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Mail Order Chicks | The How, Why and When

Baby chicks have been shipped through the mail for over a century. Here's why it works.

It's time to add some chicks to your backyard. Whether these are your very first baby chicks or you're adding to an existing flock, you have some choices to make before the big day.

Beyond the "which breeds do I want" and "how many chicks do I want" questions, you also need to decide where to get your chicks.

Local farms or feed stores are options...maybe you're fortunate enough to live within driving distance of a hatchery or breeder. Or maybe not.

- Rhode Island Red chicks-

Mail Order Chicks | The How, Why and When

Fortunately no matter where you live, it's possible to choose from a wide variety of chicken breeds to add to your backyard flock. You aren't limited to sourcing baby chicks close to where you live.

Mail Order Chicks | The How

You can also order baby chicks through the mail. Yup, right through the US Postal Service. The first chicks were actually shipped way back in 1892 using the railroads. Of course nowadays they're sent via airplanes.

You might be asking how safe or humane it is to ship baby chicks through the mail. It is actually both.

And I can tell you firsthand how it all works.

The last thing a baby chick does before it hatches is to absorb the yolk in the egg it's hatching out of. 

That yolk contains all the nutrition and energy that baby chick needs for the first 48-72 hours of its life. 

The reason in nature for this is so that a mother hen can continue to sit on unhatched eggs as her chicks start hatching without having to worry about running around finding food for those that have hatched. 

By the end of the three days, all the eggs should have hatched that are going to, the chicks will be hungry by then, and she can lead them all away from the nest to find something to eat and drink.

But that works out pretty nicely for hatcheries as well! They set eggs in their incubators so the eggs all hatch on the same day, usually a Monday.  

As the chicks hatch, the hatchery orders are filled, and the chicks are placed in shipping boxes with soft bedding and maybe a heat pack depending on the size of the order and time of year.

Then the boxes of chicks are brought directly to the airport, put on planes, and expressed to their new homes which they should arrive at within a day or two.

-Australorp chicks-

Mail Order Chicks | The Why

You might be asking why order from a hatchery half way across the country when your local feed store sells chicks. 

And that's a valid question. 

You should realize though that your feed store is likely ordering their chicks mail order as well - just in larger numbers.

Regardless, I'm a big advocate of shopping local whenever possible, but I can tell you that your feed store doesn't make their money selling you chicks. 

They make their money selling you bag after bag after bag of feed, scratch grains and treats for those chicks! 

So don't feel bad ordering chicks through the mail, you'll still be giving your local feed store plenty of business.

I personally get my chicks from hatcheries because they have a far larger variety than your feed store. They also guarantee a 100% accuracy rate when it comes to selling you the sex chick you want.
And there are no worries about a chick being picked up at the feed store and being put back in the wrong bin, so you end up not getting the breed (or sex) you thought you were picked out.

You'll pay more for female chicks, but it's well worth it if you aren't allowed roosters. And even if you are allowed to have a rooster, one is all you're going to want, so for me the opportunity to buy all female chicks is invaluable. 

I also know exactly which hatchery my chicks are coming from. 

When you choose a hatchery, it's very important to choose one that's reputable, has good online reviews, and has been NPIP certified. Meyer Hatchery is one such hatchery that I trust to get healthy chicks from.

Hatchery websites are also great resources to learn about the different breeds of chickens. I love just browsing and looking at what the various breeds look like, what color eggs they lay, and what the chicks look like.

Reading about some of the breed characteristics such as whether they are cold-hardy or heat-tolerant, or if they are docile or good foragers is all good information to have when you're deciding which breeds to buy.

And I also like to sign up to get their annual catalog in the mail. 

Flipping through the catalog and turning over pages, circling various breeds, sitting and dreaming about the perfect flock is one of my favorite wintertime pastimes!

Remember, though like mail order brides, mail order chicks all look cute, but looks are - or should be - only part of your decision-making process.

-Barred Rock chicks-

Mail Order Chicks | The When

Once you've chosen the hatchery you'll be ordering from, and narrowed down your choices of the types of chicks you want to order, it's time to place your order.

You'll want to subscribe to the hatchery mailing list so you get notification as soon as they open up ordering for the spring season. 

The more popular or rare breeds sell out quickly, so to be sure you get  what you want, you'll want to place your order as early as possible.

(Most hatcheries have fairly low minimums of 3 chicks, but the minimum orders can change depending on where you live and what time of year you are ordering, so be sure to check that before you place your order.)

The nice part about online ordering is that you can place your order with the hatchery in December or January, but choose to not rp> Unlike a feed store where you can only choose from what they have when you stop in, from a hatchery you can choose from their wide range of breeds and have them all shipped the same day.

When you choose your delivery date, keep in mind that your chicks will need to be in the house under a heat lamp for the first 6-8 weeks or so. 

And they grow fast.

When we lived in Virginia, I liked to order my chicks around the end of February. Eight weeks put me around the end of April, when it was warm enough to get them outside. The temps were staying in the 60s or so by then.

Now that we live in Maine, I feel more comfortable getting my chicks closer to the end of April, so by the time they've outstayed their welcome indoors, it's the end of June and it has - finally - warmed up. 

-Steele Egger chicks-

Mail Order Chicks | The Big Day!

You placed your order weeks (or months) ago and they're finally about to arrive! So what do you need to do to get ready for your delivery?

You'll get an email from the hatchery letting you know when to expect your chicks to arrive. 

First, you need to know that your chicks will be sent to your post office where you'll have to go pick them up. Your phone number will be on the box and they'll call when the chicks arrive.

I always like to give my post office the heads up that chicks are on their way. I also ask them what time their delivery truck usually arrives so I know when to expect a phone call and confirm my phone number with them personally.

That morning, I get the brooder ready. I set up the heat lamp, fill the feeder and waterer and put down soft bedding. I also mix up a small container of sugar water. I like to bring that with me to the post office to give each chick a drink as soon as they arrive. 

I just stir some granulated sugar into a small cup of water. Maybe a teaspoon of sugar into 8 ounces of water.

When the post office calls, I jump right in the car and head over. We open the box at the counter to make sure the chicks arrived safely. At that point I'll give them each a drink of water before we head home. 

At home, I check each one for pasty butt then dip their beak in the sugar water again, and put them in the brooder to start exploring their new home.  

I do like to put out chick feed for them as soon as I get the chicks settled in their brooder, but don't be alarmed if they don't eat right away. They'll eat when they're hungry. 

If you tap the feeder or sprinkle some feed into a small dish for them and then tap it with your fingernail, that mimics what a mother hen would do to encourage them to eat and show them what's food and what's not.

Mail Order Chicks | The Pros and Cons

There are some pros and cons to ordering chicks through the mail. For me, the pros far outweigh the cons, but you'll have to make the decision that's right for you, your family and your flock.

Mail Order Pros

  • Wide range of breeds available
  • Better chance of receiving sex ordered - whether it be males or females
  • Low minimum orders
  • Ability to choose delivery date
  • Ability to research hatchery's reputation and credentials in advance
  • Order from home - in your pj's if you want!

Mail Order Cons

  • More expensive than buying locally
  • No option to hand pick exact chicks you receive
  • Slight chance chicks will be delayed en route and not make it

In the interest of full disclosure, I do work with Meyer Hatchery and have for years. Most of my own chickens and ducks came from them, and I've always been pleased with the hardiness, general health, appearance and egg laying prowess of the poultry I've received from them. However, they didn't ask me to write this article, and in fact don't even know that I wrote it. 

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