One of the most common questions I get from folks who don’t have chickens, but know that we ship hatching eggs all over the U.S., is this: “How in the world do you send eggs in the mail without them breaking?”
They are often surprised when I tell them that preventing breakage during transit is easy. The trick, though, is to pack an egg well enough that it not only doesn’t break, but also develops into a healthy, thriving chick. That, my friends, is no small feat–especially when shipping and incubating conditions are outside of our control.
Once the eggs leave our hands and enter the labyrinth of the USPS, their ultimate fate is beyond our influence. They will face unpredictable handling in transit, and experience a range of incubation conditions. Our part in ensuring a good hatch for our customers is to pack their eggs with the utmost care. With a bit of trial and error, we’ve found a safe, reliable packing method for our hatching eggs that works for us–and I’ll show you exactly how we do it in this post.
Of course, there’s more than one effective way to pack hatching eggs for shipping. I’ll also share some general best practices for shipping eggs, and discuss a couple good alternatives to our method.
Why Hatching Egg Packing Methods Matter
First, why is good packing so important?
The average hatch rate for shipped eggs is 50% (and I wouldn’t be surprised if that has decreased over the pandemic while the USPS has been under strain). This is because eggs go through an incredibly rough and tumble process to get to their destination: trucks, planes, conveyor belts, and more.
Keep in mind, that number is an average. While most of our customers report average-to-good hatch rates, they have experienced hatch rates on shipped eggs that range from 12% to almost 100% (with eggs from the same breeding groups, shipped in the same time frame). Those extremes are due to variations in shipping conditions, as well as incubation.
Any given package will endure a range of factors that influence the hatch rate, from extreme temperatures to rough handling. The photo above reminds us that whatever idyllic Norman Rockwell-esque image we might have in our minds about the inner workings of the post office is just that: an image.
Shipping an egg without it breaking is pretty easy, and all you need to do if an egg is destined to be eaten. But hatching eggs must be packed and protected well enough to hatch a healthy chick after travel. Seems almost impossible after seeing the above photo, but it can be done, and breeders like us do it all the time.
None of this info is meant to be discouraging. Shipping hatching eggs is definitely worth the effort--and risk. With the postal system under stress, it's a wonderful way to expand your flock and support small scale farms without putting chicks through the mail. In terms of biosecurity, it's also a safer way incorporate new birds into your flock, since many avian diseases are not passed through the egg.
So now that we've talked about why good hatching egg packaging is so important, let's get into how to do it.
Best Practices for Shipping Hatching Eggs
The issue of how to ship hatching eggs is an age-old question. Just take a look at this excerpt from Nature’s Way, published in 1910.
Even though we’ve been collectively pondering this question for pretty much ever, we haven’t reached complete consensus. If you've ordered hatching eggs through the mail ten times, you've probably seen ten different packing methods. While there are a number of effective strategies for packing hatching eggs, all of them have the following best practices in common:
How We Pack Our Hatching Eggs for Shipping
When we set out to create a method for packing our hatching eggs, we wanted to incorporate the best practices outlined above, and keep our eggs as secure as possible while creating a minimum of waste.
For us, this means individually wrapping and double boxing our eggs, while using a combination of materials that are compostable, reused, or made from post-consumer content.
Press play to see our packing method in action:
Let's break down these steps:
1. First, we individually wrap each egg in bubble wrap that’s reused or made from post-consumer content.
2. Next, we secure our wrapped eggs between two egg carton flats with packing tape. For this step, we use an egg flat for thirty eggs, cut in half to make a top and bottom. This fits inside our smaller box perfectly, and allows us to ship up to 15 eggs at once: a dozen plus up to three extras, if available (I love surprising our customers with extras!).
3. This bundle goes into a Medium Flat Rate Priority Mail box and is protected by compostable packing peanuts, which can be composted or disintegrated in water.
4. The first box is sealed, then placed into a Large Priority Mail box, again with compostable packing peanuts on all sides. Any gaps are filled with newspaper or bits of reused packaging from shipments we’ve received in the mail.
5. After tucking in some hatching egg instructions and info, we seal the box, making sure the box is full (no dead space) but also easy to close without any bulging or pressure on the eggs.
6. On the outside of the box, we affix some labels: your standard “fragile” and “this side up,” and some custom hatching egg labels I designed. And of course, we attach our NPIP paperwork to the outside of every box, too.
That’s our method. It works for us, but definitely has pros and cons. The pros are that it’s a very effective method that produces relatively little waste–just a small amount of bubble wrap that can be reused. The main con is that it's also more time consuming than other methods, but we like to save time by batch preparing our supplies.
Other Shipping Methods
The sawdust method: Take a large size 7 Priority Mail box and fill it halfway with pine shavings. Then place an egg carton with one dozen hatching eggs inside the box (it will fit if placed diagonally). Fill any empty space inside the egg carton with shavings as well, and close. Fill the rest of the box with pine shavings (tightly enough to hold the egg carton in place without overfilling) and seal the box. This method produces no trash, as all of the materials inside can be reused or composted. It doesn’t feel quite as snug to me as our current method, but I’d like to experiment with this strategy once the current shipping situation calms down. This method could also be adjusted to incorporate double boxing.
Foam shippers: You can purchase foam shippers for eggs, which hold the eggs snugly and can be double boxed as well. The downside of these shippers (and why we don’t use them) is that they are only really used for eggs, and so create a bit of waste unless reused for the same purpose.
Other Considerations When Shipping Hatching Eggs
Temperature: If you can, avoid shipping eggs or having eggs shipped during periods of extreme temperature. We wait until the end of February/first week of March to begin shipping, and ship less during July, our hottest month of the year.
Holidays and Long Weekends: Even if the Post Office is closed, the mail is always moving behind the scenes. This is why we can safely ship eggs on a Saturday–our packages will still be actively moving through the system even on a Sunday. However, we’ve learned the hard way that holidays and long weekends are the exception to this. Even though the mail is moving, the extra volume/reduced staffing around holidays and long weekends can overwhelm the post office and cause delays, especially now. So we avoid shipping during these times. It’s important to note here that while hatching eggs can be insured for damage, Priority Mail ship times are not guaranteed and USPS will not accept insurance claims for delays on perishable items.
Fragile stickers: A lot of folks out there in the internet forum wilderness swear that a “fragile” sticker on your box leads to rougher handling, and should be avoided. The theory is that postal workers interpret fragile stickers as an invitation to play soccer with your hatching egg package. Perhaps this is true anecdotally, but as an essential worker with nearly two decades of retail grocery under my belt, I can’t help but take offense to this. Most of us essential workers are just out here trying to do our best, and do our jobs well even when the job is tough.
Personally, I like to load our packages up with an abundance of fragile stickers and similar labels. I don’t have any evidence that this is asking for trouble. At worst, our packages are treated like every other. At best, our hatching eggs get a little extra care at the beginning and end of their journey, when they are handled the most by an actual person. Our customers often request these stickers and I think the presence of the labels gives them some peace of mind that we did everything in our control to provide a safe journey for their eggs.
Pickup or delivery to home: We offer our customers the choice between labeling their package “hold for pickup at the post office” with a phone number, or having their package delivered right to their door. “Hold for pickup” is absolutely the safest option for the eggs themselves, but we decided to offer both options so that customers could make the safest decision for themselves and their loved ones during the pandemic.
If you are shipping eggs through the post office, know that the post office does not guarantee a package being held unless you pay for this service. There is a small chance your customer’s package will be delivered to their home anyway, or that the post office will forget to call, so make sure to provide tracking information to your customer so they can keep an eye on their package’s journey.
Include instructions: If you are shipping hatching eggs, keep in mind that your customer may be an experienced hatcher or a complete beginner. It’s best not to assume, and to provide as much helpful information about hatching as you can. In each package, we include a business card along with a sheet that helps our customers read the shorthand we use to label and identify each egg. Also included are some brief instructions, including a reminder to allow the eggs to settle for a day after shipping, and a direct link to our Complete Chick Guide, which contains detailed incubation instructions.
The right packing methods will get your eggs off to the right start and greatly increase your chances of a good hatch. Regardless of whether you’re shipping or ordering hatching eggs through the mail, I hope you found this post helpful.
Got questions? Let us know in the comments! And of course, if you'd like some of our individually wrapped, double boxed hatching eggs delivered right to your door (or local post office), you can shop our hatching eggs right here.