Nutrition From the Hatching Process
The complexities of shipping live animals are always going to be difficult to overcome. Luckily, the United States Post Office has had decades of experience handling live chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese and game birds. The USPS is able to mail day-old birds because the unique nature of hatching poultry.
The yolk or albumen inside every egg is consumed by each chick before they hatch. This albumen supplies each chick with enough food and water for three to fours days after hatching. Nature provides this grace period between the first and last eggs hatching, which is when the broody hen will then take her hatchlings out to feed.
Thus, day old hatchlings have anywhere from 2-3 days of self-sustained energy before they will need care from their owners. Aside from shaking, breaking and jostling during shipment, the only real concern for birds in the mail is temperature. Day-old hatchlings are quite small, and have only a thin down coat protecting them from the elements. Chicks are shipped in insulated boxes, even with special heat packs at times to ensure minimum temperatures, even so chicks within the first week of hatching require a temperature between 95-100 degrees Fahrenheit (most postal trucks and offices will not come close to reaching these temperatures).
The best answer to the problem of heating for life poultry is answered in order minimums. Many online customers don’t want to purchase 25 birds at a time, some may even want a handful, maybe even just one chicken or duck. Sadly, that chicken or duck would have to be mailed alone in a cardboard box with only his or her tiny body to maintain temperature… which would almost always result in a single dead chicken or duck.
Why Do You Have Order Minimums?
As a result of this shipping conundrum, hatcheries will often have shipping minimums of 25 birds during colder months – the more chicks the more heat – letting them all cozy up together for the long cold ride to your door step, or in most cases the post office where you will pick them up.
On that note, you will probably want to get the phone number for the post office where your birds are to be shipped, always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to live birds. Even though the post office has been shipping day old chicks for over 100 years, receiving a box a chirping chicks can still be surprising (Brian Kiepper, UGA).
Now, I have discussed the cold weather issues that can result in what we in the bird industry call DOA’s (dead on arrivals). It is important to note that the opposite problem of high heat can also cause issues. However, this is rare in comparison with cold problems. Hotter summer months will usually mean lower minimum poultry orders.
Birds of a Feather Ship Together
Every breed and species of poultry is different. Goslings for example are one of the hardiest species of fowl on the market; bigger than ducks and better suited for the cold due to their thicker down insulation. On the opposite end of the spectrum, bantam chicks are even smaller than normal chicks. Guineas can’t ship with chickens, but Turkeys can because despite their size difference, they will help keep the chicks warm without smothering them.
The post office wants to ship live birds successfully, thus it asks they be shipped early in the week, lest the poor fowl get stuck in transit over the weekend.