I thought I would share with you were our ladies (and roosters) have all come from. Here are their stories.
Our 8 lovely Rhode Island Reds all came from Coastal. They were sold as pullets (even though I thought they were straight run - since I was just starting this). We ended up with all of our wonderful laying ladies, just as we expected - with NO complaints on egg quality or hen temperament. My only concern with buying them from a chain store is not knowing where the birds actually come from and what their living conditions are. Are they shipped in from other states? Are they picked off conveyor belts? How are they handled overall?
When we started looking at adding new chickens this year we ended up going with several different options. I'm going to let you know my pros and cons that I have discovered so far.
INCUBATED EGGS: 9 - Black Copper Marans and 5 - Easter Eggers. We ended up working with a woman in Tillamook who ordered eggs and had them shipped to her. She incubated them and sold them to us at a couple days old. PROS: chicks were handled with care and the lady seemed to really enjoy hatching them. They were all out of one incubator and we ended up taking all that hatched. Also working with someone on a small scale they know whats going on ... she was worried that one of the BCMs was not going to make it and through it in for free - she is doing fine! CONS: for the lady incubating them, she had a very low hatch rate (9 out of 24 and 5 out of 12 respectively). Buying the chickens straight run - we ended up with 5 BCM roosters and 1 (or 2?) Easter Egger Roosters.
STORE BOUGHT: 4 - Easter Egger. We got our 4 Easter Egger (sold as Aruacanas - however, they are not!) at a little Farm Store. PROS: they actually had close to what we were looking for (chain stores were back ordered). All chickens were sociable and they had lots of variety to choose from. CONS: sold as pullets (which are 90% sexed) and we still ended up with a Rooster. Selling chickens as a certain variety, however, they turned out to be something different.
THE HATCHERY WE RESEARCHED ONLINE: 5 - Cuckoo Marans. I know this is not normal for all hatcheries. We did our research and thought we had found a legitimate hatchery. When we pulled up it was some guys house and they were keeping their chicks in tubs in the garage. GRRR. I stayed in the truck as the husband ventured past the broke down cars to buy our chicks (he really wanted Cuckoo, and we had drove 1 1/2 hours to get them - or I would have just drove away) PRO: you can't get Cuckoo Marans at a Farm Store or Chain Store (its not a variety they carry). CONS: sold as sexed pullets, however we still ended up with 2 Roosters. Chickens were being mass hatched and kept in tubs with not much room. Paid in cash and seller had no change on site. These chickens seem to have more health issues than the rest of our ladies (broken toe, blocked vents that we need to continually watch, etc).
So, my conclusion is that if you want a rare variety of chicken then I would find someone that will incubate eggs for you (even though you have to possibly deal with roosters ... but we traded a lot of ours!) If you want a standard breed I think that your local chain or farm store an fine options. I would stay away from HATCHERIES (or do way more research than we did).