A crowded box of chicks sat at the post office unclaimed and ready to be stamped “Return to Sender” — until the peeping sounds from within moved a compassionate mail worker to take action. Incredibly, 15 of the 16 chicks within had survived their journey from Wisconsin to New York. But the survivors might have perished, waiting for a customer who never came, or expired in transit back to Wisconsin while being returned to sender — the standard procedure for an unclaimed box, even one containing live chicks. These manners of death are common in the hatchery industry. But these particular chicks met with uncommon kindness. A worker at the post office refused to see their suffering as someone else’s problem. He found them sanctuary.
Standard Shipping Procedure
Perilous journeys through the U.S. postal system are the standard start to life for the millions of chicks born each year in the hatchery industry. Just two years ago, we rescued more than 100 chicks after a shipping snafu sent them nearly a thousand extra miles from their intended destination.
Many hatchery chicks are bound for backyard hobby flocks, which have surged in popularity during the last few years. The trend may be driven in part by a desire to eschew factory-farmed eggs, but the chicks bought by hobbyists through catalogs and feed stores come from giant industrial hatcheries of the same sort that supply factory farms. The chick business is not an alternative to the factory farming industry, it is part of it. It treats animals as mere inputs and outputs in a mass-production model.
Hatcheries ship day-old chicks through the postal service without any legal oversight. During journeys of up to 72 hours, these chicks are deprived of food and water and exposed to extremes in temperature. As veterinarian Jean Cypher of the Avian Medical Center in Oregon has previously noted, “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. In fact, it is often fatal.
Because hatcheries 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. Tossed about like so much raw material and sometimes mangled in the machinery of hatchery assembly lines, many chicks never even make it to their treacherous passage through the mail.
This is to say nothing of the particularly harsh fate allotted to male chicks at hatcheries. To learn more about what happens to roosters in the chick industry, and the hobby flock, read the story of Weechee and his friends.
Chicks are extremely delicate; they require a carefully controlled climate, proper nutrition, and close monitoring to make it through their first days in good health. Yet for the first four days of their lives, the chicks in the box from Wisconsin were treated with about as much care as a few handfuls of ping-pong balls. Their fortunes changed drastically when someone finally saw them as fellow creatures in need of compassion.
The concerned postal worker took the chicks home and, with the help of a fellow good Samaritan, cared for the babies for days while seeking a permanent home. When the two reached out to us, we immediately offered the chicks a place at our New York Shelter. The kind souls drove their feathered friends to the shelter that night.
Despite the ordeal they survived, the members of this flock are now doing well. With expert care and lots of attention, these sweet, funny, and curious little beings have every chance to thrive. Their new lives began with the decision of one post office worker to follow his heart instead of his protocols. Though few of us will ever have a box of imperiled chicks on our hands, we too have opportunities to interrupt business-as-usual and do a little something extraordinary. Visit our Compassionate Communities Campaign page to get started.