by Liz Palmer @blackberryhillfarmwa
You might be wondering how The Flock Directory came about? Here is my story that led me on this journey.
In early 2021 I sat down eagerly with the Metzer Farms catalog to order some waterfowl. I had already "mastered" chickens (lol), and I was ready to take on a new challenge - ducks and geese! I had done my research, knew what breeds I wanted - 2 black runners, 2 cayuga, and 2 pilgrim geese. I ordered them from the largest waterfowl hatchery in the USA. I did everything right - right?
I waited 4 months until the weather was warm enough for them to ship - on a Monday morning in April I got the shipping notification and started tracking them eagerly. They were just shipping from California to Washington, not that far. I got my brooder all ready to go - food, water, heat plate - check check check. I tracked them a day later - no movement - a day later - no movement - a day later....still in California.
I called the hatchery and explained that the tracking showed they were still at the shipping center where they were dropped off right near the hatchery. She said they couldn't do anything about it, and was unwilling to check in with their contact. I tried to get in touch with an actual person at the shipping center - if you have ever tried to do that it is nearly impossible. I was able to get in touch with a local post office in California who then patched me through to someone in the shipping center. I spent hours on the phone. Finally on Thursday I talked to someone in the shipping center who confirmed that they had been put on a plane that day.
The box arrived in Seattle around midnight on Thursday and was put immediately on a truck for our local post office. I received a call about 5am that the box had arrived and was ready for pickup. I rushed out the door in my pajamas praying that somehow they had made it. Almost 5 days in a box, but I held on to hope. Ducklings dont need to eat for the first 72 hours, so maybe the hatchery had put enough food and heat packs to last.
I arrived at the post office. The worker there told me he had already looked in the box because it was quiet. We live in a rural town, they are used to getting boxes of chicks in the mail and hearing all the chirping. This was silent. I carried the box gingerly to my car and opened the lid. Heartbreaking stillness.
I can't properly express the sadness, frustration, heartbreak, and guilt. I knew there had to be a better way than this. These innocent babies should not have spent their entire lives in a box, never feeling sun or grass, getting treats, or swimming. It was inexcusable. They were packed with one small cup of gro-gel that was completely empty, and one cold heat pack.
I brought them home and held each one before I buried them on our farm. They will forever have a place here and be part of my story.
The guilt I felt for having put them through this torture was immense. I needed to take action. I started researching and realized this was not an isolated event. In fact, this was happening often - reviews on Facebook and BBB showed a grisly truth - dozens of boxes of babies arriving silent. Hundreds of baby birds dead. Yes there was an issue with the postal service, but more than that an issue with the hatcheries. They were not offering overnight shipping, or packing with extra heat pads and extra gro-gel. They were sacrificing these lives for profit. What did they do when I called to tell them about my shipment - they offered to send more out the following week! Not even an apology or remorse. I took the refund, there was no way I would gamble with more lives.
I took to social media to spread the word, I responded to every message of someone that had been through a similar situation. I pleaded with people to cancel their order. I put together a petition and got over 1000 signatures and sent it off to Metzer Farms. They took notice and I had an email conversation with John Metzer. I will share our entire email thread in another blog post, but changes were being made. They started offered overnight shipping, and said they were now using 96 hour heat packs and 2 cups of gro-gel. I was glad to see changes, but this issue was not isolated to this one hatchery and there was still the issue of shipping chicks through the mail.
My friend Jade @jademblock reached out to me and said she had the idea for a flock directory, to connect people with local breeders and small hatcheries. Brilliant! I hopped on board with her and this led us to create this directory.
We hope that we can change the face of the poultry industry - connecting people with local breeders, providing healthier birds without the stress of travel. We know that sometimes you want a certain breed - hatching eggs that can be mailed are a great way to get your breed without stress to live birds. I also know sometimes live chicks are the only option, and from my research small hatcheries pack their birds with the utmost care and give them the greatest chance at life. This is why we are supporting SMALL hatcheries that truly put the welfare of their animals above profit.
This is a not for profit website to support those small breeders and hatcheries, to change the system that is in place, and to save lives of these babies in the process. Support small, get healthy poultry, and connect with your local poultry community!
At the end of May I was able to find local breeders and got my flock of geese and ducks. I would never want anyone to go through this heartbreak, but I hope that my story inspires you to look for a better way. To support small breeders and the welfare of these animals.