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How Are Chicks Shipped?

February 5, 2015

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s nearing spring and with it comes chicks and seedlings! Today we had a sponsored order arrive of some pullets and, with a special deal, 50 meat chicks (which have turned out to be Buff Orpingtons). They were hatched in Ohio and shipped to us yesterday, arriving this morning.

Because we are listed with the National Poultry Identification Program (NPIP) we must deal with NPIP certified sources when adding new birds that stay at the place. While some of these little girls will go on to be raised and provide eggs for others, some will stay here as layers and, possibly, breeders. It’s easy to get chickens from local sources, but much is made about shipping birds.

When baby chicks, or ducklings or goslings, are shipped there is no water or food with them. This leads to misunderstandings with activists who believe they are mistreated by such withholding. The unique characteristics of young poultry is what enables shipping without supplies *providing* that it is done the first day.

Just before hatching, the chick absorbs the yolk, which provides important nutrition for the first day of life. Often the first day chicks naturally don’t eat, but may drink water. By having a predictable hatch date, and hatching thousands of chicks, it ensures there is a group ready to go at the same time. A large box divided into four sections keeps chicks grouped in 25 per hole on larger shipments over 100 birds per box. This helps them stay warm enough for comfort, and typically boxes are clearly labeled, with health papers (the NPIP slip) attached in a plastic envelope to the box.

Three week old barred rock and silver laced Wyandotte chicks

Three week old barred rock and silver laced Wyandotte chicks

This morning, a call came from the post office before 730 that the chicks had arrived, and Connor went down to pick them up. During the trip they are usually handled with as much care as can be. On arrival, they settle some and are put into the brooder with water and feed. The need for heat is critical, so heat lamps are hung in the brooder to strive for 95 degrees for the first week, decreasing five degrees per week until they are old enough, have feathers and are ready to handle the outside world.

Very small numbers of chicks can be raised in rabbit carriers, boxes, plastic tubs or other small areas. Large numbers of chicks may arrive from the big hatchery by the truckload, and are put into large barns with heat adjusted for the comfort of the chicks.

Some put electrolytes or sugar in the water to give them a boost from their first drink. In larger groups, temperature is critical as they can get chilled and pile, smothering babies that are caught underneath. This is a big danger for the first couple of week until their temperature adjusts to the outside world and they grow feathers.

Sometimes, yes, things can go wrong. A few years ago we had a box that arrived with all but two chicks dead. It might have been missed on the tarmac, or not moved inside fast enough. This shipment there was one that died on the way, but 150 arrived ok. They’re chip chip cheeping in the brooder with two heat lamps going to keep them warm. If they appear uncomfortable with the temperature, they’ll be put back into the shipping boxes and brought inside for the night.As extra precaution the entire brooder will be covered with heavy plastic.

At 8 weeks old these Dominiques look like small chickens rather than chicks. They grow fast!

At 8 weeks old these Dominiques look like small chickens rather than chicks. They grow fast!

These are not just income – if they die there is no income from them, so keeping them alive and healthy is critical. The young black sexed link pullets will be sold as started birds, with a life of providing eggs for those wanting a few egg layers for their own kitchens. The others will be sorted and provide eggs for us and our customers in about six months. Keeping them confined helps their survival rate, and we work to improve and grow.

If all goes well, in 8-10 weeks there will be four dozen fryers to sell, and a little over that for layer birds. That income helps with other projects. Due to the weather and adjustment, I haven’t yet taken photos of the new birds (the photos are from previous birds raised). Although I want to get photos, it’s critical to have the chicks warm and settled in, and that takes priority. There’s a bit of a warm up coming, so maybe in the next few days I’ll have some photos to share on Twitter and Facebook, as well as here!


3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 6, 2015 12:27 PM

    This is so interesting! I have worked with day old chicks, but they were always delivered from the hatchery that day, I didn’t know how it worked to get them in the mail.

    • February 6, 2015 12:32 PM

      There is a risk – some chicks I call “faders” or “failure to thrive” just don’t survive – whether shipped or not. Others have survival of the fittest mode! Thanks for stopping by!


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