What Are Straight Run Chickens? (Pullets vs Cockerels)
In the world of chicken raising, there are a lot of terms that can get a little confusing, particularly when you get started. Of course, one of the earliest steps to raising chickens is figuring out how you’re going to get them in the first run.
This is where some of that technical lingo comes in. If you’ve done some shopping around, you may have noticed that folks selling chicks describe them as either “straight run chickens” or “pullets.” What exactly does that mean?
Straight Run Chickens
If you buy a group of straight run chickens, you’re essentially rolling the dice on the split between the gender of the chicks. My Pet Chicken describes this in terms of numbers- a group of 8 chickens will have 0 to 8 males, and 0 to 8 females.
In an ideal situation, you would end up with an even split of males and females but playing the odds doesn’t mean you win every time. Unless you’re buying a large group, chances are that you’ll end up with more of one than the other.
Some sellers “sex” their chickens, which is to identify the chicken’s gender based on its anatomy. Anyone selling “straight run” chickens has left their hatchlings unsexed. Usually these chicks are very young, sometimes just a few days old. If you’ve ever gone into a farm store during the springtime to see incubators full of downy little chicks, you’ve probably seen straight run chickens.
Once the chicks have been sexed, they are split up by gender. Pullets are young females, under one year old. If you happen to hear someone talking about a point-of-lay pullet, that usually refers to a hen that is about 5 months old. At 5 months, pullets are still adolescents but will very soon start laying eggs, graduating them to adult hen status.
On the opposite side of the chicken gender coin are cockerels. Cockerels are adolescent male chickens. Just like the females, it takes about 5 months for them to become sexually mature, and ready to mate. At that point, if you want some new baby chickens in your flock you could start to mate your rooster and hens.
The Pros and Cons of Straight Run Chickens
If it’s time to buy chickens, deciding whether you should buy straight run chickens or pullets is actually pretty simple. Buying straight run chickens is a good option if you think that eventually you’ll want to have some roosters around.
Buying mixed use breeds of chickens means that your cockerels can be raised for meat or breeding when they get older. Getting a mix of chickens without knowing the gender ratio can also be kind of fun and exciting. Who’s to tell whether your little feathered babies will grow up to be crowing roosters, or clucking hens?
Because knowing the gender of chicks is so important to most people, and because sexing chicks is a challenging job, straight run chickens also tend to be less expensive. Straight run chickens can also come from a wider variety of sources. You could order them from a professional hatchery, or you could just see if someone you know has chicks for sale if you aren’t too worried about buying a specific breed. If you’re just getting started, the price difference and availability might make straight run chickens more enticing.
If you’re only interested in keeping hens, straight run chickens might not be a great option. Although you can sex chickens yourself, deciding what to do with cockerels can be a bit of a quandary. Even though the initial cost is lower, you may end up spending more on feeding the little guys while you try to find a new home for them.
Pros and Cons of Pullets
When planning your coop, pullets are a great option for folks who are certain that they don’t want to raise their own chicks from eggs. If you only want to keep chickens for meat or eggs, keeping a rooster isn’t necessary.
Having a cockerel mixed into the group could mean that when your chickens come of age, they mate leaving you with even more birds to take care of. Buying pullets keeps your operation pretty simple, and more economical in the long run.
If you think that you might end up wanting males later, you can always buy cockerels and raise them to maturity. If you find yourself in a hurry to have some chicks, you could also phone a friend to see if they’ll lend you a rooster or check out a chicken enthusiast forum like the one over at Backyard Chickens where folks buy, sell, and trade their chickens.
The only real cons of buying pullets over straight run chickens are that you spend a bit more at the start and that you might have to be patient later on if you decide you want a rooster. If you decide that the cost difference is enough to make the decision for you, or if you don’t mind having a mix that’s great too. There are quite a few resources online to help you sex the chicks yourself.
The most reliable way to sex chicks is they way the professionals do it, by vent sexing. In a nutshell, vent sexing is checking a chick to see which set of sexual organs it has. This video shows you how it’s done. It can be a bit tricky though, which is why big hatcheries tend to hire professionals to sex their chickens.
Most enthusiasts won’t be able to vent sex chicks, and that’s ok. There are other ways to identify the gender of your chicks, although they are less accurate. One way to do it is to get some information on the gender differences in plumage for the particular breed of chicken you have. Many breeds also have immediately noticeable differences in wing feathers from day one.
As Kassandra Smith explains in this fantastic run down of sexing, newly hatched females will have better developed wing feathers than males. That makes identifying easy for just about any chicken enthusiast, whether expert or beginner.
More From The Hen’s Loft…
- Can Chickens Go Without Water (And For How Long)?
- At What Age Can Chicks Go Outside Full Time?
- Tips For Knowing If You Have A Rooster Or Not
- What Age Will Hen’s Begin To Lay Eggs?
- Chicken Breeds That Lay Massive Size Eggs!