Having decided to keep poultry, buying the right birds must be done with care and it is essential that you do some homework beforehand. We are all guilty of having bought something on impulse that we later come to regret but when it comes to livestock, nothing should ever be bought on a whim.

Where to find birds There are far more ways of buying poultry than there used to be. With the advent of the internet, the sales pitch for any item has soared and live poultry and hatching eggs can be found on general auction sites in ever increasing numbers.

The term ‘buyer beware’ hasn’t become a well-known phrase for nothing, though, and I would say buying from the internet should be considered with great caution. Unless you are already aware of the person who is selling and are familiar with his or her reputation with the breed, you will be buying something that you know nothing about.

That is, no information on whether the birds or eggs come from a reputable breeder; whether they are actually a pure breed or just look pretty; how old the birds, are and even if the eggs are genuinely fertile or not? The questions are endless so be careful about going on trust alone.

I have nothing against Internet auction sites for they provide a great service to many people, but there is a strong possibility that some breeds of poultry sold this way will not be the pure variety they are supposed to be.

It may not be possible to verify the parent stock of hatching eggs and some of the asking prices are extremely expensive! This is not to say that any breed of bird will be cheap, but you check prices of the breed you want before committing yourself to a purchase.

Do your research The internet is invaluable for research so go online to see if the breed of bird you want has a breed club with it's own website. This is a much more dependable way of buying some stock. If you contact the breed club secretary, they may be able to point you in the direction of the type of birds you want.

Breed secretarys are usually familiar with the quality of birds that members have and, if you want a utility strain rather than exhibition, their advice can be very useful. If it’s exhibition quality you are after, the breed club can let you have their breed standard so you know the good and bad points to look for when buying a bird.

Buying at auction At a live poultry auction the bidding could well go up and up, but only be prepared to pay more than you really want to if you are certain you know the breeder, the bloodlines that the birds came from and believe they will breed true.

They should also be good examples of the variety and be what you are after. Some poultry owners have had great success buying at auction and this is how they started keeping birds. Whilst a few auctioneers are extremely knowledgeable about poultry, there are many others that are not and you must remember that the auctioneer’s duty is to achieve the highest price for the vendor.

If the vendor doesn’t state which breed of bird is being put in the sale, the auctioneer has to go on what is in front of him or her. So for example, the description could be ‘ a Wyandotte type bird’, which in fact turns out to be a cross-bred. Obviously, this is fine if you just want eggs but bitterly disappointing if you have set your heart on trying to conserve and rear a pure rare breed.

“We try to make sure that sound and healthy birds are in the auction,” a poultry auctioneer explains, “after that we leave it to the purchasers to decide whether or not they are worth bidding for.”

Rare breed poultry sales Apart from general poultry auctions there are occasionally rare and pure breed poultry sales which have a show beforehand where the birds are assessed and carded according to their quality. If these are judged by experienced poultry people then the card should be a guide as to whether the lot is of show quality, breeding quality or garden pet.

Should any bird be sick, then normally a judge would bypass it, or even ask a steward to take it out of the sale. These days, Animal Health inspectors, RSPCA inspectors, or Trading Standards officials are in attendance at sales, to look for birds that should not be there.

Under the European Directive 1/2005 on the protection of animals during transport, as implemented by the Welfare of Animals (Transport) (England) Order 2006 (with associated legislation in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) no bird should be transported that is sick, but unfortunately, it does happen.

Fit birds should be alert, have a healthy, good-coloured comb, clean bright eyes, no discharge from the nostrils or ears and no smell. Also, look at the legs for any sign of abnormal stance or long claws, which indicate that the bird hasn’t received much attention.

Bloodline traceability is important when wanting to breed, so be wary of buying from a fictitious name in a catalogue, such as Mr. A. Person, as you won’t know where the birds came from.

Buying ex-battery or colony caged hens via the British Hen Welfare Trust can be a way of getting some eggs for the kitchen. The organisation will also advise on how to introduce them to their new life and look after them correctly.

Modern technology can help locate poultry for sale much more easily than in the past. However, one of the best ways of purchasing new stock is still to buy direct from breeders who have been recommended so you can visit the premises and see how the birds are kept.