When it comes to springtime, visions of baby animals such as chicks and ducklings enter the minds of many. People initiated with farm life might imagine a bright red “Chick Days” advertisement at a local farm store. Baby birds are readily available at most farm supply stores from spring to summer, with no requirement for purchase aside from having a few bucks in your pocket. Although it might be consistent with farm supply that these animals would come from local farms, they actually came from the post office. The fuzzy, peeping, newborn chicks and ducklings at these stores were actually not hatched there, but endured a hellish trip that cost the lives of baby animals each day of the breeding season.
Hatcheries, the businesses responsible for supplying stores with baby birds, churn out hundreds of thousands of animals per year. These are not farms; they are factories. Typically, just one or two factory hatcheries will provide babies for most of any given region. During peak production, newborns spend less than a day at the hatchery and are immediately prepared for shipment. There is no food and certainly no mother present throughout this process. Shortly before hatching, newborn chicks and ducklings ingest the last bit of yolk within their eggs. This is typically the only nourishment to fuel them throughout a 3-day shipping time. If they survive, their first meal will be when they arrive at the farm supply store.
Chicks spend their first hours of life on machinery, being separated by sex. Some hatcheries send out “straight run” shipments to farm supply stores containing both male and female chicks, while others send the males to maceration.
Under normal circumstances, chicks and ducklings would be hatched under their mother and receive her warmth, nourishment, socialization, and guidance for multiple weeks. Chicks and ducklings would not be without her crucial temperature regulating abilities until much later, as perfect temperatures are crucial for newborn birds. This is just one requirement of survival withheld from birds during shipping. When they’re on the shipping truck and packed in cargo, they will be tasked with enduring regional weather and seasonal extremes or they will suffer and perish. Not only are these animals without food and water, but they are without the one thing that they require to stay alive. Death from overheating, freezing, exposure, and stress is a routine part of the business. In a shipment of hundreds of baby birds, only a few may arrive intact to their destination.
Out of a shipment of one hundred chicks, only one box arrived alive to the farm supply store. From that box, only four survived. This chick is covered in the liquid remains of her siblings that died in shipment.
Source: Good Sprout Rescue and Sanctuary
Legal regulations for shipping day-old birds such as chicks, ducklings, and goslings are few and far between. The only existing requirements of the United States Postal Service to live ship day-old hatchlings center around the construction of the packaging, that the package is shipped early in the week, and that it’s delivered within 72 hours. The regulations for live shipping hatchlings entered effect in 1918, and have been largely unchanged for the past century. There have been no upgrades or further efforts towards animal protection since that time.
Ducklings are prepared for shipment and endure the trip crammed together. They are offered no food, water, or comfort for the next three days as they are packed on trucks and moved from place to place. Many will not survive.
Farmed animals such as chickens and ducks have practically no legal protections on their side in this court. The only federal law that protects any farmed animals in transport is the 28 Hour Law, which pertains to slaughterhouse transport, and requires drivers to stop every 28 hours. Strangely, farmed birds are not even considered animals in other laws, such as the Humane Slaughter Act. This act requires that animals are rendered unconscious before slaughter, but does not consider birds to be animals. Thus, chickens (which make up over 95% of the animal agriculture industry) are not protected under this law.
Hatcheries that produce hundreds of thousands of birds often produce babies with severe genetic and developmental issues. This duckling’s leg was twisted so that their foot was behind them. Even under the care of a veterinarian at an animal rescue, they did not survive.
Source: Good Sprout Rescue and Sanctuary
There are rarely health checks before shipment, and never during or after the transport of these newborn animals. Hundreds of babies will arrive at any given farm supply store, and no animal care expert or veterinarian will be there to meet them. Many babies are dead on arrival, having perished during their journey, while others are disfigured, ill, dehydrated, or starving. Workers of farm supply stores are not expected to have any animal care background. Dead hatchlings are tossed in the garbage while their brothers and sisters are sold for mere dollars. Patrons of the store are not vetted for experience or background checked for animal cruelty. Farmed birds like chickens and ducks are not very different from expensive specialty parrots; they both live a decade or longer, have intensive social requirements, need space, enrichment, and community, and periodically require the care of an avian veterinarian. Yet the farmed species are produced en masse and available to all members of the public regardless of intentions.
The standard of both production and care for these complicated animals is based upon negligence. During chick days, thousands of these readily-available ducklings and chicks are bought as Easter presents and toys – then discarded when they grow too large to be worth the effort. Duck dumping is an issue that plagues hundreds of lakes and ponds throughout the United States, and occurs most frequently during this time. Domestic ducklings are often abandoned at parks while still helpless and peeping, suffering until their death from exposure and predation. Ducks that are abandoned as adults are quickly consumed by predators given their lack of survival skills and inability to fly. Chicks that end up as roosters may be discarded anywhere, as rooster dumping is another similarly prominent issue. By the end of Spring, rescues are flooded with unwanted male birds. Rescues have to work overtime to find safe homes for drakes, roosters, and ganders due to their previous owners not accounting for their future at purchase.
Ash and Olive, two bonded ducks that live in sanctuary after being used as toys for a child and then discarded. Their previous owner brought them in a trashcan.
Source: Sweet Peace Farm Sanctuary
All ducks, chickens, geese, and farmed birds deserve to have long, fulfilling lives. The only way to move forward and end the suffering of hundreds of thousands of newborn birds every year is to oppose both the hatcheries and consequential “chick days” offered by farm supply stores. The cruelty, suffering, and negligence they face is far too great to be worth our entertainment. Instead of buying chicks and ducklings from the store, consider providing a safe home to them by adopting from an animal rescue. Many fowl rescues offer long-distance transportation options to achieve suitable homes for their adoptable birds. Instead of buying baby animals for Easter, consider visiting a 501(c)3 animal sanctuary to meet and learn about the different animals there. If you are a teacher, instead of doing a school hatchery project, consider these alternatives such as bird-watching or other forms of humane education. Cruel practices will only continue if they remain financially supported. We can stop the cruelty by partaking in alternatives.