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 point of sale.
I found out by trial and error, and I've written this page so that you don't have to.
Here, you'll find 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 - 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, there's likely to be jolting around in transit, and because storage conditions in postal depots won't be the optimum a hatching egg requires.
It's fairly common to find hatching eggs for sale on eBay and other auction platforms - along with livestock and sometimes, even "rescue" animals.
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 a lot of posts from people telling how none of the clutch they paid - sometimes substantial - amounts of money for have 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 these below is an immediate indication 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 can't 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 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.
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.
Hatcheries are a popular source of both hatching eggs and chicks in America, not so much in Europe. They can be a great place to source eggs and chicks from. 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 which, because they're produced on a commercial scale, are likely to be less high quality. 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.
Although it's obviously preferable to collect your eggs at the point of sale, it's not always possible.
Where I live in Italy there are no breeders of unusual chickens. I rely on either bringing fertile eggs back by plane from the UK, or getting them delivered by post. Through trial and error I've learned what to request when ordering fertile eggs by mail.
Searching on Facebook for whichever breed you're interested in will normally find what you're looking for. I've certainly had a lot of success doing it that way.
This is a Light Sussex chick, hatched from an egg bought from one of my recommended breeders. Behind her, you can see my favourite small incubator - Brinsea's Mini Advance. To her side (on the left of the photo) is my Brinsea Octagon 20 incubator.
I do not get paid any kind of commission for recommending these sellers. I know them to be reliable because I have used them myself, so I feel happy recommending them to you.
All of them are much more interested in selling to someone who cares, rather than making a lot of profit.
Helen of Helen's Happy Hens has a really impressive chicken breeding programme, set in the heart of the English countryside on the border between Suffolk and Essex. It's a very 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 sells hatching eggs, 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 a lovely person who 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.
Highly, highly recommended!
Steve is the person from whom I bought my most successful 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.
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.
This link will take you to their re-homing page, where you can find the nearest rescue centre to you.
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.
Whilst I would personally always prefer to order from a small business or breeder, 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.
Obviously, I don't have personal experience of hatching eggs for sale in the USA, since I live in Europe. However, this particular hatchery has been recommended to me and, having done some background research, I'm very happy to recommend them to you.
Feather Lover Farms is a family run hatchery based in California who ship chicks and young chickens to all US states, all year round. They do not, unfortunately, sell hatching eggs.
They specialise in rare breeds - if you're looking for the black Ayam Cemani or the Malaysian Serama, this is the place for you! They also have show-quality breeds like the Black Copper Marans, Polish, Legbar and the ever-popular Silkie.
A definite plus is that they will send as few as three chicks, with a guarantee that they will arrive alive.