Friday, March 28, 2008


Following my entry last week about the chicks arriving at the Post Office, one of the questions I received was whether baby chickens circulating via U.S. mail is an unusual occurrence.

Apparently it is not.

For Howell's purposes, the chicks that arrive in a cardboard carton each year are pre-screened to ensure they are hens and not roosters. In addition to giving up the benefit of gender selection, I've been told that hatching chicks from eggs here would be a difficult process – for whatever reason many of the hens in our henhouse don't possess the motherly instinct to sit and stay sitting on their eggs.

Even taking eggs from the henhouse and putting them in a poultry incubator doesn't always work. As an experiment this year, one of the Howell staff members tried to incubate a number of henhouse eggs. I'm not sure about the details of what went wrong, but none hatched.

Tom, a retired gentleman who visits Howell often (Intern Tom is an entirely different person), grew up on a large chicken farm just down the road. He assures me their chicks used to come in the mail, too. In fact, the practice of sending chicks through the U.S. mail likely started in nearby Stockton, New Jersey in 1892. Local historian Larry Kidder wrote this informative article on the subject:

Now, some unpleasant news:

Approximately 18 of the original 50 chicks that came in the mail last week died within three days of their arrival. One got crushed under a farmer's boot by accident, and the rest dropped dead face down on the floor of the brooder from unknown causes. We do know that a Post Office mix-up led to the chicks spending an extra day traveling, and the die-off may be partly attributable to the extended stress of their journey.

Some further harrowing news:

I nearly managed to kill all the remaining chicks in one cataclysmic swoop. Check my next post for the disturbing details.


Anonymous said...

I don't think it is right to ship chicks (or any animal) through the mail.

I understand that it has been a regular practice over the years and it seems very acceptable to most farmers.

If anybody wants chicks, they should have to go to a hatchery and pick them up to avoid as much unnecessary stress to the chicks as possible.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if hens that are from lines that always hatched their own chicks, without any artificial incubation methods, would result in successive generations of mother hens that are successful at hatching their own chicks, also. Sort of like "heirloom" chicks and hens.

Anonymous said...

Hi Donna and the Farmbedded public,

I'm certainly not pleased with the extra time this lot of chicks spent in the post office, and the unfortunate result.

In defense of the concept, mail-order hatcheries help keep heirloom breeds of chickens going by providing that first set of chickens to people too remote from a hatchery to pick them up.

Farmer Rob