoken to or of in a poorly or rude manner, but it IS in fact your choice. It’s important to remember you have a choice and it’s at your discretion.
Our personal policy with our farm business is not to tolerate harassment or belligerent behavior by a customer. I have quite literally picked up a call to the farm and had someone yelling on the other end without telling me any information on the issue, who they are or their order information, or how we can resolve the issue. Not everyone knows how to speak respectfully to others.. it happens. The way in which our farm handles unhappy customers it to behave respectfully and professionally under any circumstance. As a business practice, we document every order from start to finish because we may not remember the details but have a note or the order in our system or files we can reference to get on the same page any amount of time later. If there’s an issue on an order, we add a note on the order.
At the resolution of an issue or interaction, our business policies outline what customer actions place the customer on a ‘do not service’ list which lets us know in future we are not the right fit to best serve the customer and their needs.
If you accept electronic payments, be aware of a thing called ‘chargebacks’. People can and will reverse a payment with their bank, credit card company, PayPal and Venmo instead or working out a resolution with you as the seller or adhering to the policies they agreed to upon the transaction. Scam artists do this, and some people have learned to do this any time they choose and get away with it with small businesses. A large corporation or store will have their refund time frame posted at the bottom of the retail receipt. Buyers in general accept this, until it comes to a small business. Understand and expect people will come back to a small business with a refund or credit/replacement request months, even years later and consider how you’ll handle it.
Also note, PayPal sellers protection does not cover live animals, only physical goods with a shipping/tracking number. You may have the best laid out policies and refund policy posted on your website, signed at time of pick-up, etc., and the processors will honor the buyer’s claim in many cases. The banks and credit card companies won’t even reach out regarding the dispute, they simply honor what the customer has claimed. Yes, this is FRAUD, but people do it and get away with it. Cash is king, but it may cut back on potential customer traffic if people can’t pay by card or digitally. This is something each farm or homestead should consider when deciding how to accept payment and how to handle refunds, credit/replacing chicks and lost income value if/when there’s an issue.
Hatching eggs are one of the most popular farm and homestead items to receive chargebacks. Buyers are unsatisfied with the outcome of the hatch, eggs are (or claimed to be) broken on arrival if shipped, considered dirty (seriously, don’t sell super dirty eggs as hatching eggs – get a cleaner nest box set-up for your girls), or they candled them on arrival end felt they weren’t fertile…there are so many reasons. And while I love getting eggs from friends and neighbors to hatch, and share my own in return, we don’t sell hatching eggs as it’s just one of those areas highly prone to issue and customer dissatisfaction.
There weren’t a whole lot of resources talking about the not so fun parts of selling chicks when our farm started. A lot of it unfortunately had to be learned, experienced and worked through and some parts we got to avoid altogether (like the hatching eggs) by living vicariously through others.
I will say, selling chicks is a joyous occasion seeing the customer pick up their new little additions. There’s also a lot of loss, so expect this and prepare proactively to keep your chicks healthy post hatch or on arrival to the post office. Not every chick will necessarily make it but this is always the goal.
This is a longer article, so I’m going to end it here but I do break down more on chick and poultry care on our website. Don’t get discouraged! Farming has its challenges, that is for sure(!) but if it’s something you’re passionate about and enjoy, keep going. Keep learning and growing, and working through the challenges. Think of some of the negative points in this article as opportunities. When we know better, we can do better.
Talk is cheep but poultry are priceless.