If you have your own flock to take fertile eggs from, that's ideal. If not, you need to know where to look for a reliable source of hatching eggs for sale.
Here are general dos and don'ts, and some specific sources I've found, all of which I've either used myself or know someone trustworthy who has.
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 they are from a reliable stock, kept in perfect conditions and you have a reliable incubator.
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, there's likely to be jolting in transit, and because storage conditions in postal depots won't be the optimum a hatching egg requires.
If you're looking for purebred chickens, one of the best sources of information is the breed club. They will know the reputable breeders in your area and will be able to point you in the right direction.
Living in Europe, I don't have personal experience of sources of eggs for incubation for sale in the USA.
However, hatcheries, which are very popular sources in the USA, can be a great place to source eggs and chicks. They have thousands of different breeds of hatching eggs for sale from early spring each year.
The difference between a hatchery and a breeder is simple: breeders have a limited amount of high quality eggs for sale. They care about their flock and are careful about how they breed.
Hatcheries produce large numbers of eggs. Because they're produced on a commercial scale, the chicks are unlikely ever to reach show standard. But they're perfectly good examples of their breed.
You may have to buy a minimum number, and that minimum may be more than you want. In addition, you may find that chicks you receive are not all female, even when you've ordered female chicks.
Whilst it might ideally be preferable to buy eggs for incubation from a small business or breeder, the Cackle Hatchery in the USA is a well-known and well-respected source of hatching eggs for sale, as well as chicks and point of lay hens.
It is the only hatchery I recommend. They sell a large range of chicken breeds, both standard and bantam, and their catalogue is helpfully split into different categories.
They also have eggs for hatching for sale guaranteed to be female (or male), which is not something many sellers provide.
To read my detailed review of this hatchery, use this link: Cackle Hatchery Review.
I do not get paid for recommending these sellers. I know them are reliable because I have used them myself, so I am confident in recommending them to you.
All are much more interested in selling to someone who cares, rather than making a big profit.
Helen of Helen's Happy Hens has an impressive chicken breeding programme, set in the heart of the English countryside on the border between Suffolk and Essex. It's a short drive from Stansted airport, which is why it's so convenient for me when I want to take eggs by plane to Italy.
Helen has a number of different breeds and has hatching eggs for sale, and chicks and adults of each. Her eggs are immaculate, and her chicks and hens kept in the cleanest, free range conditions within her orchards.
Helen is caring and passionate about her flocks and her eggs for incubating. She was more than happy to show me round her coops and hatching areas. I've had several different breeds from her and have always been more than happy with the quality and levels of fertility.
Steve is the person from whom I bought my most successful clutch of Wyandotte eggs which had a hatch rate of over 90%, despite having travelled for three days from the UK to my coop in 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.
Sian Elphick of Cinders Fancy Chicks in North Wales has a lovely selection of hens including Polish, Silkies, Sablepoots, 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 for sale.
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. 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 before posting, particularly because I ordered early in the year.
Postage is only within the UK.
If you're looking for hens rather than eggs, don't forget rescues such as the British Hen Welfare Trust. They take thousands of hens used as commercial layers (we might know them as "Red Stars") who would otherwise go to slaughter, and find loving homes for them.
Watching rescued "ex-batts" get their first taste of freedom, and feel the grass under their feet for the first time, is a genuinely heart-warming experience.
The sight of the hens initially might appall you, but they soon regain their feathering with some good food and TLC – and their friendly, chatty nature will reward you in buckets.
I've had personal experience of the BHWT and make a donation to them each month from the proceeds of this website. I highly recommend them if you want to buy adult hens – and know you're doing some good in the world at the same time.
It's fairly common to find hatching eggs for sale on eBay and other auction platforms like Craigslist.
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.
Look around chicken-keeping forums and you'll find many posts from people telling how none of the hatching eggs they paid – sometimes substantial – amounts of money for have actually hatched.
Can't they complain?
Of course. But all the seller has to say is "sorry, we can never guarantee fertility". Which is true, but an easy get-out.
Receiving eggs like those below is an immediate sign you've not bought from a reputable seller. No self-respecting breeder would tolerate such dirty conditions for their hens, let alone sell in this state.
And eggs as dirty as this will not be incubated successfully. They're a sure source of bacteria even if cleaned off. And bacteria in the warm, humid conditions of an incubator will spread rapidly.
If you're determined to buy from sources like this, at least check out the seller as far as you can.
If you're not sure about a seller, don't buy. It's just not worth the heartache.
The internet can be 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 poultry websites. Take time to look at them closely.
Although it's obviously preferable to collect your eggs at the point of sale, it's not always possible.
Having carefully chosen the source of your hatching eggs, you need to make sure to avoid the heartache this person feels.
Through trial and error I've learned what to request when ordering fertile eggs by mail.