There is nothing that compares to the variety of chickens available through mail-order. There are bantams and full-sized; light and heavy breeds; egg layers, meat birds, or dual-purpose; white, brown, chocolate, tinted and green egg layers; ornamentals and production breeds; the newly developed and the heritage favorites.
The best part is that most mail-order companies will allow mixing and matching to reach the minimum required necessary for shipping. You can order a uniform, single breed flock or pick one of each breed for a colorful variety to delight the senses. Want to try just one green egg layer to see what you think—no problem, just add it in with the others!
Many local tack and feed stores or farm supply stores carry chicks in the spring. The problem is there is just a week or two that they have them available every year, as opposed to mail-order’s approximate 6-8 month window, depending on breed. The local stores in our area only carry a few varieties and they tend to be good production breeds, but low on the interest scale for visual appeal.
Mail-order companies offer to sell you peeps straight-run (not sorted by gender) or sexed if the breed is able to be differentiated at hatching. The pullets cost a little more, but if all that is wanted is layers then this is more economical in the long run.
Two good choices for mail-order companies are Murray McMurray’s hatchery which has been in business since 1917 and is the world’s largest, and MyPetChicken.com, a recent internet innovation. McMurray’s requires a minimum of 25 chicks per order (to keep each other warm in transit) and MyPetChicken.com requires 15 (though extra preparations are required with this low number so it costs about the same as getting 25).
Ordering peeps through the mail is not without potential problems. As already stated, there is a minimum, so if only a few are desired then this method won’t work. McMurray’s also offers other birds like geese, ducks and turkeys but these cannot be mixed with chick orders—each species has its own minimum.
One danger of mail-order is that the chicks are not being kept heated during the shipping time which is not ideal. Lack of food is not a problem as a chick does not need to eat for 72 hours as it has absorbed all the nutrients from the yolk, but it must be kept warm. If there is a cold snap while the chicks are in transit,or they get left in a draft they can become chilled. Chicks have a difficult time recovering from chills and will die off over a period of days if chilled or exposed to just one draft. I have ordered chicks about 20 times and have had losses to probable chilling once.
Most of the time the box of chicks arrives with no problem with one lost chick or less. (The companies usually put in an extra because there always seems to be one weak one in the bunch). One other disaster, and this happened to me only once, was that the package got lost in the mail and arrived a week later. The companies reimburse the losses completely but emotionally that is a tough scenario.
Overall, ordering chicks from a reputable company through the mail is a positive experience, especially if you are interested in trying a variety of breeds or want to guarantee a specific number of each gender. It’s not a perfect system but usually quite satisfactory.