Why can poultry be shipped through the mail?

Did you know millions of baby chicks are shipped through the mail each year in the U.S.?  You might be surprised that baby chicks can be shipped through the post office.  It’s not like you can take a puppy to the post office and ship it across the country, so how can hatcheries and poultry farms ship baby chicks?


It’s All in the Anatomy

In order to understand how baby chicks can be shipped, we need to go over a little bit of chicken anatomy.  Let’s consider how a baby chick is formed.  The chick develops within the shell and the developing chick feeds off of the yolk.  The yolk provides nutrients and energy that the chick needs to grow and develop.  The yolk is so nutrient dense that it actually provides a surplus of nutrients and energy.

Right before the chick hatches, it ingests the remaining yolk.  This extra bit of yolk contains enough nutrition to feed the chick not only during hatching, but up to three days after the chick hatches.  This ensures that the chick has plenty of time to recover from hatching and find food (if it were in the wild).

Baby chicks today can legally be shipped as long as they are shipped within 24 hours of them hatching.  Baby chicks have to be less than 24 hours old to be shipped in the mail.  Shipping them so soon may be shocking, but this allows hatcheries to ship chicks and have them reach their destination within the window of time that the ingested yolk can still provide them ample nutrition.

You may think that shipping chicks with food and water is a good idea, but in reality, it makes shipping much more dangerous for the chicks.  Chicks need to stay dry to stay warm in the shipping box.  If you add water, the chicks run the risk of becoming wet and cold.  Food in the box would also pose a threat if the chicks could eat but not drink.  The food may not stay in the box since the boxes used to ship chicks have holes in them that allow for ventilation.  If you had to keep food in the box, you wouldn’t be able to have ventilation holes.

Regulations and History of Shipping Poultry

The U.S. Post Office allows the shipping of day-old ducks, emus, geese, guinea, partridge, pheasants, quail and turkeys.  The shipping of poultry was made legal on March 13, 1918.  The statement released by the Postmaster General at the time said that “Live day-old chicks shall be accepted for mailing, without insurance or C.O.D privileges, when the package in which they are contained is properly prepared and can be delivered to the addressee within 72 hours from the time of mailing.”  The same rule still applies today.  Hatcheries can ship day-old poultry as long as the chicks will reach their destination within the first 72 hours of life.

There are also other hoops that hatcheries shipping poultry must go through in order to ship birds. For example, the date and hour of hatching must be noted on the box.  This may seem trivial, but it’s key to making sure that each box of chicks will make it to their destination before the 72-hour mark.

Poultry being shipped must also be disease-free.  Hatcheries can ensure that birds are disease free by following the National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP).  The NPIP was put in place to “eliminate Pullorum Disease caused by Salmonella pullorum which was rampant in poultry and could cause upwards of 80% mortality in baby poultry. The program was later extended and refined to include testing and monitoring for Salmonella typhoid, Salmonella enteritidis, Mycoplasma gallisepticum, Mycoplasma synoviae, Mycoplasma meleagridis, and Avian Influenza. In addition, the NPIP currently includes commercial poultry, turkeys, waterfowl, exhibition poultry, backyard poultry, and game birds. The technical and management provisions of the NPIP have been developed jointly by Industry members and State and Federal officials. These criteria have established standards for the evaluation of poultry with respect to freedom from NPIP diseases.”

Adult poultry can also be shipped, as long as it meets certain criteria.  The adult birds also have a 72 hour window to reach their destination.  However, with adult birds, there are weight restrictions.  Birds must weigh at least 6 ounces and weigh less than 25 pounds. They also need to be shipped during times of the year when the weather conditions will not cause stress.

Shipping poultry in the mail is a very effective way to get birds to buyers.  In fact, there have been several studies that compare the mortality rates of birds shipped through the mail and birds that were shipped using other transportation methods.  The studies have shown that there is no significant difference in mortality rates and using the U.S. Postal Service is a safe, reliable option.


Published by Shelby DeVore

Shelby is an agricultural enthusiast that shares her love of all things farming with her husband and two children on their small farm in West Tennessee. She is a former agriculture education teacher and is also the author of the blog Farminence, where she enjoys sharing her love of gardening, raising livestock and more simple living. You can see more of Shelby's articles at: www.farminence.com