Baby chicks are dying in the mail. One hatchery lost 4,800 in a single shipment

August 21, 2020, 1:54 AM UTC

Thousands of baby chicks shipped to New England farmers have arrived dead since the U.S. Postal Service cut operations in recent months, adding to concerns about mail-delivery disruptions under investigation in Congress.

Haden Gooch, 29, who raises broiler chickens on a farm in Monmouth, Maine, said he’s received 500 dead chicks over his last two shipments, losing about a fifth of his stock each time. Over six years of farming, he can’t remember losing more than 25 in a shipment before.

“I’m kind of freaked out. For me, that’s a significant loss,” Gooch said. “You’re talking thousands of dollars in lost revenue each time, and farming is such a thin-margin business.”

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Representative Chellie Pingree, a Maine Democrat who raises chickens on her own small organic farm, said her office recently started receiving numerous complaints about such losses. She’s raising the issue in a letter she’s circulating among congressional colleagues that she plans to send Friday to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

DeJoy is set to be questioned Friday by the Senate Homeland Security Committee on an efficiency drive that spurred complaints of delivery disruptions. That’s amid a broader fight between President Donald Trump and Democrats over mail-in voting.

Steve Doherty, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service in Boston, said it’s “not aware of any upsurge” in dead chicks. “We have no claims locally that would approach the numbers reported,” he said in an emailed statement.

Survival Window

Hatcheries have been sending chicks through the mail since the postmaster general granted such permission in 1918, according to the U.S. Postal Service website. Newborn chicks can survive 72 hours without food or water, thanks to nutrients from the egg yolk, which they ingest immediately before hatching.

“Only because of what I would call these made-up problems at the post office, a system has broken down that has worked well for a hundred years,” Pingree said in a telephone interview. “It appears to be either the delaying of mail or mishandling by private contractors.”

Pingree said in her letter that one hatchery had a shipment of 4,800 chicks arrive in New England with all of the animals dead.

If problems with mail delivery of baby chicks become prevalent, it could cause price increases and spot shortages in specialized chicken and eggs such as locally grown, free-range and organic products that are more often produced by smaller operations, said Sanchoy Das, a professor of supply chain engineering at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Mass-market chickens and eggs are mostly produced by larger operations that don’t rely on mail delivery of chicks, Das said.

But mail delivery of chicks is especially important to smaller poultry farms and enthusiasts who raise chickens in their backyards, a pastime that Pingree said has grown more popular in rural Maine since the Covid-19 crisis forced families to spend more time at home.

Gooch, who produces 6,500 pasture-raised chickens for a local meat company during the six months of warmer weather, said he could drive to Pennsylvania to pick up chicks from a hatchery. But he’d have to take time off his other job and would have to buy or rent a larger truck.

The Portland Press Herald of Maine previously reported the delivery problems with chicks.

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