I found out by trial and error, and decided to write this page s that you don't have to. If you have your own flock to take fertile eggs from, that's ideal. But if you don't, you need to know something about where to look for a reliable source.
Here, you'll find general dos and don'ts and some specific sources I've found, many of which I've used myself.
Even under the best possible circumstances, not every egg will hatch. Some just aren't fertile, some start to develop and for various reasons stop.
On average you can expect a hatch rate of around 80% if the eggs are from a reliable stock and kept in perfect conditions BUT - and this is an important "but" - if your eggs are delivered by post the hatch rate is likely to drop to 50% or less.
Because however careful a carrier is, they're likely to be jolted around in transit, and because the storage conditions in postal depots won't be the optimum a hatching egg requires.
For more information about how to store hatching eggs - and what often happens to those sent by post - have a look at this page.
In Italy, it's common practice to find hatching eggs for sale on eBay - along with puppies, other livestock and rescue animals.
Now, eBay is good for many things - but buying fertile eggs is not one of them. The same goes for other internet resources such as Craigslist.
Have a look around chicken-keeping forums and you'll find a lot of posts from people telling how none of the eggs they paid sometimes substantial amounts of money for have hatched.
Can't they complain?
Yes - but all the seller has to say is "Sorry, we can never guarantee an egg will be fertile". Which is true - but an easy get-out.
If you're determined to buy from sources like this at least you need to check out the seller as far as you can. Do they have a website? Are there pictures of their own chickens? Can you tell whether they're real poultry-lovers or just out to make money? If you contact them, can they answer questions about how their hens are cared for, what they're fed, how often the eggs are collected?
Remember - you need to make very sure you're not introducing disease into your flock.
If you're not sure about a seller - steer clear. Really. It's just not worth the heartache.
The internet is a great place to find reliable individual breeders who are producing hatching eggs for sale from their own flock, and doing it well. I've found some excellent sources in this way.
How to find them?
Two ways. A simple internet search for "hatching chicken eggs in xxx" - where 'xxx' is your area - will often bring up websites. Take the time to look at them closely.
there pictures of the chickens - preferably with the owner? Do they
seem to know what they're talking about? Do they specialise in one
breed? These are all good signs, and this is the way I have found some of my
most reliable sources.
Facebook is a good place to look, too. It's also easier to tell when someone is a genuine chicken-lover and producing good quality chickens - the pictures are there for all to see, posts give a good indication of how involved they are in their flock's well-being, and contacting is very easy.
If you're looking for purebred chickens, one of the best sources of information is the breed club. They will know who the reputable breeders in your area are and will be able to point you in the right direction.
Some of the clubs even have a list of breeders on their website. They're a fount of knowledge and it's well worth taking the time to contact them.
On each of my pages about chicken breeds you'll find the name and website address of its club - and wherever possible I also include the name of breeders I'm personally aware of.
Although it's obviously preferable to collect your eggs it's not always possible. Where I live in Italy there are no breeders of unusual chickens so I rely on either bringing fertile eggs back with me from the UK, or getting them delivered by post. Through trial and error I've learned what to ask and request.
Firstly - how will they be packed? Ordinary cartons are generally not strong enough. The best packing is polystyrene packs placed inside another box and finally wrapped securely in a strong paper. They should be clearly marked 'fragile' and preferably, 'fertile / live hatching eggs'.
Secondly - how will they be sent? Courier service is best because it's generally quickest, although you may have to pay a premium for it. If it's going to be sent by ordinary post, check that it will be sent by the fastest service. The longer your eggs are in transit, the more likely it is they'll be damaged and less fertile.
Thirdly - is your local post office aware that you are expecting them? The last thing you want is for eggs to be languishing in a depot for several days. You need to be sure that if, for example, you're out when they're delivered (they often need to be signed for), the postal services are aware that you need to be contacted immediately.
And finally : eggs sent by post can sometimes have detached air cells if they've been handled roughly, which is why it's so important they are properly labelled. To see a picture of what this looks like and what the problems with it are, follow this link.
Searching on Facebook for whichever breed you're interested in will normally find the fertile eggs you're looking for - I've certainly had a lot of success doing it that way.
Below you'll also find my personal recommendations for people I've bought from, or know to be excellent providers.
I don't get paid anything for this - I just know that they're reliable, and want to pass that information on to you.
If you use any of them or visit their sites, please do let them know that you were recommended by Cath from Raising Happy Chickens.
Please note that I don't receive any money for recommending the suppliers below. I recommend them simply because I know and trust them.
Steve Dace of Cheshire Poultry used to have several breeds of bird but has recently (early 2014) decided to specialise in Wyandottes. His knowledge of chickens, and of Wyandottes in particular, is second to none and his birds regularly win awards at national shows.
Steve is the person from whom I bought my most recent clutch of Wyandotte eggs which had a 90% hatch rate, despite having travelled for three days from the UK to Italy. He has hatching eggs, chicks and hens for sale most of the year and will post using a recommended courier service.
Postal prices online are for the UK only; if you live elsewhere in Europe contact him for courier prices.
Sian Elphick of Cinders Fancy Chicks in North Wales has a lovely selection of hens including Polish, Silkies, Sabelpoots, Pekins (and Frizzled Pekins - squeee!!), award-winning Andalusians and Faverolles. Sian has hatching eggs, chicks from one day old and point of lay hens for sale. Which breeds she has available will depend on the time of year.
I bought my Light Sussex eggs from Sian when I visited her farm. This is a small, family run business and Sian obviously cares for her hens very well. Without being asked, she offered to show me around before I bought - always a good sign. She will post to anywhere in the world but again, you will need to pay for a reliable courier service.
She also has gift vouchers available - contact me for more information.
Haytor Reach Rare Poultry is a specialist hatching farm in Devon with quite a large number of different breeds for sale - both standard and bantams. Again, this is a small, family run business and the personal contact from Julie is exactly what you need - good advice about the breeds and what's available when. The chickens are all pastured.
Both my Black Copper Marans and Lemon Sablepoot eggs were from Julie, and the only set I ordered by post. They were really well packaged, sent on the exact day I needed them and Julie was clear that she needed to check fertility of the clutch (not my individual eggs) before posting, particularly because I ordered early in the year.
Postage is only within the UK and is included in the cost.
If you're looking for really special, different types of chicken eggs you won't find anyone better than my friend Kristin of Two Llamas and a Whole Lotta Drama.
She loves all her animals and is completely passionate about her chickens. She has mainly Polish and Showgirls for sale but just keeping in touch with her Facebook page will let you know what she has available at any given time - and there are loads of pics.
Kristin only has hatching eggs for sale, not chicks, and she will post to anywhere in the States.
Whilst I would personally always prefer to order from a small business, the McMurray Hatchery is a very well-known and well-respected seller of fertile eggs as well as chicks and point of lay hens.
They have an enormous range of chicken breeds for sale, both standard and bantam, and their catalogue is helpfully split into different categories : brown or rainbow-coloured layers; feather-footed; crested breeds; rare and ornamental breeds and so on.
They also have hatching eggs guaranteed to be female (or male) for sale - which is not something many sellers provide.
McMurray will post within the USA and, for Canadian customers, will send to a post office on the US / Canadian border where you would need to pick up. They do not post worldwide.
Great! Just drop me a line from my contact me page, and tell me why you think they're great.