New to mail order poultry? New to chickens? Where do you even start? How does this thing work? All great questions! My name is Josh, let me explain it all to you.
First, how do we manage to mail live baby chicks to you through the mail? How do they survive the journey?
Chicks absorb the nutritious yolk of the egg right before they hatch. Like literally right before the hatch. Watch this short, fascinating video from PoultryHub.org:
You can feel the yolk in the belly of a newborn chick. The chick can survive off of this natural protein shake for several days. Isn’t this cruel though? I mean I can survive for a couple days without food but I don’t like it. It’s not actually. You see, a hen will sit on her clutch off eggs until they hatch. But not all the eggs hatch at once. It can actually take a day or two for all the chicks to hatch. It was designed this way so that the whole family can wait in the safety of the nest while the other eggs in the clutch hatch. Clever, huh? Commercial hatcheries use incubators to maintain very specific temperatures and humidity to hatch the chicks at the same time. Then they pack them up in ventilated boxes hours after they hatch and use the 2-3 day window of time to mail the live baby chicks nationwide via USPS Priority Mail. Interesting fact: USPS is the only carrier service that will ship live baby chicks.
Don’t chicks get cold during shipment?
Yes, they can. This is why we have minimum orders. During colder months (November 1 – March 31) we increase our minimum order to 25 so the chicks can help keep each other warm while they are in transit. During hot weather (typically from April 1 – October 31), we decrease our minimum order to 15 and pack fewer chicks in the boxes to keep them cooler.
What’s the process of getting chicks ready to sell?
I’ll try not to bore you with but you asked so…
Hatcheries typically hatch chicks on a weekly basis. For example, a hatchery will choose Wednesday as their hatch day. So they get fertilized eggs and set a certain number of them in the incubator each week. Then, 21 days later or so, the chicks will hatch. Early in the morning of hatching day, the workers arrive and get the trays of chicks out of the incubators. They are then sorted, sexed (if applicable), and vaccinated if need be (Bigger operations can vaccinate the chick while the chick is still in the egg during incubation). Sometimes sexing can be done by color but most often it’s done by spotting certain feather patterns on the wings of the chicks. The breeder flocks are bred in a way so that male offspring feather faster and females slower. This way you can spread the pin feathers out on the wings of the chick and see the different feather patterns. These differences can be hard to pick out and so sometimes a male will find itself tossed into the female box. This is why we guarantee a 90% sexing accuracy. It’s inevitable that we’ll get some males into an all female order at times.
The hatcheries will try to predict the demand for the chicks in the upcoming season by looking at demand from previous seasons. Then they get the breeder flocks going so they can get fertilized eggs to put into the incubator (If an egg isn’t fertilized by a rooster it can’t hatch). So you see, hatching chicks isn’t as simple as entering numbers into a computer. The number of chicks that will be hatched has been determined long before the hatchery actually has orders for the chicks.
However, it doesn’t stop there. It isn’t as simple as putting 1,000 eggs in the incubator and then pulling 1,000 chicks out later. This is because not all the eggs hatch. There is never a 100% hatch rate so hatcheries must factor that into their calculations. Obviously the hatchery will try to get their hatch rate as high as possible so they don’t waste money or time on incubating eggs that won’t hatch! After many years well run hatcheries will have a very good idea of those percentages. Hatcheries will predict the inventory they need ahead of time and then they allow people to reserve chicks for specific hatch dates. The ordering has to be done ahead of time because the chicks need to leave the hatchery as quickly as possible so they have time to survive the journey (remember they can only survive for a few days in the mail). The hatchery can not have chicks sitting in the hatchery for more than half a day after hatch or so or the chicks won’t have time to reach their destinations. If this does happen, the chicks are usually sold in bulk locally. The hatchery I worked at send out so many orders each Wednesday that the postal service would send an empty box truck right to the hatchery. We would pack it full with boxes of chicks!
What if the hatchery doesn’t have enough chicks? It happens! Then we simply have to push off orders until the next week, or the week after that. This is when we call you and give you the unfortunate news that your order has to be pushed off until the next week or so.
This is the process of buying chicks online:
You pick the kinds of poultry you want. If you want a diverse flock feel free to mix and match eligible breeds (see eligible mix and match breeds here). They must have the same hatching date so we can put them in the same box for shipping. So pick the hatch date, the quantity you need, and whatever other options are available. Then you checkout and pay for them. We do not send chicks without first receiving payment because certain people in society are much less willing to pay for chicks after they have them! After you’ve checked out, we reserve your chicks for the date you picked and subtract them from the predicted inventory. After that, you simply wait for the phone call from the post office saying your chicks have arrived. We can not send chicks right to your door. The post office will call folks when the chicks arrive at the local post office. This helps the chicks get to their new homes faster!
Remember, we can’t guarantee the hatch date you picked will be fulfilled because we never actually know how many chicks will be available until they hatch. Don’t be afraid to contact us with questions regarding your order status!
Once the chicks have left the hatchery via USPS, the orders are out of our control. A large majority of the time the boxes of cute baby chicks get to their destination 1-2 days after they left the hatchery. Occasionally an order will be delayed a day due to bad weather or government incompetence. No need to panic. If the birds get there within 3 days they are usually just fine. If they take longer than that, though, it can be very frustrating! We do guarantee that the chicks arrive alive.
Do the chicks come right to my door?
No they do not. The chicks will get shipped to your local post office. We put the phone number from your order on the box of chicks so your post office should call you when the chicks arrive. Then you go pick them up! Get them into the warm brooder as soon as possible! It’s very important that they stay the proper temperature and get something to drink. It’s very important that you have prepared for the baby chicks in advance. Here’s some more info on how to prepare for different types of poultry:
Now that I understand all that, what kind of chicken should I buy?
Picking the right chicken for your farmstead isn’t quite as simple as picking a pretty color (although that may be part of it). What purpose is the chicken going to serve?