Inside Look at a Hatchery

See what goes into getting your peeping baby chicks via USPS.


| September/October 2017



eggshells

A chick hatchery is an exciting place.

Photo by Getty Images/offstocker

There’s nothing in the world quite like baby chicks: cheeping, peeping, adorable bundles of fluff. Every spring and summer, thousands of people participate in the annual ritual of raising baby chicks. More than a few also add baby ducks, geese, turkeys, and guinea fowl to their growing flocks.

Some poultry keepers enjoy the fun of watching mother hen sit on the eggs and hatch-out her own little brood. Many of us, your author included, have bought baby poultry on impulse during a trip to the feed store. Quite a few of us still order chicks from our favorite hatcheries. Whether we order them online or lie in bed night after night looking at the latest color catalog from the hatchery, it is very exciting to finally get to go to the post office and pick up that new box of baby chicks.

But have you ever wondered what all goes into getting that box of chicks from the hatchery to your post office or local feed store? I recently visited two separate hatcheries to learn the process and share what I learned. It was not easy to choose which hatcheries to visit, as there are so many reputable and wonderful hatcheries out there. I had the opportunity to visit Schlecht Hatchery, in Miles, Iowa, and Johnson’s Waterfowlin Middle River, Iowa.

Family matters

A family-owned business, Schlecht Hatchery has been in operation for more than 60 years and has a loyal customer base. Owned and operated by Etta and Greg Culver, and with the help and partnership of their two adult daughters, Marie and Katie, the hatchery has remained a family business. Started by Etta’s parents as a hobby in 1955, the hatchery soon grew in popularity and success. Etta and Greg grew up as neighbors, became high-school sweethearts, and purchased the hatchery from her parents in 1996. In 1999, they built the structure that now houses the business. Over the years, the business grew mainly by word of mouth. Etta said that even with the internet, a lot of their business still comes from happy customers making recommendations to their friends.

When my wife and I arrived at the hatchery on a Tuesday morning, Marie and Etta greeted us with a warm Midwest welcome. We soon found ourselves in front of trays of newly hatched, peeping baby chicks. We watched as Etta, Marie, and Eugene Burken, a retired farmer from across the road, placed the chicks in boxes to be sent to customers. Eugene, who raised and hatched game-birds for many years, is a valuable team member to have in one’s corner. He has an “understanding of the incubators, inside and out,” and is very skilled in diagnosing problems.

Hatching some 150,000 baby chicks per year from the hatchery’s breeding stock, the Culvers maintain the business as a “no-kill hatchery.” Many larger hatcheries often find it necessary to euthanize day-old, male chicks, or cockerels. Unless they are a breed that develops muscle for meat in a relatively short time or are needed for breeding, there is little market for many hatcheries’ excess male chicks. Few people are looking for an abandoned baby rooster to adopt as a pet.





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