I recently helped a friend figure out what was happening to his shipment of chicks, only to find out they weren't sent through any time-guaranteed delivery service! The carrier could have held the chicks forever, and not be held liable for any damages. So naturally, the carrier took their time and didn't rush the package, and he lost several chicks during transit.
And as a regular contributor on the Buy-Sell-Trade forums, I'm always wondering how people get their shipping prices so incredibly high. $20 for a batch of eggs that stay within the continental U.S. is actually fairly high.
So I decided to write an article based on what I know about the shipping industry, that can help chicken owners save money, and lives.
Most chicken owners seem to have settled on the U.S.P.S. for sending and receiving eggs. They are the only company that will ship live day-old poultry at reasonable rates. And they can both pick up and deliver directly to your door every single day without an extra charge. UPS and FedEx tend to be very address-specific. They don't stop by your house unless you have something arriving, or you have scheduled a pick-up with them in advance. But the postal service is there at your house six days of the week, regardless of whether or not you have a package. So it tends to be much cheaper to use them to send packages out, and that is usually the main thing chicken owners look at when moving poultry.
But despite common knowledge, the postal service is actually NOT a federally-funded company, supported by your tax dollars. They are a private company, and their sole source of income is what they get from you when you pay postage. Recently, they estimated about 60% of the income for the postal service, is in shipping packages. Bulk business mail pays for another large portion, and stamps and letter-sized envelopes are one of the smallest sources of income from the postal service. Also, despite the recent downturn news you have probably heard, the postal service is indeed turning a profit. So it's not going away anytime soon!
That being said, I'm going to cover the postal service here in my tips for shipping poultry and eggs. It's the service most of us use, and it will still be around for a while.
The first thing we need to understand, is guaranteed timed delivery services. The postal service has only one - Express Mail. People often see packages being sent "Two-Day Priority" but that's not an actual guaranteed time of delivery. It's an estimate. Packages sent via priority can very easily get delayed somewhere, and the mail handlers aren't really pressed to get it back on track to deliver it on that estimated delivery date. When something is sent priority, it is a priority for them to move it, and it requires scanning after every action, but it's not the top priority.
Express is the only shipping service through the U.S. Postal service that is guaranteed to arrive by a certain time on a certain date. It's the only service that allows mail handlers to step outside of their bounds to make sure that package moves towards it's destination. That could include the post master himself getting in his own car and driving out to your residence to ensure that you get the package before the scheduled delivery time. So it is the top priority within the company. Move the express packages, or else...
Because of this, Express Delivery is also a refundable shipping charge. If it says the package is supposed to be delivered by 3pm that day, and it arrives at 3:01pm, you are entitled to a refund of the shipping cost and you still get to keep the package. If it was insured and arrived damaged and late, you get the insurance money, the shipping cost, and the package itself. But keep in mind that simple broken eggs or a dead chick is not considered a damaged item to the postal service. There has to be some damage to the package itself that caused the internal damage to the item.
So when shipping live chicks through the postal service, you should always use Express. The chicks only have a certain number of days until they use up the yolk sac and need food and water. Chances are, they are already at least 24 hours old before being shipped, so they can stand and walk properly. A delay in shipping will leave them without food and water even longer, and could cause them to perish. Remember, the postal service isn't in any rush to move any package aside from Express. So if live chicks get misplaced for a moment and miss a truck or a plane, they will be delayed. If they happen to run out of room on a plane for all of the packages, they will remove priority and standard mail to place express packages on there. But they won't remove express packages to make room for anything else.
Hatching eggs are a different story. Depending on the sender, most hatching eggs tend to be gathered in the few days prior to shipping, but can last for up to two weeks without a significant decrease in hatch rate. Most priority mail shipments will arrive within a few days - even across the country. So priority mail is acceptable for hatching eggs, because they don't need food or water during transit. It also includes some insurance to cover the package if it gets lost. And a completely lost package is probably the only way hatching eggs sent via Priority, won't arrive in time to keep a good hatch rate.
But in my experience, most people tend to go straight for the Flat-Rate boxes for priority mail. When sent as-is (no packaging) from the East Coast to the West Coast, it would only cost $9.92. Within the same state, it barely breaks $5. But the large flat rate box most people default to, costs over $17 to send out. So for hatching eggs, it may be best to buy your own box, and then send it out priority standard rate. Wal-mart has boxes available for about 50 cents in the same size as the large flat rate box - twelve inches wide, twelve inches deep, and 10 inches tall. But the shipping could be much cheaper than the flat-rate if you're only sending out about a dozen eggs.
Of course double-packing can make a box weigh more. But it's best to do your research before actually choosing a flat-rate box, to make sure you're not overcharging yourself, or your buyers. And you may want to factor in the cost of packaging the eggs, but there's even a trick to that.
When sending exactly a dozen eggs, one secure option is to put them in a paper mache egg carton. Place a single piece of bubble wrap over the top of the eggs to keep them still inside of the carton itself, and then close the carton. Bantam eggs may require two layers of bubble wrap, but it will be a tight fit when you close the carton. If you gently shake the carton, the eggs should not rattle against the sides of the carton. They should remain still.
Next, get the Priority "O-Shoe Box" from the post office. This is a non flat-rate box meant for shoes, but it's perfect for a carton of eggs, and doesn't have the flat-rate pricing! The box itself should be available for free from the post office.
Now wrap the carton itself in a couple of layers of bubble wrap. Then tape up one end of the priority box, and put some crumpled newspaper in it. Put the carton inside of it, on-end, and pack more newspaper around all four sides to give it a tight fit. It should be enough to help the carton stay in place. Next, put crumpled newspaper on top of the carton on the open end, and then seal it up. Turn the box so that the carton inside is "upright" and write "THIS SIDE UP" on top. Then put "FRAGILE: HATCHING EGGS" or whatever you usually write, on EVERY SINGLE SIDE of the box. Also put arrows on all sides pointing to the side labeled "THIS SIDE UP". And on the bottom of the box, write "OTHER SIDE UP" along with the usual fragile labeling. I typically try to put "DO NOT SHAKE" as well, because I have found that most people don't understand that it's bad to SHAKE a box of hatching eggs. This may also convince a postal employee to skip the sorting machines, which could save you a few detached air cells!
Print up your label online or at the post office, and put it on the side marked "THIS SIDE UP" and tape the edges down. DO NOT put tape over the actual barcode on the label. This may cause it to become unreadable by the scanner. Postal employees should know how to enter it manually, but the sorting machines still won't be able to read it. And the extra time spent manually entering the number at each stop could cause it to miss that plane or truck, and delay the package's arrival!
The worst part about shipping poultry - either live, or as an egg - is the sitting time. Most times, if a package is not moving, it's sitting on a truck somewhere. That means it is exposed to the elements. Because of this, if you are going to send eggs and the temperature will be below freezing along the route, you might want to add a heat pack. The same can be said for summertime temperatures that get above the triple digits - try adding an ice pack or two. Inside of a truck with a metal body, the temperature can be high enough to cook the hatching eggs before they ever reach their destination.
The last bit of advice I have to give is patience. If you're on the receiving end of shipped poultry or eggs, you're going to be ready to die of anticipation! You may update the tracking every minute, every hour, or every single chance you can steal on your phone while at work! But be patient. Just because you don't see any activity, doesn't mean your package is lost. UPS and FedEx tend to ship packages from one hub to the next, all the way across the country. The packages do get on a plane, but it could only be from one state to the next, where it gets unloaded, checks in at that hub, and then gets on another plane.
The postal service doesn't work like that. You tend to see a scan when it "leaves" the sort facility, which means the package is on it's way to the airport and getting put on a plane. The next time it will be scanned is when it arrives at your local sorting facility. So you may see something leave Aurora, Colorado, and arrive in Boulder, Colorado. But then it says it left there early this morning, and you know those flights only take a few hours. So where is it? It's probably at the airport being loaded onto or unloaded from the plane, on the truck being carried to the sort facility, or waiting to be unloaded at the sort facility. If the package required a connecting flight, the U.S.P.S. does NOT scan the package at the connection location like FedEx and UPS will. It won't be scanned again until it arrives at it's destination, leaves the airport, and arrives at the sorting facility. Some sorting locations don't even scan them until they have finished processing there, and they are ready for their next destination. From the sort facility to your local post office, it will go by truck and gets scanned when it gets loaded onto the truck - not when the truck actually leaves the sort facility. Once it arrives at your local post office, that is when you will either get the call for it, or it will be scanned as "out for delivery".
So hopefully this article helps you understand how the package makes it's way to you, what happens when a package leaves your hands, how you can best utilize the system, and how you can possibly save money when shipping packages out. But most importantly, it could help save a chicken's life by helping you understand that not everything is guaranteed to arrive within a certain time frame!