Ordering chickens from an online hatchery and having them mailed to you is growing in popularity. I order around 500 guinea fowl keets every year that are shipped to me. I have learned over the years that the first 24 hours after receiving mail order chickens can impact their survival! Learn what you should do to have the best survivability possible.
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Ordering Chicks Online
Ordering chicks online is a popular option, especially if you are looking for select breeds.
There are a number of different hatcheries, but a few of the more popular ones are:
Most hatcheries that ship birds will have a minimum of 15-25 chicks so they can stay warm enough in transit. If this is more than you want, see if you can find a friend that wants to split the order with you!
In The Mail
When chicks are shipped in the mail, they are often sent without food or water. How do they survive?
When a chick is developing in the egg, the yolk provides nourishment from the first stages of life until hatch.
In nature, a clutch of eggs does not all hatch at the same time. One chick may hatch, a few hours later another chick, and so on. Mother hen can’t leave the nest for each individual chick that hatches to take it to feed and water, or else the remaining eggs may get cold or be lost to a predator.
Because of this natural hatching delay, chicks are able to survive for up to 3 days after hatching without any food or water.
Birds shipped in the mail are sent out the morning they hatch, and mailed via Priority Mail (or express/overnight in some cases) so they arrive to your home within 36 hours of hatching.
Setting Up The Brooder
Chicks will need to have a brooder ready for them when they arrive. so be sure to set up the brooder BEFORE they ship. To read about setting up your brooder, click here.
I recommend turning on the heat source at least one day before your chicks arrive to fine tune the temperature, ensuring the brooder stays within the correct temperature range without any major swings. Check the temperature again before picking up your chicks. For the first week, the brooder should be at 90-95 degrees Fahrenheit, and decreased 5 degrees each week.
What To Do When Chicks Arrive
I order around 500+ guinea fowl keets every year. When I first started ordering keets (several years ago), I had about 25% of them die in the first 3 days of being in the brooder. I finally learned what was causing their demise, and how to prevent it. Now, I lose only 2-3 total each year, which is less than 1%!
Pick Them Up
The chicks won’t be delivered to your house, but instead held at a local post office for pick up. The post office may not be your local one, so if you live in a rural area, you may want to confirm which location holds live animals for pick up.
When the post office receives them, they will call you and let you know they have them. I would recommend picking them up as soon as possible.
I have heard stories of postal employees trying to do the right thing and keep the birds warm (or cool), and accidentally killing them. While I know this is not the norm, I think it is best to get the birds into your possession as quickly as you can.
Water & Electrolytes
I found one of the critical keys for survival is to give the chicks warm water with electrolytes immediately.
DO NOT feed them until they have warmed up and hydrated! Remove feed from the brooder, and replace it in a few hours.
The trip through the mail was likely stressful for the birds, and they may be nearing the 36 hour mark when you receive them. My chick survivability skyrocketed when I started adding electrolytes with probiotics in their water. I really like the Rooster Booster Vitamins & Electrolytes with Probiotics.
The water also needs to be warm (not hot!). The easiest way to warm the water is to put the waterer (with electrolytes) in the brooder the night before and turn on the brooder heater.
If you are only raising chicks, they will likely find the water quickly and start to drink. Game birds are not quite as smart as chickens, so guinea keets and other game birds need to be shown the water. That said, I also do this with chickens just to be safe.
To ensure each bird hydrates, gently dip their beak in the water, but do not submerge their nostrils! Within a few seconds, they should take a drink of water. You can then set the chick down, and often they will drink some more, but others may start to explore their brooder or take a nap under the heater.
Do not feed the birds right away!
When chicks are first placed in the brooder the priority is hydrating and warming them ASAP. After they have been in the brooder for an hour or two you can introduce a feeder with chick crumble.
Chicks need to be hydrated before eating, so this step is important.
Let Them Sleep
After eating and drinking, they will do what all babies do- sleep and poop!
I generally leave the chicks alone for the first 24 hours to make sure they have settled in and to reduce stress. By the next day it’s ok to pick them up and play with them.
I know it can be hard just watching them, but their little bodies are fragile and they need a chance to get used to their new surroundings and recover from the trip.
A side note specifically about guinea keets- while chickens can have pine shavings in their brooder, keets cannot! I found they were eating the shavings and their crops became impacted. I now line their brooder with a swimming pool liner that can easily be sprayed off to clean, but something like shelf liner would also work.
After the pivotal first 24 hours, things are pretty simple. Keep the brooder clean, reduce the heat 5 degrees each week, and wait for it to be warm enough (or they are old enough) to go outside. Now is also a great time to build the coop and run if you haven’t already!
To learn more about raising chickens, please read Everything You Wanted To Know About Raising Chickens.