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.
    VEVILA/FOTOLIA

  • box of chicks

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).

rancherhicks_1
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.







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