Starting Your Backyard Flock with Mail-Order Chicks

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Date: 
2010
Volume: 
50
Number: 
12

As someone intimately involved in poultry, I find it hard to admit when I discover something I didn’t know about the poultry industry. But that’s exactly what happened several years ago when my eldest son decided to start his own backyard poultry flock as a 4-H project and someone suggested that he begin by ordering live chicks through the mail. I had experience hatching eggs in an incubator and had enjoyed picking out a few young poultry during annual “chick days” at our local farm supply store, but mail-order chicks…that was news to me! After a bit of research however, I quickly found out that not only are there dozens of top quality hatcheries willing to ship chicks (and many other species of young poultry) through the U.S. Postal Service, but hatcheries have been doing it for nearly a century! How can this be you ask? Well, this is a case where avian biology and human ingenuity comes together at its best. You see, just before hatching, chicks and other poultry absorb the last of the yolk inside the egg (their food source during incubation). This last bit of yolk provides the chick with enough nutrition to survive for 3-4 days with no outside source of food or water. Nature provides this period so that chicks that are the first in a hen’s clutch of eggs to hatch can survive until all the chicks have hatched when the hen takes her new brood out of the nest to feed for the first time.