Safely Ship Day Old Chicks

Safely Ship Day Old Chicks

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Expand your market by learning how to carefully and effectively mail day-old live chicks throughout the United States.

By Rebecca Krebs You’ve been hatching and selling chicks locally for a few years now. Business is going well, and shipping day-old chicks is the logical next step to expand your market. But how do you ship chicks? Let’s look at the important details to know, including those our small hatchery uses to successfully ship thousands of chicks around the United States. 

State Requirements 

Each state has different health and permit regulations for the import of live poultry. These regulations may be found on the website of the state agency that oversees animal health. Most states require that the parent flock is tested clean of pullorum disease, fowl typhoid, and sometimes other diseases, such as bird flu. If you plan to regularly ship chicks between states, the best strategy is to get your flock certified as disease-free through the National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP). The NPIP ( is a cooperative state and federal program for the monitoring and testing of poultry disease that is recognized by all states. For more information about flock certification, contact your state’s official NPIP agency.  

Postal Requirements 

For the first few days of life, chicks are sustained by the yolk sac they absorb before hatching. This allows them to travel safely for up to three days without food or water. As a result, the United States Postal Service (USPS), the only courier that ships mail-order chicks, requires that baby poultry are no older than 24 hours when shipped and will be no older than 72 hours when they arrive. Chicks must also be properly packaged and labeled. Review the mailability requirements online in part 526 of USPS Publication 52, Hazardous, Restricted, and Perishable Mail ( 

Scheduling the Hatch 

Schedule the chicks to hatch early in the week to ensure that they ship and arrive before the weekend. We schedule hatches for Monday night. That way, if they hatch early, we ship them on Monday. If they hatch on time, we ship them on Tuesday, and if they hatch late, on Wednesday. Before mailing on Wednesdays, check that the destination post office receives mail on Saturdays. 

Account for post-hatch recuperation in your schedule. Chicks cannot be shipped immediately after they hatch. They need time in the incubator to dry off, rest, and stabilize before entering the jostling and unheated world of the postal system. We prefer to ship chicks that are between 10 and 18 hours old; the chicks are steady on their feet by then, but still have plenty of yolk reserves for the trip. 

Shipping Services 

The two services the USPS offers for shipping day-old chicks are Priority Mail and Priority Mail Express. Priority Mail is the overall the service preferred by the chick industry because it is inexpensive and usually gets chicks safely to their destination within 72 hours. 

Until 2020, our hatchery used both Priority Mail and Priority Mail Express, but the increase in package circulation and staffing shortages as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic negatively affected Priority Mail’s reliability. We switched almost entirely to Priority Mail Express, since it consistently arrives within 48 hours. The downside to Priority Mail Express is that it is more expensive, but we find that most customers are willing to pay extra for more reliable shipping. 

Whichever service you choose, ask your post office what time you need to drop off the box for it to go out with the day’s mail. 

Factoring in Weather 

Weather often determines the success or failure of a chick shipment. Our hatchery sees the best results in temperatures ranging between 25 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit on either end of the trip. With proper adaptive boxing, chicks can handle a wide range of conditions; however, we don’t ship during severe weather that grounds planes or otherwise interferes with mail delivery. Sometimes we must cancel or reschedule orders due to this. While inconvenient, the well-being of the chicks is our first priority, and the majority of customers understand. 

Packing Chicks 

For shipping day-old chicks, you will need: 

  • The customer’s physical address, phone number, and email address. 
  • Required health paperwork and import permit. 
  • Chick shipping box. 
  • Priority Mail Express or Priority Mail address label. 
  • Priority Mail Express or Priority Mail sticker labels. 
  • Excelsior bedding pad. 
  • 72-hour animal shipping warmers. 
  • Strapping tape to close the box. Packing tape does not adhere well to cardboard under tension. 
  • Black permanent marker.  
  • Extra cardboard.  
  • Insulation material.  
  • GroGel, if desired, for nutrition and hydration during shipping. 

Packing for weather is perhaps the most challenging part of shipping day-old chicks. From mid-October to mid-April, we ship a minimum of 25 chicks at a time, so that they’re able to maintain their own body heat in the cooler temperatures. For the rest of the year, we ship a minimum of 15 chicks. Include shipping warmers for shipments of 25 chicks if the temperatures dip below 45 degrees F, or for 15 chicks in temperatures below 65. In extremely cold weather, line the interior of the box with thin foam or corrugated cardboard, leaving some ventilation, and secure insulation with hot glue or heavy staples.  

Preparing the box depends on the design of the box you use. Our general rule of thumb is to cover the lower row of ventilation holes on the sides and most of the holes on the lid of the box. The warmer it is, the fewer holes we close. Once the temperatures reach 80 degrees F, we open all the holes.  

Use a cardboard divider to modify the interior size of a 25-chick-quantity box for an order of under 25 chicks. Chicks need to be boxed fairly close together for warmth and stability. The divider should reach the lid so the chicks cannot slip through the crack.  

Write “Live Chicks” and “Handle with Care” on the exterior sides of the box and “This is the Bottom: Please Gently Turn Over” on the bottom in case the box gets flipped. 

Crucial Communication 

Inform the customer of when the chicks are scheduled to ship, when they ship, and when to expect them, so that the customer can prepare for them. Provide care instructions, any special directions, and the tracking number upon shipment. 

If the shipping results are unsatisfactory, graciously resolve the problem with the customer. A clear sales policy regarding what you do and don’t guarantee is helpful in this respect. But more often than not, a couple days after shipment, you’ll receive the message: “Chicks arrived healthy and are settled in the brooder! Thank you!” 

Originally published in the December 2022/January 2023 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.

One thought on “Safely Ship Day Old Chicks”
  1. Well written article that does an excellent job of giving instructions to new shippers. My only difference of opinion is Priority vs. Priority Express. We have always felt that Express was no faster than Priority and we were able to confirm this in 2021. We ship for many hatcheries and one of those hatcheries requested we switch to Express mail exclusively in 2021 when service was poor by the USPS. The good part about this was it increased our sample size of express shipments. We had always offered Express but very few customers chose that option. Now we had 100 shipments a week going out by Express Mail. We have a report in our computer that tracks how many days it takes from mailing to delivery. Express was no faster and to some zip codes it was slower! The problem with Express mail is that it must travel in the late afternoon to Memphis and out the next morning but those flights oftentimes have medical supplies with dry ice (frozen carbon dioxide). Live animals cannot be put on FedEx flights with dry ice so the birds have to wait until the next flight, which is for Priority birds, and therefore travel and arrive with the Priority birds. You will notice in the regulations that an Express parcel that has lives has to be delivered in 4+ days before they will refund your money. For non-lives you can get a refund if an overnight guaranteed parcel takes two days. For lives it has to be at least four days – which means to me they make no guarantee for lives to get there in one or two days. Otherwise an excellent article!

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