Each spring, we add 4-5 new chicks to our laying flock. Typically, we would purchase day-old chicks from a hatchery, and raise them indoors under a heat lamp until they have feathered out enough to move outdoors. But since we have not yet outfitted our tiny house with solar power, we do not have electricity to power a heating lamp. We knew we needed to find another option this spring.
After a bit of searching, I found out that Murray McMurray Hatchery ships 4-5 week old chicks, via a family-run business from near Waco, Texas, Claborn Family Farms. I connected with Joe Claborn, and had a lovely conversation with him about the best ducks and chicks for my family’s needs, along with living off-grid, and raising kids on a farm.
Our family decided to order 5 chicks: 2 Red Sexlinks, 2 Ameraucanas, and 1 Black Giant; and 4 ducklings: 2 Khaki Campbells and 2 Cayugas.
Ducks roam the pastures at Claborn Family Farms (Photo Credit: Claborn Family Farms)
Becoming a Chicken Farmer
How the Claborns started raising chickens is such an interesting story: In 1996, Joe Claborn was working for a small Internet startup, and happened to be looking for baby chicks. Murray McMurray had a small one page website at the time, and Joe convinced his boss to expand their website for next to nothing because, “If you can sell chickens on the Internet, you can sell anything.” That started his relationship with Murray McMurray.
Joe eventually went on to start a software development company, with McMurray being one of his main clients. After many years of staring at a computer screen all day, he wanted to get into something that would allow for more human contact and variety than a computer job. Around the same time, McMurray was looking for a new supplier of the Red Stars, Black Stars and White Leghorn started pullets. As a family, the Claborns took it on – and soon expanded into selling 4-week old chicks.
Behind the Scenes
Raising chickens is truly a family affair. Joe Claborn, his wife Loradawn, and two of their children, Sarah and Travis take care of the chicks and pullets on a daily basis, tending to around 2,000 birds at any given time!
Shipping day pulls their entire family together. Starting at 7am, son Brian, his wife Dara, Travis and Joe go out to the fields to inspect and select birds. Travis and Corey, their youngest son, put birds in boxes, with Dara checking each order, and Brian or Joe preparing the boxes for shipping.
A 7 week old duckling from Claborn Family Farms, all ready to ship to my homestead! (Photo Credit: Claborn Family Farms)
Checking orders at Claborn Family Farms. In the photo are Joe Claborn (rear), his son Brian (middle), and his daughter-in-law, Dara (front).
(Photo credit Claborn Family Farms)
From there the boxes go to Sarah who weighs and purchases the postage. The family loads boxes into their van for the trip to Dallas, TX, and then enjoys breakfast together. Normally on Monday new chicks will also come in, so after breakfast they water around 350-400 chicks and get them settled into the brooders.
A van loaded with chicks reading for shipment from Claborn Family Farms (Photo Credit: Claborn Family Farms)
The Arrival of Chicks and Ducklings!
From there, things got really exciting for my family! On Monday May 5th, Claborn Family Farms shipped our ducklings, then 7 weeks old and chicks, 5-6 weeks old. We received a call at noon on Tuesday that they were waiting at the post office! The kids and I jumped into the car to pick them up.
Picking up chicks at the local Post Office!
Two boxes of chicks, and one box of ducklings loaded into our car.
Opening the box of chicks for the first time!
The ducklings arrive at our homestead.
We carefully unpacked the boxes of ducklings and chicks and found them in fantastic condition. We promptly removed them from their boxes and provided them with fresh water, food, and shade. The chicks took a few minutes to acclimate to their new surroundings, but the ducklings hopped right into a tub of water for a swim and a drink!
Ducklings take their first bath upon arrival at our homestead!
I really want to emphasize that when started ducklings and chicks have been cared for properly since birth, given adequate fresh air, food and water, as these birds were, their transition to a new home is almost effortless. By the end of the first day, the chicks and ducklings had settled into their fenced enclosure quite happily. Ella and Everett promptly began their chicken cuddling sessions, so they’d be used to human interaction and care.
Ella pets “Red-Feathered Calm”
For the first few nights, we put them in large cardboard boxes and moved them into a shed for the evening, as we had some cold temperatures. After a few days, we had a new duck/chick house ready for them, in which they have spent each night since.
Duckling and chick house at our homestead.
Why buy started chicks and ducklings? Here are some of the benefits:
- Absolutely no dealing with heat lamps!
- Our 5-week old chicks and 7-week old ducks were able to go directly outdoors, eliminating that period of stinky chicks in our home
- We’re one month closer to laying hens!
Are there any cons?
- Purchasing older chicks and ducklings is more expensive than buying them day-old. After all, you’re paying the hatchery for the time, feed, and electricity it took to get them started
- My children missed the “cute balls of fluff” stage of day-old chicks and younger ducks (*Mama note: I did NOT miss that stage, and with older chicks, I never had to worry about my kids handling them too roughly, as they could just fly away!)
Overall, for our family, the benefits of obtaining older chicks and ducks FAR outweighed any negatives. It was such a delight to come home from the post office with ducklings and chicks that were ready to go directly outdoors. In just two weeks, they were integrated seamlessly with our flock of laying hens, and now free-range our property contentedly!
The ducks, now about 3 months old, free-range the property.
An Ameraucana chick, about 10 weeks old.
How can you order your own older chicks and ducklings?
If you are interested in some started chicks or ducks, I can’t recommend Claborn Family Farms highly enough. You will never talk to a chicken grower as kind and helpful as Joe Claborn. He even makes his personal phone/text number available for any questions you might have. That is a rare level of customer service that makes all the difference to a busy homesteader.
Claborn Family Farms sells started pullets in popular breeds such as Rhode Island Reds, White Leghorns, Silver Laced Wyandottes, Black Australorps, Cuckoo Marans, and more. They recently added started ducks to their offerings, and current breeds include Buff Orpingtons, Mallards, and Khaki Campbells. They also sell a B vitamin complex supplement, called Farmer Joe’s Chick Accelerator.
You can visit Claborn Family Farms at their website, or call 254-230-0405.
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I want to thank Claborn Family Farms for providing me with the ducks and chicks for this review. And as always, the opinions, chicken poop, and unruly-haired poultry handlers are all my own!