How to Order Baby Chickens from a Poultry Hatchery

What you need to know before you order chicks by mail.

| Dec. 31, 2008

box of chicks

Chicks are shipped in cardboard boxes designed to keep them warm.


Hatching eggs in an incubator or under a hen is an exciting project, and shopping for chicks or other baby poultry at a farm store is great fun. But you can order baby chickens to be shipped from a poultry hatchery through the mail, too. This is a great way to find some unusual breeds or varieties. It also helps with planning: If you rely on hatching eggs, you can never be quite certain how many chicks you'll get.

Right before hatching, chicks and other baby poultry absorb the last of the yolk — their food source during incubation. For most species, this last bit of yolk provides enough nutrition to sustain the baby for about three days without eating or drinking, which makes shipping chicks through the mail possible, if they arrive quickly.

You can find the breed or variety of chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese or other fowl you're looking for easily and quickly with the Mother Earth News Hatchery Finder, which searches more than 60 hatcheries from across the United States.

When preparing your order, here are some good things to keep in mind.

  • Most hatcheries offer you a choice of males (cockerels), females (pullets) or "straight run," the natural mix of genders at hatching, which is roughly 50 percent to 60 percent males. Determining the sex of chicks is difficult and requires special training. Even the people who are most skilled at sexing chicks are not perfectly accurate, so if you order all pullets, expect up to 10 percent to be cockerels.
  • Large commercial hatcheries sell poultry that has been bred to be raised in confinement and to produce large numbers of eggs or to grow extremely quickly for meat. But if you want especially beautiful, interesting birds that meet color and conformation standards of the American Poultry Association, order from a breeder or a hatchery that specifies "show quality."
  • Chicks (not waterfowl or turkeys) can be vaccinated against Marek's disease, a viral disease that causes nerve damage, before leaving the hatchery. If you want to raise your chickens without vaccines or antibiotics, you could skip the vaccine, but check with a veterinarian to learn more about Marek's disease in your area. (Ducks and geese are almost disease-free and don't require the vaccine.)
  • Many hatcheries offer debeaking service, removing the tip of the chicks' beaks. This is done to reduce cannibalism (pecking each other, often causing serious wounds) in closely confined flocks. There is no reason to debeak chicks raised with adequate space. Plus chicks raised on free range need a full beak to forage for seeds and bugs.

Shipping Poultry

Chicks and other baby poultry must be kept warm. While they're traveling, this heat is provided by body heat from the group. The minimum order for chicks is usually 25, although some hatcheries ship smaller numbers during warm months. The minimum order for other species is more variable. Minimum orders for ducklings may be 10, 12 or 15, depending on the hatchery.

Chicks are shipped in cardboard boxes designed to keep them warm while allowing fresh air inside for them breathe. Although some hatcheries use small boxes designed for 25 chicks, many use boxes divided into four areas designed for 100 chicks total. Some hatcheries charge a small fee if the box isn't filled (if your order fills only one of the four areas).

3/30/2009 12:56:22 PM

This article was a waste of my time. I ordered books from the Public Library and received much more than this article provided. Then again if you haven't ordered chicks it might be alright. Still there are many different hatcheries and problems associated with ordering chicks by mail. My first order was very successful. However this article could have mentioned the pitfalls some have experienced. Measures can be taken and should. It is unfortunate that some choose to use these forums for a platform and promote other agendas. The question asked how was this article not what is your opinion regarding eating meat! What I would like to see and have not even in books is the after the chicks come home and begin to grow. What about week 1,2,3,4,5? Chicks that are newborns quickly outgrow the brooder. Then what? When do you introduce them to the outside? What should the temperature be? Should you wait til its 50,60 degrees? Should they be moved from the brooder to a transitional brooder or right to the coop. When do you integrate them with the preexisting flock? Not even the books take you from chick to coop. There's a title for you.

Hannah Coffey
2/2/2009 1:20:19 PM

I grew up with chicks ordered by mail. When I decided to start my own flock this year some 20 years later, I ordered from a respected hatchery, and placed that order for Tuesday or Wednesday delivery so they would not wait the weekend. Instead, the hatchery mailed them on Saturday, they waited all Sat, Sun and into Monday morning before my post-office called me. Half of my 40 were dead on arrival. I failed to bring 3 back after much effort that day. It was heartbreaking and disgusting. Even with the proper electrolytes, scheduling, prepping the post-office in advance (they had my cell to call straight away), the hatchery (McMurray) mailed them on a Saturday and they died in a box sitting in some cold post office over the weekend. Lesson learned. I won't order by mail again.

Suzi _1
1/15/2009 10:32:15 AM

I was/still am a little leary of getting chicks through the mail;even though many people have success with this method. My daughter and I went and hand picked our first four chicks from a small family farm.The lady there showed us around and explained how to take care of them.That whole experience of being on her farm,seeing her coop,her feeders,her lighting system--- was invaluable to us as novices. Later,we found a different farmer selling Amerucana Wheatland pullets ...and roosters. Now we have 8hens and Johnny Cash Chicken our rooster.Looking to the year ahead,I still visit the hatchery websites looking at all the beautiful breeds but I think I will still be checking craigslist & 4-H for our next chosen few.

1/13/2009 4:43:14 PM

I am curious to know how one decides what being, animal or vegetable, is OK to eat. In my opinion, the apple, broccoli or lettuce is no less alive and sentient than is a rabbit, chicken or dog. Has no one here ever read the book, "The Secret Life of Plants"? It should put to rest any questions about who or what has the "right to life", quoted from a post by Ricky. Is there no guilt associated with the lives of the plants that are taken to nourish us? Every rock, tree, plant, animal, or waterfall is alive, all at a different vibrational energy, and all have a right to life. All should be nurtured, taken, and replenished with care, reverence and gratitude. As humans, we have evolved as omnivores. I agree with Ricky that humans can survive on plants only, however do you just want to survive, or to thrive? Evolution of any species relies on the survival of the fittest, and a physical being that is deprived of all the nutrients, minerals and proteins it needs to be healthy and successful will not continue on its evolutionary path. Yes, we can choose. However do not forget that there is no one right way to live. When you are sure of your own path, there is no need to judge and criticize others if they have chosen differently. Thanks for letting me put in my two cents.

Yvonne C.
1/13/2009 1:47:28 PM

I have to agree with you Ricky!! I find this practice of sending live animals through the mail an act of cruelty. Would someone send their baby through the mail?? Of course not!! Now I will probably get all the insulting comments from you meat eaters stating there is a big difference between chicks and babies. Not where I come from there isn't. And to de-beak them too!! Absolutely barbaric!! There should be a law against that and shipping live chicks or any animals for that matter through the US postal service. My hat is off to you Ricky for educating these meat eaters. Of course it all went in one ear and out of the other I'm sure. Go Veg!!!!

1/13/2009 8:19:55 AM

Very nice informative article. I ordered chicks late last July. They arrived the end of the third week in August. They were packed well and the hatchery sent 4 extra chicks incase of loss. They arrived alive and healthy. We only lost one chick the first night. They are doing well, laying began after they were 19 weeks old and they are very comfortable in their coop even though the weather here is cold. There is no aggressive behavior on the days they cannot go outside. I just wanted to add that when I was informed of the approximate date for arrival, I called my post office in advance, to alert them that the chicks would be coming and gave them my home number to post by their phone so that they could call me immediatly. With all of the tips from the hatchery everything went quite smoothly and I can't wait to order more chicks in the spring.

1/11/2009 12:25:12 AM

Ricky it always amazes me how you vegan animal rights people think, if everyone in the world went vegan there would be no need to raise animals which would end a great deal of organic farming, organic farmers and gardeners count on animal manure to help make compost and fertilize their fields and gardens without the animal waste there would not be enough compost to grow healthy chemical free fruits and vegetables,(I know you will say that you can compost with just plant materials and you can for a short time but you need the trace minerals from animal waste too have truly healthy soil). I would hate to see what would happen to our already strained organic food supply without animal manure companies like Monsanto probably love you vegan animal rights types. just for the record I am a small scale organic rabbit and chicken producer I give my animals the best life and conditions I can give them, I also organicly raise all of my fruit and vegetables utilizing the manure from the animals.

1/10/2009 11:59:38 AM

I'm sorry Ricky, but I disagree. We in America, are the few globally, that raise cattle. Goats being far more common elsewhere. Goats forage for brush and weeds, producing meat from inedible vegetable matter. As one of our country's poor, let me tell you that if it weren't for the chicken and goat meat, milk and eggs I raise in my yard, (not to mention my gardens) I wouldn't eat nearly as well. I also hunt deer and elk. It seems odd to me they would send cattle to India for food animals. Doesn't the Hindu hold the cow sacred? That aside, even if the animals were slaughtered rather than kept, it would provide a valuable instant food source. While I agree that planting fruit trees is a great program, you must understand it takes YEARS for the tree to produce fruit. Starving people just can't wait for the tree to produce.

1/9/2009 9:22:55 PM

Continued... Donated animals are not always wanted. A recent exposé into animal donation programs by an editor of one of India's largest newspapers quoted numerous angry poor people who had animals thrust upon them and then desperately struggled to take care of both their families and the animals. The Nation writes that if you ask a poor farmer about animals donated to people in his town by one of these charities, "the farmer would say that people are desperate to return animals that are eating more than their families. Cows cost between 120 and 150 rupees a day in feed, more than twice the minimum wage." Donated animals often suffer greatly. Very few of the nations in which citizens receive these animals have any meaningful animal welfare laws. According to numerous reports from animal welfare experts, animals donated to poor people often suffer from horrible neglect, including lack of proper veterinary care, adequate or clean shelter, and sufficient food or water. Those who survive these conditions are often killed in horrific ways, such as by having their throats slit with a dull knife—or worse. Help the Poor Without Hurting Animals Donate only to anti-poverty charities that make an effective, sustainable difference for poor people and that don't exploit animals. Two great examples are Food for Life and The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation.

1/9/2009 9:21:21 PM

Thank you for your comments, Karin. I enjoyed reading your post. I believe that all animals have a right to life and humans have the ability to choose to be vegan. We do not have to and do not need to eat meat for our survival. I believe that humans should choose vegan based on ethical concerns, global poverty / hunger, and environmental sustainability. Aniamls, non human, are sentient and have a right to life. They are not our pets but our companions. They are not our food but our friends that we share earth with. I offer you and other readers the following taken from Unfortunately, the previously animal-friendly hunger-relief charity Oxfam International now appears to believe that there is money to be made in animal exploitation. Oxfam has started following in the footsteps of the animal-abusing organization Heifer International, exploiting people's compassion and generosity by sending them gift catalogs depicting cute chickens, cows, and goats who can be "donated" to impoverished people. What these fundraising schemes don't tell you is that they actually make poverty worse and cause many animals to suffer. What's wrong with animal donation programs? They worsen global hunger. The animals are often not wanted by the recipients. Donated animals often suffer. Animal donation programs worsen global hunger. They force impoverished people to funnel resources (like grain and water) through animals to produce much less nourishment than they'd have if they just ate the grain and drank the water directly. It takes up to 16 pounds of grain to produce just 1 pound of animal flesh! In addition, animals who are left to graze often eat all the vegetation in the surrounding area, which causes more water run-off and leads to drought, leading the environmental group World Land Trust to call these programs "environmentally unsound and economically disastrous." Donated animals are not always wanted. A

karin h_1
1/8/2009 5:04:21 PM

Sorry, Ricky - I'm completely with you on the importance of treating animals ethically, but humans are omnivores, and equating creatures we eat with family members is not a rational argument. If you had compared it to throwing a family *pet* in the garbage that would have been more valid, but the fact remains that people eat animals, and some animals are there to be eaten. It's not "animal agriculture" that's not a sustainable way of life, it's industrial, commercial animal agriculture. People have raised their own chickens, and dairy and meat animals, for hundreds of thousands of years, usually with respect and dignity, even in the slaughter of the animals so that the people would survive. It's only since the raising and slaughtering of animals became industrialized and depersonalized that people stopped considering that their dinner once had consciousness and feelings, and should have had guaranteed rights to not suffer in fear and pain while helping humans to live. The eating of meat isn't the problem, it's how the animals become that meat. Also, how is everyone becoming vegan going to eliminate world poverty?? For many people in the world, the occasional milk or eggs or chicken they get are all the nutrition they'll have except for the rice or gruel or bread that is their staple diet. Everyone becoming vegan will not give starving children more food, but Heifer International works to distribute animals for milk, eggs, meat and wool to needy families who will then have healthier diets, maybe some money from the sale of milk or eggs or wool, and share the gift by passing on the offspring of their animal to other needy families. It is possible to be a carnivore and care about animals and humans, all at the same time.

1/8/2009 3:40:29 PM

Through the chicks in the garbage can, Steve? Is this what you would do with a member of your family...through them in a garbage can. It appears that participating in church means more than the life of these chicks. Is that what is taught in your church? To all who read this...animal agriculture is not a sustainable way of life in modern society. I encourage all to take up a vegan diet. This will do three things: Ethical to the animals, eliminate world poverty, and you will be healthier. Animals, non-human, are just as sentient. Treat with respect...for god's sake.

Steve Eyring
1/7/2009 4:23:52 PM

I have purchased mail order chicks each year for the last 10 years; many of the years we have not suffered any casualties. However one year was particularly difficult. Most years we receive a call from our post office early on Sunday morning, just before church services, this year was no exception, the only problem was that I had forgotten the chicks were coming and had not set up the brooder. I quickly found a large card board box, attached a heat lamp and placed some food and water in the box. I took my youngest son with me to the post office picked up the chicks and raced home so we could still make it to church on time. I went through the annual ritual of inspecting each chick, gently dunking its beak into the water to teach it how to drink and then tapped my finger on the food container to help them start eating. Everything was going fine, until the heat lamp went out. I had an assignment at church that would last about an hour so I ran to church and on the way back picked up a new light. When I got home half of the 25 chicks looked dead and were lying motionless on the floor of the box. I replaced the bulb and turned it on. From there I tried to resuscitate the fallen chicks with no success. I gave up hope and carried 5 of the deadest looking chicks outside and put them in the trash can. I came back in the house to get the next batch and I noticed that some of the chicks were showing signs of life again. My son and one of my daughters carefully cupped several chicks in our hands near the heat lamp, after 10 - 15 minutes all of the chicks looked good. I ran out to the trash can and brought in the discarded chicks and repeated the procedure, all but one of the chicks was revived. Since that year I have always been prepared with an extra heat lamp and never do I give up on a chick quite so easily.

mother earth news fair


Feb. 17-18, 2018
Belton, Texas

More than 150 workshops, great deals from more than 200 exhibitors, off-stage demos, hands-on workshops, and great food!