Since buying chicks by mail means someone else does the selecting of the exact chick in the flock for you, we'll focus on what to do at the local feed store when you're confronted by a bunch of fluffy peepers all vying to be the one coming home with you.
Rule #1 when picking out a chick: this is no time to root for the underdog. You want to select the healthiest chick you can. Leave the charity cases for someone else who has a lot of experience raising poultry: there's enough for newbie urban chicken farmers to learn without having to get deep into veterinary issues trying to raise your own small flock.
That said, here's how to pick a healthy chick:
- Be prepared to spend some time at the store observing the chicks. You want to see how they behave, and some may be sleeping when you first arrive and they'll wake up while you're there. You want to see as many in action as you can in order to make the best selection.
- Look for chicks that are clearly eating, drinking and have plenty of energy. Believe it or not, these day- (or week-) old chicks already have personalities that you can observe. You want to avoid the shrinking violets.
- Avoid chicks that are puffed up or have drooping heads, you may feel the desire to save these chicks, but more then likely, the chick will die regardless of your efforts.
- Check the tail end of each chick for pasty butt which means the chick's having trouble defecating and may be a sign of more serious issues. Also examine the beak for any discharge (see any? move along to the next one).
A good supplier will keep the display bins clean, warm and well-ventilated. You should see plenty of food and fresh water available for the little peepers. And the employees should be happy to answer any questions you may have.
Good luck with your selection!