So I went back to a hatchery online that I've been visiting and daydreaming about for a couple of years now. I like to look at their photos and think of all the cool breeds we could try out. Of course they also have minimums, and shipping, and an additional fee if you don't buy at least 15 birds. Then I found their surprise box. The description says you'll get at least 40 birds, sometimes up to 50, that they will be mixed colors, mixed breeds, and mixed species. No identification, no requests, just a box of whatever they have leftover that day. I went to their Facebook page and a couple of comments are from people who've recently bought this surprise box. One got one turkey and the rest chickens, and another got two ducklings and the rest chickens.
I talked to Tony about it and he's hesitant to buy that many chicks. The price is good, and I love surprises, but what happens if we get all chickens? We already know any roosters would have to go to the processing place in the fall, and we could just as easily sell any eggs we get that we can't eat ourselves. Since our birds free-range all summer long, aside from the six weeks indoors to start with, and the chick starter feed and brooder set up, the cost to grow them over the summer would be minimal. Processing costs would make up for themselves by filling the freezer for winter, and then we'd only have to feed hens and whatever other species we get through winter. I mean, there's a possibility for guineas, ducks, geese, chickens, turkey, or even potentially peacocks and swans and things. I think I'd be thrilled to get a couple of something other than chickens. Besides, it would be fun to try to identify them as they grow up.
On the other hand, I've never had baby birds, and I'm told they can be incredibly messy and stinky during those six weeks on your house. We just finally put Wisp back outside, do I really want to bring in stinky birds? What happens if I fail miserably and they die? I mean, I've been doing research, but reading about it and actually doing it are completely different. It's a pretty big investment between the birds themselves and the brooder system for six weeks just as an experiment to see if I like raising them from chicks. And what if I buy a box and don't get any ducks or geese? Will I be happy with 40+ chickens of indeterminate breed and gender, knowing what I really wanted was just 2-3 ducks and 1-2 geese? What happens if we are successful in raising the little babies, but they don't integrate into the flock, or Josh decides to kill them? I mean, Josh is a pretty big goose and he has been known to go after the ducks if they fail to respect him as a leader. I love Josh and don't want to have a reason to dislike him.
So tonight we have some thoughts going back and forth about birds, flock size, costs, options, and cost effectiveness. I had just told Tony I wasn't interested in getting more chickens because they can fly over any fencing we might put up to keep the goose out of the garden spaces, and honestly, ducks are better egg production birds over the long term (lower mortality rate, better winter hardiness, and lay eggs longer than a chicken does). That and chicken eggs sell for about half (or less) than what duck eggs sell for. If we were to start getting excessive amounts of eggs, it's more cost effective to be raising ducks.
As it stands, we currently have one goose (Josh), three ducks (Dashi the rouen hen, Matt the Indian Runner hen, and Helvegan the Indian Runner drake), two roosters (Phil the cochin/bantam? and Big Red the Rhode Island Red?), one hen (Henrietta the barred rock), and one guinea (Bert). It was a rough winter and we are beginner bird keepers. We lost a lot of birds over winter, some due to predators and some for unknown reasons. Either way, I'd like to get more birds.
Tony suggested setting up a live webcam in the brooder for people to be able to watch the babies, and maybe send donations to help pay for their expenses. Between that, processing extra roosters (food value), and potential egg sales down the road, maybe we could hope to break even.
Anyone raise poultry from a hatchery? I want to hear from you! What kind of set up did you find to be most effective? Was it cost effective in the long run (over the course of one to two years)? Would you say it was worth the investment (financially and time/energy)? Would you do it again? Popular opinion - is a mystery assortment a good idea?