There are many ways to get a backyard flock up and running. You could purchase or adopt fully grown chickens from a friend. You may be able to obtain fertilized eggs then hatch them using an incubator or a broody hen. Hatcheries also sell one day old chicks. Or you could buy “started” chickens, which range between 3 and 6 months old. If you choose the last option, you might notice something called a straight run chicken. What are they? And are they worthwhile?
What is a Straight Run Chicken?
Simply put, a straight run chicken is something you order from a hatchery but can be any kind of breed. The term is used to label a clutch of chicks that have not been sexed. To say it another way, a straight run is a batch of chicks that is a mix of males and females — you will not know the ratio until you get them though. You will never see the term “straight run” used when procuring fully grown chickens, because, by that time, you can easily tell roosters and hens apart.
Do keep in mind that the straight run option is not always going to be available for every breed out there. More often than not, only bantam and rare breeds can be purchased as a straight run. This is often because the chicks are too small and precious to injure during the harrowing sexing process.
Interested in buying straight run chickens? This video gives you some tips to make it worth every penny:
The Difference Between Sexed and Unsexed Chickens
When buying from a hatchery, you often have a couple of options for your purchase: straight runs, pullets, or cockerels. These three options can be further narrowed down to sexed or unsexed chickens.
Most people have no trouble telling the difference between a rooster and hen. That is not true when you are looking at two chicks. It is incredibly hard to determine the gender of a chick, unless it is auto-sexed.
For that reason, sexed chicks are often more expensive than those who have not been sexed.
Interestingly, once a chicken has been sexed, the price goes up or down. Pullets, for example, are more expensive once their gender has been determined. A cockerel is often cheaper than those chicks of undetermined sex, because the demand for cockerels is lower.
Straight Run Chickens vs Pullets
As you already know, straight run chickens are not sexed. Therefore, you do not know how many pullets you are getting until the chicks are of the right age. If you order pullets, you are getting only females who have been sexed. Buying pullets gives you two clear advantages: you do not have to wait as long for the chicken to mature and start laying eggs. Secondly, you already know what you are getting.
Most people do not want to take the gamble and will only purchase the number of pullets they need. Others, though, believe straight run chickens are the best choice.
What Are The Pros of Ordering Straight Run Chickens?
There are a couple of reason why someone would want to order a clutch of straight run chickens, including:
Perhaps your area does not have any regulations about how many roosters you have. Maybe you are truly just getting started and need a variety of chickens for a larger flock. Straight run chickens are a mixture of males and females, so you won’t have to worry about your flock if they are going to be free-ranging.
One of the main reasons people purchase a straight run is the cost. Sexing chicks is arduous work, which is why the cost of sexed chicks is much higher than those in a straight run order. From the hatchery’s point of view, skipping the sexing process saves them a lot of time and money. You benefit, too, because you can get the same amount of chicks to start a flock for half the cost. That means you can put the money you save into starter feed, the coop, or something else.
Growing Your Flock
Let’s say you choose a straight run order to begin your flock. Next year, you won’t have to worry about ordering from a hatchery again, because those roosters and hens that you raise can also be used to produce more chicks. After all, you only need a single rooster for a flock of 10 hens or so. That is more than enough fertilized eggs to keep you well stocked on feathered friends.
Meat and Eggs
For dual purpose and broiler chickens, straight run orders are the way to go. In the end, it does not matter if you have either males or females in the box, because you plan on using your chickens for both meat and eggs (except in the case of broiler chickens). Keep in mind that straight run orders of broilers saves you money. Opting for an order of all males, due to their accelerated growth and larger size, will be costly. If you choose a straight run, you get a mix of males and females to use. Just keep in mind that the female chicks tend to develop more slowly.
Are There Any Cons to Ordering Straight Run Chicks?
Straight run chickens sound like a good deal, right? Not so fast. There are some disadvantages to getting straight run chicks from a hatchery:
The most striking issue with choosing a straight run is that you never truly know what you are going to get. While most chicken keepers are pleasantly surprised to find a 50/50 split between males and females in their order, you could potentially end with all females or all males. Is there any record of this happening? No, but if you ever questioned your luck, it may be best to simply select the sex you want.
Too Many Roosters
There is one problem with getting more roosters than you bargained for: you could live somewhere with regulations against roosters. Eventually, those cockerels in your straight run order are going to start crowing. What do you do then? Roosters can also be aggressive, particularly when you have more roosters than hens running around. While this is not an issue for those owners raising broiler birds, it can be problematic when you want eggs and companionship.
In this case, order a specific number of males and females.
Raising Straight Run Chickens
The good news is that raising straight run chicks is no different than a regular batch, regardless of how many males and females you have. Of course, there are some things you may have to do differently.
Separating The Wee Ones
There are two instances where you might have to keep your chicks separated from your other chickens or from one another. Firstly, if you have an established flock that is predominantly used for eggs, you may want to keep the straight run chicks somewhere else. This is especially true if you bought a straight run of broilers that are going to be taken to the butcher once they are big enough. Broilers are often on diets that are different from egg-laying hens.
Secondly, as your straight run chicks get a little older, you will have to separate the cockerels (young males) from the pullets (young females). As you raise your straight run chicks, the differences between the males and females will become obvious. You can then remove the pullets, if you want to use them for eggs, and keep the males in a separate area for meat.
Also, cockerels can be aggressive. In the event you receive far more cockerels than pullets, you may notice them bullying the pullets from the batch. If you don’t have enough space to keep all of your chickens separate, then at least have enough space in the chicken run to keep your males away from the females. Perches can help add some vertical space.
There is a bonus to being able to observe multiple cockerels puffing up and trying to assert dominance. You get a good idea about the nature of these males. If you are looking for roosters to protect your hens, you can check which ones have the correct temperament. Then you can use the more aggressive roosters for meat.
How Long Before I Know a Chick is Male or Female?
Even if the hatchery attempts to sex a day old chicken, it is never 100% correct. There are two forms of sexing: vent sexing and feather sexing. Vent sexing involves giving the chick a squeeze to see if their cloaca has a bump or not. Most of the time, the males have a small bump in their vent. Sometimes, females also have this bump, though.
Feather sexing looks at the wing feathers. This is sex-linked, so it can be inaccurate if you do not know the breed of the chick’s father.
Thus, the most traditional and accurate method is to wait 6-8 weeks. Around this time, your straight run chicks will begin to experience some physical changes. The cockerels will have a darker wattle and comb than the females; males also have thicker legs.
Final Thoughts on Straight Run Chickens
What are straight run chickens? They are chicks that have not been sexed prior to being sent to your doorstep. Straight run chickens are an excellent choice when you plan on using dual purpose or broiler birds for meat and eggs. You can also use straight runs to grow your flock, since you get both males and females in your order. While there are some downsides to straight run chickens, there are also many advantages, including saving money.
Valerie has been content writing since 2016 for websites and companies all around the world. A traveler, dancer, martial artist, Valerie loves gathering experiences and wisdom. Her travels have taken her to over 20 countries, and she hopes to see more of the world soon.