What it’s about: Holy ordinance, Batman! During World War II, American scientists raced to develop crucial technology that would win the war: The B-29 bomber. Radar. The atomic bomb. And, a somewhat less crucial technology, the bat bomb: a bomb canister that contained live bats, each of which would carry an incendiary device and (in theory) start devastating fires across Japanese cities.https://www.dianomi.com/smartads.epl?id=3533
Biggest controversy: The part where we tried to defeat Imperial Japan with an army of bats. The idea came from a dental surgeon named Lytle S. Adams. An acquaintance of Eleanor Roosevelt, he wrote to the White House a month after Pearl Harbor suggesting the idea, which came to him during a trip to Carlsbad Caverns. Adams was “intrigued by the strength of bats” and believed they could carry an incendiary device, which could do serious damage to Japan’s largely wooden architecture.
With FDR’s approval, Adams led up an Air Force project to develop a bat bomb. His team for some wonderful reason consisted of a movie star (more on that later), an unnamed former gangster, an also unnamed former hotel manager, and chemist Louis Fieser, who developed the first synthetic vitamin K and cortisone, and more relevant to the war effort, napalm.
Their eventual prototype was a bomb-shaped metal canister with separate compartments for 1,040 Mexican free-tailed bats. The bomb would be dropped and then at 4,000 feet deploy a parachute, then open to release the bats. The bats would naturally roost in the eaves of buildings, but each one had a 15- to 18-gram payload of napalm (slightly heavier than the weight of the bat itself) on a timer. After several unsuccessful attempts at strapping the bombs to the bats, Adams’ team ended up gluing the devices directly to the bats.
Strangest fact: The only target destroyed by bat bombs was an American air base. Adams’ team made several tests of their bat bomb, but at Carlsbad Army Airfield Auxiliary Air Base in New Mexico, napalm-armed bats were accidentally released, roosted under a fuel tank, and set the base on fire. The project was then passed to the Navy and then the Marines and was renamed Project X-Ray.
Thing we were happiest to learn: America didn’t end up incinerating thousands of bats for the war effort. The Marines were surprisingly enthused about the bat bomb, believing the countless small fires the bats would start would be harder to fight and would spread more quickly than a smaller number of large fires caused by conventional bombing. But by mid-1944, with $2 million already spent on the project and at least another year until the bats would be combat-ready, the project was canceled. As for Fieser’s invention, the U.S. dropped napalm on Berlin and Tokyo without any animal intermediaries.
Two years ago, Beyond Meat became the first plant-based food startup to go public.Its shares surged 163 percent on its first day and today it’s valued at $9 billion, with shares now worth about five times their original value.
Since then, analysts have wondered which major plant-based food company would go public next.Late last month, they found out: Oatly, the Swedish maker of oat-based milk, yogurt, and ice cream.
Oatly’s stockdidn’t quite skyrocket like Beyond’s, but by the end of the company’s first day of trading, it was valued at about $12 billion. Now, Oatly is valued at $14 billion, over 50 percent more than Beyond’s valuation of $9 billion. Though Beyond and other high-tech vegan meat producers get much more attention than companies that make plant-based milks, Oatly’s valuation says a lot about the state of the plant-based food industry — namely, that plant-based milk has reached a point of maturation in the market that’s even more advanced than plant-based meat.
In fact, Starbucks, which started using Oatly products last year in select US stores and rolled it out nationwide earlier this year, says its share of orders that use plant-based milk jumped from 17 to 25 percent after it introduced Oatly.
These shifts from traditional to plant-based dairy are important in the fight against climate change, as traditional dairy is an especially resource-intensive sector. According to a 2018 University of Oxford study, any way you slice it, cow’s milk uses much more land and water and emits far more greenhouse gases than any plant-based milk. For example, almond milk gets a bad rap for being water-intensive, but cow’s milk requires about 70 percent more water to produce, emits more than twice as much Co2, and requires more than 15 times as much land. Compared to almond milk, oat milk uses much less water but a little more land.
On top of the environmental impact of traditional dairy, most dairy cows, at least in the US, are raised in factory farms.
Yet despite the popularity of plant-based milks, they haven’t quite made a dent in taking the cow out of dairy, their raison d’être. Some farmers do say plant-based milk is affecting their bottom line, and a late 2020 report that was funded by the United States Department of Agriculture found that “increased sales of plant-based alternatives are negatively affecting households’ purchases of cow’s milk” but that it’s “not a primary driver.”
There are a lot of factors that affect dairy production and consumption, and adoption of alternatives is just one of them. But in order for plant-based startups to become a primary driver in displacing conventional dairy, stealing market share fromthe milk shelves of the supermarket isn’t enough. Oatly and its competitors need to figure out how to make a great alternative for another dairy product: cheese.
Milk sales are plummeting, but there are more cows than ever
This can be explained, in part, by Americans’ love for cheese; per capita cheese consumption has risen 25 percent since the early 2000s, which is one factor that has kept milk production high, since it takes nearly 10 pounds of milk to make one pound of cheese. (Butter consumption is rising even faster, and it takes more than 21 pounds of milk to make one pound of butter.)
There are plant-based cheese alternatives on the market, and they generally fall into two categories. The first are the pricey, fermented wheels or tubs of spreadable cheese, often made of nuts, seasonings, and cultures (and sometimes oils, gums, and starches),which have managed to impress the taste buds of omnivorous food critics. Bigger brands like Miyoko’s Creamery, Kite Hill, and Treeline Cheese dominate this first category, but there are dozens of smaller, artisanal outfits like the Herbivorous Butcher in Minneapolis and Rebel Cheese in Austin.
The second category consists of the bags of shredded or sliced mozzarella or cheddar, often made with oil and potato starch or cornstarch, which don’t melt and stretch (or taste) the way cheese from cow’s milk does. The problem is best summed up by the joke about how a vegan’s house burned down and the only thing that didn’t melt was their cheese.
But Americans eat a lot of shredded and sliced cheese, and the vegan versions haven’t improved much since I last heard that joke some years ago (though if you’re curious, I suggest giving Violife, Field Roast, and Follow Your Heart products a try). And even though the plant-based food industry has grown rapidly in the past few years, its startups loaded with billions in investment, no company has come close to making a “breakthrough” shredded or sliced cheese product akin to the Beyond or Impossible burger — or a carton of Oatly — that can bring in curious omnivores.
Not yet, anyway.
The future of animal-free cheese
The absence of great shredded and sliced plant-based cheese could be a problem of demand or innovation, or both.
Meat gets much more attention for its ecological and animal welfare harms than cheese, to the point where nearly a quarter of Americans say they are trying to cut back. But you don’t hear much about people trying to reduce their cheese intake, even though globally, the dairy sector emits more greenhouse gases than all meat sectors (except beef), and most dairy cows, at least in the US, are factory-farmed.
On the innovation side, it’s simply much harder to replicate stretchy, melty cheese made from cow’s milk than the soft, spreadable varieties.
“Achieving the stretchy quality and texture consumers expect from harder cheeses upon melting has proven challenging to date, which is why soft plant-based cheese may be more prominent,” Dr. Priera Panescu, a senior scientist at the Good Food Institute, told me over email.
Ryan Pandya, the CEO and co-founder of Perfect Day — a food technology startup based in Berkeley, California — shared a similar sentiment with Wired, explaining, “The melty, stretchy thing is absolutely the most challenging holy grail thing to do. Because there’s only one protein known to man that does this, and it’s casein.”
Through precision fermentation, which is used to make specific proteins, enzymes, or vitamins, Perfect Day has developed a microflora (fungi) that converts sugar into whey, another protein in milk, for its ice cream products. The company says it’s also working on cheese but doesn’t have plans for the shredded or sliced varieties in the near future.
Real Vegan Cheese, a nonprofit, open-science research project — quite rare in a field of venture capital-backed startups — is going for the “holy grail” of cheese by adding the genes for casein to yeast and other microflora, and then adding plant-based fats and sugars. New Culture, based in San Francisco, is also working to replicate casein, using microbial fermentation, similar to Perfect Day’s approach, to make shredded cheese. The company plans to launch its first product in late 2023.
When asked about the lack of stretchy plant-based cheese, Panescu said that “academic researchers are working to address these challenges by using biological interventions, optimizing more flexible, well-assembled plant-based proteins, and applying mechanical texturization processes.”
One of those researchers is Alejandro Marangoni at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. According to Marangoni’s research, zein — a protein found in corn — is an overlooked tool in the search to make plant-based alternatives to animal products. Most companies making shredded and sliced plant-based cheese use starches and gums for the melt and stretch effects, but zein could be a better route. When hydrated and heated above a certain temperature, it forms a “flexible, bendable mass which may be pulled, stretched, and sculpted,” sharing “melting characteristics with cheddar cheese.”
Motif FoodWorks, a food tech startup based in Boston that has received investment from the major dairy company Fonterra, recently signed an exclusive licensing deal to use a unique food processing technology Marangoni developed using zein.
Motif’s CEO, Jonathan McIntyre, told me their newly acquired tech will enable them to make a stretchy, gooey vegan cheese that’s better than what’s currently on the market. “This technology doesn’t solve all problems in plant-based cheese,” he said, and that “there are other aspects, like mouthfeel and creaminess” that they’re using other tools to address.
McIntyre isn’t yet sure whether Motif will develop its own products, work with a dairy company to make a plant-based product, or partner with an existing plant-based cheese company to upgrade its own, but he does envision it being used on nachos and, of course, pizza. You can see it in action below or here.
Given all the hype around plant-based food, it may come as no surprise that there are dozens more startups racing to make convincing cheese alternatives — but Impossible Foods isn’t one of them. While it is developing Impossible Milk, a spokesperson told me the company won’t be selling Impossible Cheese anytime soon.
Then there’s Oatly, which recently told Bloomberg it’s making “good progress” on developing oat-based cheese products, though its CEO didn’t specify what kinds. Given the $1.4 billion the company raised from last month’s IPO, it seems like it should have the resources to raise the bar on plant-based cheese, and a devoted customer base who will likely be curious enough to give it a try.
The demand for eggs, which had fallen during January-February due to the bird flu outbreak, has bounced back with rise in consumption of key poultry commodity to boost immunity amid the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to government officials and industry experts.
The revival in demand amid tight supplies after bird flu outbreak and a sharp rise in poultry feed cost have led to an increase in retail prices to Rs 6-7 per egg depending on the areas.
But farm gate rates have not gone up commensurate to rise in input cost, affecting farmers, they said.
Egg is among the protein-rich foods prescribed for COVID-19 patients and is the cheapest source of protein available to people, experts said.
“There is a trend in increase in consumption of eggs in the last few months. Egg has the highest 11 per cent protein content,” O P Chaudhary, Joint Secretary in the Animal Husbandry, Poultry and Dairy Ministry, told PTI.
Another official in the ministry said it is difficult to estimate a monthly rise in egg consumption.
However, he said India’s annual consumption has increased to 86 eggs per person in 2019-20 from 79 eggs per person in the previous year.
Indian Broiler Group Managing Director Gulrej Alam said the poultry industry was impacted badly during April-May 2020 last year due to the lockdown as demand for both eggs and chicken declined.
However, he said demand revived between June and December last year.
Alam said the demand got again impacted in January-February this year due to bird flu outbreak. In June 2020, monthly consumption stood at average 7 eggs per person, which fell to 4 eggs per person due to bird flu scare.
“After March, the demand has bounced back to average 7 eggs per person as demand for eggs as immunity booster caught the minds of people during the second wave of the pandemic,” he said.
The demand for eggs is more in urban areas when compared with rural areas. When the urban demand rises, prices automatically go up, said Praveen Garg, Zonal Chairman at National Egg Coordination Committee.
“Egg is still the cheapest source of protein today. At a retail price of Rs 7 per egg, you are getting 11 per cent protein. In no other source of protein, you will get this much protein at just Rs 7. Therefore, there is good demand for egg,” said Prasanna Pedgaonkar, general manager of poultry-focused Venky’s.
The supply of eggs is tight as poultry farms are not operating at their full capacity in many parts of the country after bird flu early this year, covid-induced restrictions and other reasons like rising feed cost, he added.
As per the government data, India’s egg production rose to 140 billion in 2019-20 from 103 billion in 2018-19. And 98 per cent of the eggs produced is consumed in the country itself.
Gurugram-based startup Eggoz cofounder Abhishek Negi said: “We have seen huge surge in demand for branded and Eggoz eggs in the past few months since the onset of second wave of covid pandemic.”
Eggoz branded business has grown by more than 100 per cent month-on-month over the past few months, he said.
“Customers are becoming increasingly aware of health and immunity boosting benefits of eggs,” Negi said.
He informed that Eggoz has launched an enriched variant called Nutraplus where two eggs can fulfill daily recommended intake of Vitamin D and B12 among other vitamins.
“An egg that used to fetch around Rs 3-3.5/piece for the farmers in the months of April, May in Haryana touched all time high of Rs 5.5 and is now trailing at Rs 4.8/piece,” Negi said.
This has provided much-needed financial boost to layer farmers in the country and will help them meet their higher cost of production due to increased prices of soya, Negi said.
Unpackaged eggs in retail are currently being sold at around 7-8 per piece in untraceable format which has increased from normal Rs 5-6 per piece, he said.
Branded eggs are sold at higher rates, around Rs 10 and above.
Eggoz has its own poultry farm in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. It also has tie ups with other poultry farms for procurement of eggs.
On Monday animal rescue group Chengdu Aizhijia Animal Rescue Centre said it had intercepted a vehicle carrying 160 dogs and cats, all under three months old. It said a number of them had died.
The group posted video footage of the boxes piled up to the ceiling of the truck on social media site Weibo.
“The cargo box is full of screams from cats and puppies,” the group wrote.
Volunteers stayed with the animals throughout the night, feeding them and giving them water, while they underwent health inspections.
The rescue centre announced on Thursday that it had managed to bring the animals back to their base for resettlement and a further 38 were receiving medical treatment.
The courier company involved, ZTO, said the person in charge of delivery safety in Sichuan province has been suspended and his annual performance bonus had been deducted. It confirmed that it had broken China’s postal regulations and apologised to members of the public, People’s Daily Online reported.
ZTO also said it had launched additional training regarding postal safety and national animal protection.
The incident has caused outrage on social media with people calling for a boycott of such boxes and buying animals online. The phrase “pet blind box” has had millions of views on Weibo.
“Have we made any achievements in the rescue and management of stray animals? Now there is a pet blind box industry?” one user wrote.
Another wrote: “Let’s talk about boycotting pet blind boxes again. What they need is a home, not an uncertain possibility”.
Distressing footage reportedly captured recently at a residence in Austin, Texas, appears to show an evidently elderly and disabled dog being viciously attacked by a woman. In three videos captured on two days, the abuser can be seen violently yanking the leash; lifting the dog by her tail repeatedly while shouting, “Stay up!”; striking her with full-force downward slaps; and punching the animal as she yelps in obvious distress—all in apparent “retaliation” for this poor old dog simply being unable to hold herself up in the backyard.
PETA and our complainant have alerted Austin and Travis County authorities to this situation—providing the sickening visual evidence and the suspect’s address and imploring them to rescue the victim before more abuse transpires.
Unfortunately, authorities have apparently decided that no crime was committed—although Texas’s anti-cruelty statute reads, “A person commits an offense if the person intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly … tortures an animal,” and defines “torture” as “any act that causes unjustifiable pain or suffering.”
Most importantly—where is the dog? Despite vague assurances that she isn’t in danger, officials aren’t saying whether she was removed from the home.
Please politely urge the following officials to provide assurances that the victimized dog has been removed from her abuser:
MOUNTLAKE TERRACE, Wash. — A disturbing rash of suspected animal cruelty cases in Mountlake Terrace.
Police believe one person has shot and killed at least a dozen crows in the city. Authorities said they are very close to recommending charges.
That’s a big relief to the community, because the worry is for the bird’s safety and more.
“I’m scared this guy is going to miss some day and hurt somebody,” said Eileen Wood-Lim outside her Mountlake Terrace home today.
Since February, Mountlake Terrace Police said at least 12 crows have been shot and killed in the city limits – all in the middle of the day.
Two home security videos shared by police and captured by worried residents show the same red truck multiple residents have reported seeing in the areas of multiple shootings. Police identified that same truck and its driver as their suspect.
He said they believe there could be as many as 20 cases of crow shootings in Mountlake Terrace alone. Twelve are active and there are dozens of other unconfirmed reports on social media in the surrounding areas, from Brier to unincorporated Snohomish said Commander Lowe.
“I’m just horrified,” said Wood-Lim, standing in her driveway. She was home Monday during her lunch break from work.
One of those crows fell to its death March 4 in her driveway. She was home working, heard two shots, a thump and then the loud shriek from a cluster of crows.
“I love crows and to have somebody shooting them and have it happen right in my driveway made me upset,” Wood-Lim said.
Her worry is exactly why Mountlake Terrace Police have worked nonstop to track the crow killer
“If you take someone who will be so brazen do out in broad daylight and shoot out in public that’s pretty scary cause those bullets have to go somewhere,” Lowe said.
Lowe said the same red truck seen outside Eileen’s house on her doorbell camera is the same truck captured in multiple videos by others residents and turned over to police as evidence.
You can’t make out the driver in Eileen’s video but you can see what looks like a long gun. Police think it might be a high caliber pellet gun or even a 22. caliber rifle, but that’s still under investigation.
“It’s not out of the realm of possibilities that if someone is doing that with a crow, and then they’re upset with a pet dog, or pet cat or a child,” Lowe said.
Through an anonymous tip, police tracked down the truck’s owner.
Police said the Mountlake Terrace man agreed to let them see his truck to rule him out as a suspect, but kept rescheduling.
Eventually, Lowe said they found the truck at a nearby dealership and that the man sold it and didn’t tell them. Inside police found possible evidence.
We asked police since they made contact with the man who they consider a suspect, what’s happened with the shootings.
“It’s stopped,” Lowe said. “It’s the main thing we wanted to stop the shootings.”
Police said they are confident the truck’s owner is behind all the crowing killings and they will recommend charges be filed very soon.
Possible charges, may include shooting a firearm in the city and animal cruelty-related charges but police are still determining charges and are working with the state Fish and wildlife agency.
A crime scene was set up and will be maintained at the property today while RSPCA inspectors safely remove the animals.A man was detained by police and spoken to at the property before being released.The operation was part of an extensive police investigation into animal cruelty offences in Sydney’s south-west.
A 56-year-old man was taken into the custody of the Department of Home Affairs over his visa status, while 34 men were detained at the scene.The 34 men are next due to appear in court on April 1 over animal cruelty charges.Anyone with information should contact CrimeStoppers on 1800 333 000 or at CrimeStoppers.com.au
Out of all the countries, why did you choose Sweden? We are one of the countries with the highest animal welfare standards in the world,” the police officer asked while I was being interrogated after photographing the conditions inside a pig farm. “Is keeping pigs indoors, unable to see the daylight, crowded in tight dirty stalls while standing in their own excrement until they are sent to slaughter at 6 months of age considered high welfare standards?” I replied.
In the last year, I have been to countless Swedish farms, documenting these so-called “high welfare standards” during the pandemic. What I have witnessed and documented shows me that the way these animals are being treated is an immediate concern. Their conditions are shocking and seeing them for myself was an urgent wake-up call.
COVID-19 has affected farmed animals across the globe. Although the virus has largely been transmitted between humans, animals raised for food have still felt the consequences.
From animals being buried and burnt alive to slowed operations in slaughterhouses and worsening conditions in the West, millions of farmed animals are also victims of this pandemic.
In Sweden like most other countries in the world, factory-farmed animals are raised for food in confined and overcrowded conditions. According to the Swedish Board of Agriculture, Sweden has 63,000 farms and over 50 percent of Swedish farms have animal production.
Each year, Sweden produces:2.6 million pigs100 million chickens8 million egg-laying hens290,000 tonnes (over 319,600 US tons) of cow’s milk
INVESTIGATING FARMS AROUND THE WORLD
Animal agriculture keeps hidden the daily treatment of farmed animals. Hearing—and seeing—directly from undercover investigators what they have witnessed inside factory farms is a powerful eye-opener.Here at Sentient Media, we’re making sure their stories are told:The Forgotten Victims of Factory Farming: Lex Rigby, Head of Investigations at UK nonprofit Viva!, writes that fish farming is “the world’s fastest-growing food production sector, generating over half of the fish filling our supermarket shelves.”
“As with land-based factory farms, conditions on fish farms cannot easily replicate the complexities of an animal’s natural environment—leading to increasing concerns regarding their welfare,” writes Rigby.
Later this month, Rigby will join Pulitzer Prize winner Ian Urbina and undercover investigator Pete Paxton to talk about the impacts of industrial fishing in our next Sentient Session: Reporting Life at Sea.Learn more and register here. What a Dairy Farm Really Looks Like: “I remember their eyelashes,” writes Natalie Blanton, recalling the calves she met in childhood in Utah, growing up around “idyllic” dairy farms—and the realizations that led her to stop consuming dairy.
“As I matured, and after enough games of hide-and-go-seek among these rows of sheds housing tiny young calves, I started to piece together a more sinister cycle taking place. It was a gradual tugging on threads of understanding, an unraveling of a dark truth behind those happy cows on those happy milk cartons,” she writes. Stepping Out From Behind the Camera: After many years spent documenting factory farming, Gemunu de Silva now leads Tracks Investigations, an organization with over 250 investigations under its belt.
“For such a staple of the animal advocacy world, Gem and Tracks have flown surprisingly under the radar. But that is by design. Up until this year, Gem avoided doing press, leaving it to the NGOs to draw the media’s attention to the cruelties his investigations exposed. It is only as the pandemic has forced a hiatus on the majority of Tracks’ projects that Gem has begun telling the stories of his decades-long career,” writes Claire Hamlett. Helping Others Expose Animal Abuse: Now leading the investigations department at Animal Outlook, Erin Wing was once an investigator too, drawn to taking action for farmed animals after experiencing trauma and abuse herself. She shares what she saw inside factory farms, including a dairy farm where, she writes, “I reached the limit of what I could endure.”
“There, brutal violence was a daily occurrence. The last effort that I felt I owed to the animals before retiring from the field for good was holding out at Dick Van Dam Dairy for a few more weeks so I could rescue a newborn calf named Samuel. I found comfort in the fact that we escaped the dark world of factory farming together,” writes Wing. Read more from Sentient Media.
Just as United Poultry Concerns was the first farmed animal advocacy organization to focus on chickens, Fish Feel was the first organization to focus on fishes. In Episode 21 we have a special interview with Mary Finelli, founder and president of Fish Feel. Hope and Mary discuss how fishes are caught and killed in the ocean by the trillions every year and how the fishing industry is also notorious for human slavery.
Mary talks about aquaculture and the cruelties to the fish in this industry as well as the ecological damage caused by fish farms. She shares her insights into the killing and eating of other marine life such as lobsters, crabs, oysters, and clams and also educates us on the fish oil supplement industry, the caviar industry, and the exciting new trend in advocacy of fish rescue. Listen in for a breadth of knowledge about our underwater relatives and share this episode with those who need to hear it.
New York legislators are considering a bill that would prohibit shipping live animals within the state.A new bill proposes banning mail order chicks in New York.Photography by Stephanie Frey via Shutterstock773SHARES
There are a lot of ways to look forward to a long winter’s end. For some people, it’s the arrival of tulips and daffodils. For others, it’s the song of nesting birds. But for many, there’s only one kind of spring fever they know—baby chick season. The United States Postal Service has been shipping chicks through the mail since 1918 and, until last summer, there’s only ever been a small contingent of people speaking out against it. Generally speaking, people either don’t know that hundreds of thousands of chicks are shipped every year to farms and individuals through the USPS or they’re the ones ordering them.
That changed when an article from the Portland Press Herald went viral in August 2020 and detailed how at least 4,800 chicks had died on the way to farms in Maine. Service cuts and delays at the USPS were largely blamed, but the issue of whether live animals should be shipped at all started attracting the attention of lawmakers. Earlier this month, Linda Rosenthal, a New York State assembly member from Manhattan, introduced a bill that would end the shipment of any live animals by mail into or within her state. In addition to day-old poultry, the bill would also impact the reptile trade, which frequently relies on the mail to move animals.
In the current version of the bill, each animal shipped would be counted as a separate offense—each punishable by a civil penalty of up to $1,000. That bill was referred to the agriculture committee where it seems unlikely to make much progress as written. This is because the USPS is a federal agency regulated by the constitution and, therefore, state bans can’t override federal law, says Kimberly Frum, a postal service spokesperson.
Since news of the bill started spreading through farming, hatchery and backyard chicken committees, lawmakers have heard from many businesses and individuals who are concerned about how a ban on shipping chicks could affect them. Catherine Raleigh-Boylan, a co-owner of Raleigh’s Poultry Farm in Kings Park, New York, says not having access to day-old chicks would affect her business drastically.
“It wouldn’t be cost effective at all,” she tells Modern Farmer. Raleigh-Boylan says that, even in 2020, she’s never had an issue with shipments from the post office to her farm—which was started by her parents and has been ordering chicks by mail for 60 years. “You might lose one or two out of two-hundred. The rest are always healthy,” she says.
While large, vertically integrated companies such as Tyson Foods have their own hatcheries and truck chicks between them and the farms that raise poultry for meat, most small farmers rely on getting multiple shipments of chicks in the mail throughout the year. Many individuals who raise chickens choose to buy them from local farm stores rather than through the mail, but the vast majority of those farm stores also get their chicks in large shipments through the USPS. Of course, those who don’t live close enough to a hatchery to pick up chicks in person could always order fertilized hatching eggs through the mail, but this would require buying an incubator and—if the owner wanted to vaccinate their chicks—doing it themselves despite the fact that most vaccines are only sold in batches between 500 and 10,000 doses.
Many farmers have a similar story to that of Raleigh-Boylan. John Metzer, the owner of Metzer Farms, a California hatchery, says he thinks the post office does a good job overall. “But, sometimes, somebody makes a mistake and puts the chicks on the wrong truck or forgets to take it off. It’s a human error thing,” says Metzer, who is also a board member of a group of hatchery owners called the Bird Shippers of America. Industry wisdom dictates that chicks are okay as long as they arrive at their final destination within 72 hours of their hatch date. Chicks absorb the yolk in their egg before hatching, which gives them enough nutrition that, in nature, they won’t starve to death while the rest of the hen’s clutch of eggs hatch; some always take longer than others. This is the basic principle that allows the mail order chick business to exist. Metzer says that 90 percent of his chicks get where they’re going within two days and the rest in three.
“The fact that they can not starve to death and die of dehydration in a 72-hour period does not make it humane,” says Karen Davis, founder of United Poultry Concerns, an animal rights organization that focuses on poultry. She raises the point that because hatchery chicks are incubated en masse—and do hatch at different times—a chick that’s part of the “Monday” group didn’t necessarily hatch on Monday morning. “Seventy-two hours from when? When they’re put in shipping boxes or when they’re taken to a truck?” she says. If they have to be shipped at all, Davis would like to see chicks reach their final destination within 24 hours of hatching, although she doesn’t see an easy way to enforce it. There doesn’t seem to be any scientific research on how far apart chicks actually hatch on average under a hen and, therefore, how long chicks usually go without food or water after hatching in nature.
It’s clear that many farmers and backyard chicken keepers want the shipment of day-old chicks to continue. And, other than this summer, it’s not an issue that’s gotten a lot of attention even among the animal welfare community. “There’s so much to attend to as far as farmed animals are concerned,” Davis says. “You can go into a [factory farm] and videotape and document what’s going on there and show it on the internet, but you can’t really do that when the birds are in a cargo area of an airplane.” And other than dying on the way to their destinations, chicks don’t have a lot of ways to communicate how they feel about the experience of being shipped in the mail in a cardboard box. The wisdom thus far has seemed to be: As long as they arrive alive, the system is working.
But even within the industry, not everyone agrees that shipping day-old chicks should continue as is. “I think it’s ridiculous I can buy light bulbs and get them overnighted from China, but I put a baby chick on a plane and then get told it will be two to three days and no guarantee on that,” says Tom Watkins, vice president of Murray McMurray hatchery in Iowa. He thinks there’s a real need for kind and compassionate animal transportation. “I care very much about the chicks. Things are not ideal. While even [in] the best of circumstances not every chick will make it, we need to give them a fighting chance,” he says.
The chick shipping season generally goes from February through October, months that—especially lately—are full of winter snowstorms or heat waves, both of which can be deadly to chicks. Either the chicks can die from overheating or freezing or because of postal delays that take the chicks far beyond the 72-hour period. In mid-February 2021, winter storms were so severe that the USPS actually suspended the shipment of all live animals from February 12 through February 16. Because of the dates, it may not have had much of an effect on chicks (they usually ship on Monday or Tuesday), but, generally speaking, if the post office isn’t shipping chicks, it doesn’t mean the chicks aren’t hatching. Commercial hatcheries may be able to slightly delay hatching with advanced notice, but they certainly don’t have the resources to care for all the surprise chicks. (Hatcheries also can’t hold on to them and ship them a week later since the USPS only accepts day-old and adult birds.) MyPetChicken, a hatchery popular with backyard keepers, announced it was suspending chick shipments for the week of February 15 and “would use as many as possible” as six-week-old birds or perhaps put them back into their breeding program.
The 4,800 chicks that died in Maine got a lot of press thanks to the way they fit into the narrative about USPS delays over the summer. Regular—and some might say predictable—losses from the weather or chicks that are too weak after a long delay between hatching and getting into a heated brooder easily cause more deaths every year.
A farm store employee in the Pacific Northwest tells Modern Farmer that her store had an order of a few hundred chicks, hatched Tuesday, February 9 and set to arrive by Friday—before the USPS restriction on live animal shipment went into effect. Modern Farmer is not identifying the employee as she was not authorized to speak to the press about her job. The chicks got stuck on the way there because of the winter storm in the region. Between the delay and the long weekend, there’s no way that the chicks would make it to their final destination alive. “Other stores had non-arrival and delay notices, too,” she says. The number of chicks that don’t make it in time can add up quickly when multiplied across farm stores and personal orders throughout a weather-affected region.
She adds that February cold snaps are common and are why she never orders chicks this early. She also avoids even incubating them at home due to the risk of the power going out and the chicks’ heat source with it. “I’d prefer to see them start shipping in March when the temperatures don’t seem to be quite as extreme,” she says, adding that she wished more hatcheries had a policy of not shipping during weeks with a federal holiday. “Unfortunately, consumer demand drives us to purchase and ship them this early.” And since the pandemic started, that demand has skyrocketed.