Early this January, a box was mailed from a business in Texas. The package was supposed to be delivered to a location in Alabama, but it was addressed incorrectly and traveled nearly a thousand extra miles to Washington, D.C. It sat unclaimed in the post office until postal workers realized that something was amiss and contacted local animal control. Inside the box were more than 100 newborn chicks.
After the chicks were seized and brought to the Washington Humane Society Animal Care & Control facility, a staff member notified Farm Sanctuary and our Emergency Rescue Team headed to D.C. to gather these survivors and transport them carefully back to our New York Shelter.
Despite their ordeal, these youngsters are already flourishing. Energetic and curious, they’re enthusiastically exploring their new home and enjoying the attention of their new human friends.
At the heart of the matter
It isn’t every day that a shipment of chicks meant for Alabama ends up so far off course, but it is every day that boxes packed with newborn chicks are sent through the postal service, headed to vendors, farmers, and hobbyists large and small.
Those who buy chicks online, from catalogues, or at feed stores support the very same types of facilities that supply large egg producers. The chick business is not an alternative to the factory farming industry, it is part of it — and it’s characterized by the same cruel practices.
The brutal deaths of male chicks
The majority of male chicks are considered useless by hatcheries that supply egg-laying chickens, which have very few order requests for roosters. Most are killed within a day of emerging from their eggs. Common methods of disposal include gassing chicks; stuffing chicks into plastic bags and throwing them into dumpsters to die slowly of suffocation or exposure; electrocution, and tossing live, conscious chicks into a macerating machine that grinds them into pulp for fertilizer. Because the sexual distribution of hatched chicks is roughly fifty–fifty, any purchase of female chicks represents the death of an equal number of male chicks.
Chick sexing is an inexact science, however, so some male chicks are misidentified as female and escape this early death. These survivors seldom fare well, though. Shipped to customers who do not want roosters or cannot legally keep them, hundreds of male chickens are dumped at municipal shelters, where they are typically euthanized, and hundreds more are abandoned to contend with harsh weather, starvation, and predators. Farm Sanctuary and other shelters field dozens of rooster placement requests every month, more than any rescue network could hope to accommodate.
The shipping of day-old chicks through the mail
Hatcheries ship day-old birds through the postal service without any legal oversight. During journeys of up to 72 hours, these chicks are deprived of food and water and are exposed to extremes in temperature. As Dr. Jean Cypher, a veterinarian specializing in avian medicine notes, “A day-old chick can no more withstand three days in a dark crowded box than can any other newborn.” Other experts in avian medicine and behavior agree that transporting day-old chicks in boxes for the first 24 to 72 hours of life is cruel and medically detrimental to the birds. We know from past rescues just how detrimental, and in fact fatal, this practice can be.
Apologists may argue that it is in the interest of hatcheries to ensure chicks reach their destinations in good health and that the businesses therefore take precautions such as providing air holes and requesting that customers be alerted as soon as shipments have arrived.
In fact hatcheries, like other factory farming businesses, are not interested in going out of their way to protect the well-being of their animals. Because they produce on such a large scale, it is cheaper for them simply to replace sick, injured, or dead animals than to prevent illness, injury, and death. Suppliers offer guarantees to replace chicks who have died during transport or add a few extras to the shipment to account for the probable “losses.” Whether or not mail-order chicks survive shipping, it is an awful experience inflicted upon them during their very first days of life.
What can we do?
The good news is that there is a way for well-informed and prepared caregivers to provide homes for chickens without supporting cruel industry practices: Adopt.