Everything You Need To Know About Ordering Chicks From a Hatchery

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Ordering chicks from an out-of-state hatchery has its advantages and disadvantages. Here’s everything you need to know about getting live chicks delivered through the mail.

Orpington Hen with her adopted brood of chicks

If you have been raising chickens or are a chicken-keeping enthusiast, it is only a matter of time before you become interested in adding a specialty breed or hard-to-find bird to your flock.
Ordering chicken breeds that are hard to find locally from larger out-of-state hatcheries is a great way to add to your flock. Buying Day Old chicks from a hatchery allows me to get the exact breeds I want when I want them.
There are many ways you can go about sourcing birds for your flock between local specialty breeders, farm and feed stores, online swaps and sale postings, and hatcheries. Today, I will go over my experiences ordering from hatcheries, the disadvantages and advantages of receiving live chicks through the mail, and everything you need to know about buying live chicks from an out-of-state hatchery.

I have ordered from a few different hatcheries and will list my favorite hatcheries to order from at the end of this article.

Is it Safe For Live Day Old Chicks To Be Shipped Through the United States Postal Service?

It seems odd, that live baby chicks can be packed in a box and move through the United Postal Service, but rest assured, if you are concerned about the chick’s health and ability to travel to their new home through the postal service. Hatcheries have been mailing chicks for decades, and the postal service is very good at handling orders of live chicks.

For the first two days of life, chicks are still digesting the yolk sacks from the eggs. They can survive shipment as long as they are kept warm and arrive within three days at the most. Chicks are packaged in a safe and sturdy cardboard box with well-marked fragile stamps or stickers. If your chicks don’t arrive safely, well-reputed hatcheries quickly refund your money or work with you to replace your young chicks.

What to Keep in Mind When Selecting a Hatchery

Once you have done all your research and figured out what kind of chicken breeds you want, the fun part comes of ordering the chicks! There are several great hatcheries you can order from, but you will probably want to figure out which is the best option for you based on: 

  • Location of the hatchery. I have ordered chicks from as far away as California, but if possible I like to order from hatcheries that are not as far away, so the babies have the shortest possible trip.
  • The availability of your selected breeds– It seems like all the larger hatcheries have begun developing their own designer hybrid breeds. Meyer has the The Steele Egger, which is a Lisa Steele of Fresh Eggs Daily designed chicken that has splash in feathers and lays plenty of colorful blue and green eggs. Hoover’s offers Prairie Blue Bells™ which are true Araucanas are crossed with Leghorns for a hen that will produce plenty of blue eggs. And Murray McMurray has Whiting True Blues, a breed of chickens that has peaked my interest in 2022. If you are in the market for an exclusive hybrid chicken breed, they may only be available by a specific hatchery.
  • Shipping Minimums– Some hatcheries specify you order a certain number of chicks, while others specify that you order a specific dollar amount. Each hatchery also varies on shipping policies and rates. Be sure to read the faqs page and shipping policy of each hatchery.
  •  Customer Reviews– I always check out customer reviews to find out other people’s experiences with different hatcheries, but I also like to keep in mind that there is just no pleasing some people, and a bad review here and there is normal. Does the customer service, health of the chicks, and overall customer experience meet customers’ expectations? Are there any trends you keep seeing over and over in the reviews?

Not sure where to start looking? These are hatcheries I have ordered from and had very good expereinces with.

How To Order Day Old Chicks From a Hatchery

When you’ve selected your hatchery and are ready to place your order you will select your breeds; whether you want to order pullets, cockerels, or straight run, the number of the same breed you want, which will affect the individual birds’ pricing and overall shipping costs, if you’d like your birds vaccinated, and the shipping dates. It can sound overwhelming, but the hatcheries have made the process simple. I promise!

Order Early!

Highly sought after breeds will be reserved quickly! The best time to order day-old chicks for delivery in early spring is shortly after the holiday season! Most of the large mail-order hatcheries open up their spring chick availability in early January and send out physical paper catalogs in the mail around that time also. Reserving your chicks ahead of time helps to ensure you will get the breeds you want when you want them. Just keep in mind, When you choose your delivery date, your chicks will need to be in the house under a heat lamp for the first 6-8 weeks or so. I ordered my Whiting True Blues in January for April delivery.

Pullets, Cockerels or Straight Run.

Chicks are either sold sexed or in straight-run lots.The term “straight run” simply means that the chicks have not been sexed before they are shipped, and what you get is left to the luck of the draw. What is available as sexed and straight run does differ from site to site and breed to breed. For instance, Ideal Poultry only sells Polish chicks straight-run (you get whatever hatches). Meyer Hatchery will sex Polish, allowing you to select only pullets if you wish. My Pet Chicken is one of the few hatcheries that will sex Silkies, which is difficult for this tiny breed. Pullets are typically more expensive than either cockerels or straight run chicks, but it will save you the hassle of rehoming or dispatching unwanted roosters in the future.

BUT Sexing isn’t always 100% Accurate

Determining the sex of very small live birds can be difficult, and even professional sexers can make mistakes. The larger reputable hatcheries usually offer Pullet (Female) Sexing Guarantees to make things right if you order pullets but recieve cockerels.

The typcial Pullet Sexing Guarantee is 90%. If you order pullets and end up with some cockerels, they refund anything exceeding 10% of the order. So if you order ten pullets and one ends up being a cockerel, you will not get a refund; if two are cockerels, they refund for one of them. Meyer Hatchery has an exceptional 100% accuracy when sexing chicks.

Availability and Shipping Dates

Once you’ve decided on a breed, check the hatchery’s website to see when chicks will be available. Orders are filled on a first-come, first-serve basis. The hatcheries website will automatically coordinate your hatch/ship date based on the next soonest availability of each breed you’ve requested so that your entire order will come in one shipment, but if that date doesn’t work for you you can select a new shipping date.

All hatchery sites have an availability table, which will allow you to see the individual availabilities for the breeds on your order.  All breeds must be available to hatch and ship on the same day, they cannot split orders, but you can always place multiple orders.

Issues Assoicated with Ordering Chicks From a Hatchery

All the large reputable hatcheries will do everything they can to make sure you are satisfied with your order, but there is much that is out of their control once the chicks enter into the postal system. If there is going to be a problem with your order it will generally be delivery date/time issues, and losses that happen during transit.

Your selected chicks may not be available

Hatch day issues can occur. Sometimes eggs don’t hatch at the rate your hatchery expected. Sometimes they’ll hatch but a greater percentage turn out to be cockerels than anticipated, so there aren’t enough pullets to fill orders. Hatcheries are literally in the business of counting their chicks before they’ve hatched. Some hatcheries will allow you to choose whether or not you want to receive substitute breeds if there is a problem. So be sure to mark your preferences regarding substitutions when you order, and check your phone and e-mail frequently when your chicks are scheduled to hatch, so your hatchery can get in touch with you.

I personally always allow for substitions, because I wouldn’t want my order to be cancelled over a small shortage. I’ve only ever received a substitution once, and it was one bird. Murray McMurray selected another breed I had already had in my order, and even sent a pullet. Most hatcheries will make thoughtful substitions.

Losses During Transit

One of the hardest lessons to learn about raising any kind of livestock is that, losses can and do happen. Losses can occur at home with chicks you have hatched yourself, even with a broody hen. When you are getting started in chickens, you need to be aware of the possibility that some might die. It’s always heartbreaking to lose any chickens. But the risks apply to everybody, and we all have to accept them.

Delivery Day Is Variable

The hatchery has no control over how quickly the post office gets your order of day old birds to you; the only thing they can do is pack the chicks safely and get them on their way to you on the date they’re scheduled to be sent. Depending on the shipping method used–and how far you are from the hatchery it can take 1 to 3 days for your birds to arrive. The post office may be able to give you a best-guess deilvery date, but keep in mind that it’s an educated guess.

When the chicks arrive at your local post office, they will make sure to get your chicks to you as soon as possible. My post office calls me as soon as the chicks are unloaded off the mail truck and allows me to pick up my chicks before normal business hours. My regular mail delivery is usually 1:30 pm, but the post office typically calls me to pick up my chicks around 6:30 am, be prepared to pick up or receive delivery of your chicks at any point on delivery day.

Once you receive your delivery of day-old chicks, then the fun begins of caring for and raising your new birds. Make sure you have all your brooder essentials, feed, and supplements to get your chicks off to a great start.

Are you interested in having fertile eggs shipped to you? Read all about my experiences with shipped fertile eggs I bought off of eBay.

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  1. Thanks for the article! I ordered chicks for the first time from Meyer’s Hatchery. They were due to hatch yesterday. 4 different breeds. I received a call saying none of them hatched and I would need to wait another 2 weeks. Is it likely that all 4 breeds didnt hatch or did they fill someone elses order? What are the chances this will happen again in 2 weeks?
    Thanks for any insight.

    1. That’s odd that all 4 breeds didn’t hatch!
      It’s hard to know for sure, but it sounds like maybe there was a failure of some sort with an incubator.
      I’ve always had good experiences with Meyer’s and I would personally wait for them to fill the order in a couple of weeks, if you are able to. From what you wrote it sounds like they are confident they will be able to fill your order soon.
      Let me know how this goes for you!