For people who want to start a new flock of poultry, or bring some new genetic material into an existing flock, there are a number of options for obtaining additional birds. In rural areas, a feed store or farm hatchery will often sell chicks, ducklings, and goslings during the spring, although the available breeds may be limited. For a wider selection of birds, including exotic birds like guinea fowl and peacocks, many people prefer to mail order poultry from a professional hatchery. Mail ordering poultry is very easy, and most companies guarantee live delivery. It is also possible to order fertile eggs for incubation.
When live poultry is ordered, the company usually requires a minimum order. The order fills a small box which is lined with straw, with the birds keeping each other warm through the shipping process. The box is built to be sturdy and provide plenty of air to the young birds, and is clearly stamped with markings indicating that it contains live poultry. Most mail carriers accept live birds as long as they are well packaged and sent via the fastest available delivery method to prevent mortality during shipping. Once the box arrives, the consumer unpacks it with care and sets the baby birds up in a brooder to mature.
In general, live poultry is shipped when it is less than a week old. The hatchery usually offers a sexing service, which is especially valuable which birds which are being raised for eggs. Usually, female birds are priced slightly higher, because there is more demand for them and because sexing them requires more work than simply packaging the birds for the mail. Poultry being ordered for meat is generally not sexed, because the gender of the bird is not important.
The primary reason for mail ordering poultry is to obtain rare or exotic breeds of ducks, chickens, and geese. Many of these breeds become ornamental friends around the barn yard, rather than a source of food. Exotic breeds are colorful, and often have decorative crests or feathers on their feet, along with a distinctive appearance. Chickens, especially, come in a myriad of shapes and sizes which can be quite fun for hobbyists to raise. Teachers sometimes mail order fertilized eggs for their students, and small botanical gardens may use mail order poultry as a source for ornamental species like peacocks and ducks.