Mail Order Chicks

I’ve placed an order for 25 chicks for delivery the first week of April. I’ve purchased them through a mail order hatchery. In 1880 if you wanted more chickens, you hoped that your broody hens did a good job. By the first decade of the 20th century, you might have had your own kerosene heated incubator and were able to substantially add to your flock, and maybe sell to your neighbors (and buy a puppy with the proceeds.)

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By 1917, when the postal service changed its regulations and permitted chicks to be sent through the mail, it opened the way for poultry men and women to start hatchery businesses. It meant that farmers could purchase purebred chickens to improve the productivity of their flocks. It allowed for a farm to have hundreds, if not thousands, of chickens. Eventually, that led to millions of chicks hatched for factory “farms” and closely guarded breeding stock that is not available to the rest of us. But hatcheries still exist for the small farmer and the hobbyist. Some specialize in one or two varieties, and some have developed their own hybrids for sustainable farms. Others breed a veritable rainbow range of chickens for the backyard keeper, like myself. There are also suppliers, like, that act as middlemen for a number of hatcheries.

If you are interested in just one type of chicken, and want high-quality stock to show or breed yourself, then I suggest purchasing from someone who specializes in that breed. If you want just a few chicks, and aren’t too particular about the selection, you can probably pick them up at your local feedstore (which likely got them in from a big hatchery.) But, if, like me, you want a wide range of breeds, and you want them all to arrive from the same hatchery on the same day (more about why in another post) then you’ll probably go to one of the big companies. Murray McMurray happened to have the chickens I wanted, when I wanted them, and so I’ve ordered from them.

Chicks survive surprisingly well when shipped in a small cardboard box through the mail. But, the trip is not without perils. Hopefully, the box has been handled gently. If tipped, the chicks can pile up and suffocate. It’s best to ship the chicks in the spring, when the weather is not too cold and not too hot, as extremes can cause fatalities. When a chick hatches, it still has some of the yolk inside of itself, and gets nourishment from that for up to three days, so you don’t have to worry about food or water until they get home. But, by the time they reach the post office, time is of the essence. It’s important to be available the day of their arrival, so that the little ones don’t have to wait in the mailroom (you have to pick up, the mailman doesn’t bring the box to your door.) I’ll let the folks at the post office know I’m expecting a delivery, and they’ll call me as soon as the chicks arrive. It’s important to have your brooder up and ready. My order will arrive the first week of April, and in the weeks up to then I’ll share with you how to prepare for and care for chicks.

Later this week, I’ll let you know what breeds I ordered, and why. Until then, keep guessing!


  1. Terri,
    My dad work at the large Postal Facility here in Boston. He says that they treat those boxes with great care. Many are going to the large science industries, but rest assure, if my dad handles your Chicks they will get there safely. lol

  2. I remember with the gems, at least two chicks were crushed to death, and then acourse you had to put down Little Blue. I can’t remember which hatchery you used last time, either it was McMurray or Cackle, I think. I can’t wait to hear what breeds you will pick, other than getting some more speckled sussex. With a full 25, hopefully you won’t end up with another Opie rooster either, or any pack peanut male chicks either. With Opie still going, and him still being young, I am sure you will have a very very hard time finding any homes for a rogue and unwanted male chick. And Steve your husband might end up having to become to a temporary kosher butcher :)

  3. Although I tried, talking to the 3 different mail carriers that deliver my mail, plus calling the post office, a carrier brought my chicks with his regular deliveries and just left the box on top of the brick column at my front gate. I have no idea how long they sat there. Luckily all 8 were fine. There was also some confusion with the hatchery. I ordered through MyPetChicken which contracts with Meyer Hatchery. They called me and told me they shipped and when they will arrive. They got it wrong and the shipment came a day earlier. As i said earlier, with good luck all ended up well with healthy chicks.

  4. Really looking forward to following your adventures in preparation for new chicks. I have never had chicks. I only felt capable of caring for pullets in June 2011, when I got my first chickens. After paying $100. for 4 laying hens three weeks ago, I want to learn how to care for chicks.

  5. I Love your posts~! Thank you! I am a third year chicken farmer and just now have my first broody hens: one spotted suffolk, one australorp, and one cochin. I tried moving two of them today and I’m not sure how successful I was…I may end up losing some of the eggs to the cold as two of the girls wouldn’t sit afterward and the third was sitting on another’s nest….i wish I would have read this BEFORE I moved them….oh well.

  6. This brings back happy memories of my Gran ordering day-old chicks. They used to arrive at the railway station in a cardboard box.

    I really didn’t want to go to school on chick-arrival-day! I couldn’t wait for lunch time so I could get on my bike and race over to Gran’s house to see the chicks :-)

  7. Cant wait! I am not getting more chicks this year, waiting another year till my girls are 2 this is my first year and still have tons to learn, thank you terry for this site. Hope to see you at the expo, weather providing.

  8. This may not be the place to note the other uses to which newly-hatched chicks may be put, but I shall risk it. In the 1980’s I was as surprised as I’m sure many of your readers are today that the U. S. Postal Service is in the live chick delivery business. It seemed like a blast from an agrarian past. The ones I purchased were destined for feeding “pet” snakes. I would telephone the closest hatchery and ask for, say, 400 cockerels to be shipped at the next hatching. I’m sure the cartons haven’t changed since then: a certain sized ventilated box with an insert which divided the interior into four compartments, each of which held 25 chicks. The peep-peep-peeping made quite a racket, and as soon as those cartons arrived at my local urban post office, they’d be out for delivery to my home. Memory has dimmed my recollection of whether the price was five cents per bird or ten cents plus postage. I’d guess the business was happy to get any money at all for the excess males which are produced. I’ve never inquired, but would imagine that life is brutal and short for most of the male birds produced by commercial hatcheries.

    • Hatcheries have big issues about what to do with the excess males. This issue of excess males isn’t limited to the poultry industry. Many people don’t realize that it also arises in dairy farming – male goats and cows don’t make milk and so are harvested for meat. I try to make thoughtful, balanced and moral decisions based on an unblinking understanding of what goes on. I believe in farming and keeping domestic farm animals. It’s a complex world with many moral challenges and ambiguities (not only for animals, just ask an organic farmer about the choices of what to spread on their fields!) In any event, animal agriculture can’t be done if all of the males are kept, and if unproductive animals are kept until they die of old age. Personally, in my small backyard, I can chose to keep old hens around. But, as my numbers show, real farmers couldn’t possibly survive doing so.

  9. Will the new chicks all be female, or will you have to deal with roosters? Last winter we ordered six day-old chicks and it turned out to be 5 roosters and only one hen! We slaughtered the roos after 16 weeks for the freezer. The sole hen had problems becoming integrated into the rest of the flock and ended up becoming very ill (trichomonas).

  10. I’m looking forward to your play by play of getting and caring for the chicks. This will be a first for me.


  11. Quote: ” I’ll let you know what breeds I ordered, and why. Until then, keep guessing!”

    My guess is: Orpington, Rhode Island Red, Wyandotte, Silver spangled Hamburg ( just for the polka dots) and Lakenvelder. :)

  12. So I take back Leghorn and add Barnevelder (for the dark brown eggs) and Barred Rock for the tradition (see picture) to my guess….

  13. Hi Terry, I have been reading through your blogs from a while back and I am curious regarding the hens and Candy. Do the hens eat Candys droppings ? I know some bunnies are toilet trained and wondered if Candy has a particular place to ‘go’ where the hens can’t reach ?

    • The hens totally ignore the rabbit droppings. Nothing in it of interest to them. Candy does go along the edge of the fence in one place and I rake them up. Bunnies are quite tidy when given the chance.