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May 17. 2012 11:53PM

More than 500 baby chicks died in the mail


Owners of a Swanzey store want answers after a more than 500 baby chicks sent to the store by mail arrived dead. (MEGHAN PIERCE)

KEENE — The recent deaths of more than 500 chicks en route to two local stores were not caused by procedures at the Keene Post Office, a spokesperson said Thursday.

Elizabeth Mitchell, assistant manager of Cheshire Horse in Swanzey, though, says she questions whether procedures for caring for the live chicks were followed.

The Cheshire Horse has been ordering chicks through the mail for the past five years from a hatchery in Ohio and has never had received a dead chick, Mitchell said. This year, the store was asked to start picking up their chicks at the Keene Post Office instead of the post office in Swanzey.

When Mitchell went to the Keene Post Office on the morning of May 3 to pick up an order of 250 chicks she found most of the chicks dead.

“That particular order we witnessed them outside in the cold on the dock and it was a very cold windy morning,” Mitchell said. “When we picked up the order there were about 20 that were barely alive so we nursed them back to health and tried to hand feed them back to life, but only 10 survived.”

Newly hatched chicks need to be kept warm. For the first week they fair best in temperatures between 90 and 95 degrees.

Dana Coe, manager of Achille Agway in Keene, said she also picked up an order of mostly deceased chicks on April 18.

“We get our chicks from New Mexico,” Coe said, and was expecting an order of 350 chicks.

“When they came in, 325 were dead and we lost another 15 overnight.

Somewhere along the chain they had gotten chilled,” Coe said.

Tom Rizzo, spokesman of the Northern New England division of the postal service, said Thursday that poultry orders come in early in the morning and when they arrive the customer is called immediately and asked to come pick up the delivery.

“We're very conscious of the fact that we are dealing with live chicks and as soon as they come in in the morning they call them,” Rizzo said.

Rizzo said he has spoken to the Keene postmaster who said the chicks were never left out in the cold overnight, as Mitchell has suggested.

In fact postal workers were alerted that something was amiss with the order because the birds weren't peeping.

“When they arrived they weren't chirping so they knew something was wrong right there,” Rizzo said. “The notion that they were left out overnight is incorrect. . To assign blame to the Keene Post Office is not at all accurate.”

“The chicks are shipped from fair away across the country,” Rizzo said. “It could have been a variety of factors at work.”

Coe said she has been ordering chicks and picking them up at the Keene Post Office since 1980 and has never seen any deceased poultry in her shipments.

Coe said she likes to consolidate orders for a warmer trip for the baby birds, so she usually orders anywhere from 300 to 700 chicks a couple of times a month.

The chicks were insured by the hatchery and so another order was sent out the following week and her store did not lose any chick orders.

Coe said she is inclined to believe the chicks were not harmed at her local post office, adding that the Achille Agway location in Brattleboro, Vt., recently received a similar order of dead and dying chicks.

“We believe they got chilled somewhere along the line. Quite honesty I don't think it was my post office here,” Coe said. “It was somewhere along the chain from when they were shipped to when they got to New Hampshire.

My complaint was with the hatchery.”

Mitchell, though, filed a complaint with the post office through the postal service's consumer affairs hotline after a call to the Keene postmaster failed to resolve the issue, she said.

“We are very concerned that the Keene Post Office was not following proper protocol for handling the live birds. They leave the hatchery very healthy with nutrition to go in the boxes and there's no reason they shouldn't arrive healthy,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said she has received no formal response to her complaint, but was contacted the following day by the Keene Post Office and told she would resume collecting her orders in Swanzey, though, she knows her orders are first delivered to Keene then to Swanzey.

Still Mitchell is happier with the new arrangement. “We've had three orders in May in Swanzey and we haven't lost a single bird.”

While Cheshire Horse was also reimbursed for its loss by its hatchery, Mitchell said she lost some customers and disappointed others.

“Most of the customers were able to wait another week but of course it was inconvenient for them and it's so hard to tell people we don't have their birds. Our staff had a really hard time that day,” Mitchell said.

The backyard poultry industry has grown tremendously over the past few years, Mitchell said.

“The majority of our birds go to backyard poultry and are usually raised for free range organic meat or fresh eggs,” she said. “About two years ago it really took off. In general people are more conscious about where their foods comes from and it's fun. We have families that have so much fun.

Their kids can go out and collect eggs and chickens are so much fun to watch. They also eat bugs and ticks off the lawn.”


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