The feathered express Postal service brings spring chickens

Thursday, March 25, 2010
Kylie Schlichte, of Merrill, checks out one of her two new ducklings she purchased from Bomgaars in Le Mars. The ducklings arrive in Le Mars through mail.

It's not often mail makes noise.

But when a certain type of package arrives at the Le Mars Post Office, Postmaster Dan Kelly can hear it even before he's in the building.

Baby chicks.

Hundreds of just-hatched fowl are delivered through the local post office every spring.

"It's just like if you were to send a letter," Kelly said of the crates of ducks and chicks, which can hold about 100 each, depending on the size of the birds.

The crates are brought in to the post office, then delivered by truck to the nearest mail processing plant.

From there, they are taken by airline to the receiving mail processing plant, where they are sorted and sent to the post office at their final destination, Kelly explained.

When they arrive in Le Mars, the crates of hatchlings are usually up in the front seat with the driver, Kelly said.

Most of the chicks, ducklings, goslings and poults (baby turkeys) that come through the Le Mars Post Office are headed for Bomgaars -- but they'll stay at the post office until a Bomgaars employee comes to pick them up.

"We just set the crate on the floor, preferably as far away from us as possible," Kelly said with a grin. "They are noisy."

One cool, early spring day, though, when Kelly was working at a post office in Wyoming, a crate of chicks came in that was quiet. Too quiet.

"Because we were suspicious something was wrong, so we lifted the cover," Kelly said. "Some of them looked dead. Some looked like they were dying. They'd gotten too cold."

A few of the clerks started massaging the tiny birds to warm them up. It worked.

"Out of the crate, we lost maybe three of them," Kelly said. "But we could have lost them all, very easily."

Bob Ernst, who has managed the farm department at Bomgaars for years, said they order between 1,500 and 2,000 live birds each year -- chickens and ducks of several varieties, geese, turkeys and guineas.

All of them are delivered by mail.

"They probably come from breeders in different parts of the U.S. and are shipped air freight," Ernst said, then smiled. "They're too young too fly. They don't have full wings yet, but they still fly here."

The hatchlings arrive 2 or 3 days old.

"They leave the place where they are hatched one day and are here the next day," Ernst said.

Usually, they don't want to eat much in their first few days after hatching, which works good for mailing them, he added.

The birds arrive in a special 24-by-32-inch packing crates with breathing holes and a few dividers so all the birds aren't piling up in one area and hurting themselves.

"They're always glad to get out of the box and under the light," Ernst said.

From Bomgaars, many of the birds go to acreages and farms to be used for meat or to lay eggs, control insects or be pets.

People might buy 100 broiler chickens or a few ducks for pets -- orders come in all sizes.

"A lot of them are 4-H projects," Ernst said. "That's what I like to see. The birds go to families with kids who will take care of the poultry and work with them."

That teaches responsibility and gives youth confidence, he said.

Bomgaars sells live poultry until sometime in May.

As the birds get older, some learn to fly while they're still at Bomgaars and escape from their pens.

"The ladies in the clothing department don't like it when birds roost over there," Ernst chuckled. "They do leave their signature."

At the post office, Kelly said he's seen live adult chickens come through.

"They were much quieter," he said.

The post office also has delivered live critters like crickets and even bees.

Along with live birds and bugs, the post office sometimes handles dead animals -- for taxidermists, Kelly explained.

He takes it all in stride.

"It's business," Kelly said "It's part of the post office."

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