You’ve done all your research, have your brooder & coop in order….but how do you fill it? Your local feed store likely has a few options, local farmers might be another option if you live in a rural area. If you live in the suburbs though, your breed options are likely limited. There are so many amazing chicken & duck breeds – why limit yourself??
Luckily you are farming in the internet age and everything you could want is at the touch of your fingers – including livestock!
Ordering live poultry online can seem scary and comes with all kinds of questions. Is it safe for live birds to be mailed? Can you order fertilized eggs for hatching? How do they eat? What can I expect?
Millions of chicks are delivered through the United States Post Service every year – and have been for century! In 100 years they have perfected the art of live shipping and while it may seem risky, they average fatality rate is less than 1%. That is almost the same as non shipped chicks.
How can newly hatched chicks be mailed?
In the wild, when a mother is hatching eggs, the eggs don’t always hatch on the same schedule. To get an entire clutch to hatch, it could take an entire day or two. If she gets up off the nest to find food for the hatched babies, the babies in the eggs could die without their mother’s warmth. Luckily, nature has the perfect solution! While in their shell, the growing babies use the yolk to gain nourishment (similar to a human baby’s placenta). Right before hatching, the baby absorbs the last of the yolk. This will give them the strength to make it through the exhausting process of hatching, but also for up to 3 days more while they wait for their brothers & sisters to hatch. Hatcheries take advantage of this natural process to ship newly hatched chicks. To add water & feed to a box could compromise the cardboard. They have to ship them right after they hatch and ship them as fast as possible so they can arrive to their new home before they need food or water. Postal regulations require that the chicks reach their destination within 72 hours of hatching so they will be shipped by Express Air Mail and most will reach their new home the day after they hatch.
What about heat? Don’t chicks need to be kept warm?
Chicks need hot, humid environments to thrive. To keep the babies comfy during their journey, hatcheries must modify their shipping practices depending on season & order size. If you order in late winter & early spring, your minimum order size is likely going to be higher so the chicks can huddle together for warmth. In the colder months, the chicks will also be sent on their way with a long lasting heating element in the box, extra straw, or extra thick cardboard walls. In the summer months, the chicks might arrive in a box with lots more air holes, less packing materials and with lower minimum bird order numbers.
Can you only order live birds? What about fertilized eggs?
If you want the fun of hatching out chicks or ducklings yourself, you can also order fertilized eggs for just about any breed under the sun. The benefit of hatching eggs is a wider variety of breeds and for much cheaper. It’s a great affordable way to add super rare breeds to your flock. The disadvantage is they are going to be straight run (you can’t specify male or female). Shipped fertilized eggs will come all wrapped up and will likely survive the journey fully in tact. But all the jostling about and temperature fluctuations they experience during shipping takes its toll. Shipped eggs usually only have a hatch rate of about 50%. You can order fertilized eggs from almost all hatcheries that sell live chicks. I have also had success ordering them from Ebay.
What is the best time to order chicks?
Most hatcheries ship live birds early spring – late fall, but spring is by far their busiest time. By adjusting the size of the box, number of chicks, number of air holes, supplementing heating, and amount of straw, hatcheries can ship live chicks in all kinds of weather. If you are only looking to get a few chicks, you will find the lowest minimum order (sometimes as few as 2 or 3 birds) in the warm months. Keep in mind that you want your new chicks to be fully feathered out and nearly full grown (16ish weeks) before cold winter weather hits your area.
What happens when the chicks arrive at your local post office?
Your chicks will be express air mailed to the closest airport to your location. From there your local postal team will take over. Your chirping box of chicks will then be delivered to your local post office. The hatchery should tell you exactly the day they will arrive and you should plan to be available that day for pick up. You should also be able to track their shipping progress. When your chicks arrive, your post master will give you a call to let you know it’s time to pick them up. It’s worth a call to your post office if you haven’t heard from them by late afternoon. You don’t want your chicks to be sitting alone overnight in the post office!
What to do when you get them home
You should have the brooder all set up and ready to go when your chicks arrive. When you get them back to your house, gently dip their beaks into their water dish to show them where it is. Turn on their heat lamp to warm them up. Don’t be surprised if some of them seem a little sluggish. Most likely they are only about 24 hours old. It’s been an exhausting 24 hours – hatching, meeting their new flock mates in the box, and taking a cross country journey! Keep an eye on all of them for the first day. Make sure they are all eating, drinking & moving about normally. If you find that some of them are weak, you might want to consider separating them. They could be sick, or they could be having a hard time competing for food & water. Give them some electrolytes in their water and a little bit of crushed boiled egg yolk. click here to read more about brooding chicks, and click here to read about brooding ducklings
Major online hatcheries in the United States
There are several hatcheries in the US, below are a few that have lower minimums for backyard farmers & a great selection on breeds
My Pet Chicken – this is my go to hatchery for chicks. They specialize in chickens and have a great selection. I have ordered several times from them and have always been very happy with my birds! click here to visit their website
Murray McMurray – one of the first hatcheries to begin shipping chicks 100 years ago, today they have amazing selection of chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys and more! Their minimum order is a bit higher than My Pet Chicken, but they have superb quality birds and a huge selection of rare breeds click here to visit their website
Meyer Hatchery – one of the few hatcheries that will ship all year round, Meyer has a large selection of chickens, ducks, pea fowl, guineas, turkeys and more click here to visit their website
Cackle Hatchery – another hatchery that has been providing live birds for decades, Cackle has a great selection of chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, guineas and more click here to visit their website
Metzer Farms – a family owned hatchery that specializes in water fowl, most of my ducks have come from them. I love their selection and their birds are super healthy. They deliver all around the world and have a minimum of just two birds for most orders. click here to visit their website
Not in the US? A quick internet search for “chicken hatcheries in (your country)” should give you plenty of results!