Winter is here at HumbleBee Farms. And after a brutally hot, dry summer here in Texas everyone has been happy to enjoy cooler temps and meaningful rain. It’s December and just now grass is bouncing back while shrubbery and trees figure it if they want to grow new leaves or go dormant. At least the animals are comfortable. Our flock is recovering from their fall molt and starting to lay eggs again, though still at a reduced rate.
All this whiplashing of the weather has been a challenge to manage on the farm. But manage we do. And this season we welcomed some great new hens and cockerels to our American Bresse breeding program. While we continue to focus on health and vigor as our no. 1 priority, we are starting to work on appearance, too. This includes selecting for pure, bright white plumage, large red combs (floppy for females, erect for males), well-formed toes with dark blue legs, darker eyes, and overall compact but stout body frame.
It’s a work in progress. And we were excited to recently introduce our 3rd generation into our breeding program. In years to come we hope to completely eliminate faults like occasional silver colored legs, the random dark feather on an otherwise white bird, and undersized combs.
One challenge that we have struggled to manage is shipping challenges. USPS priority mail has been very inconsistent. And while typically packages deliver in 1-3 business days, we’ve seen some packages take much longer. Not good when shipping hatching eggs! In a recent example, a package shipped on Tuesday destined to Louisiana (shipping from central Texas) was given a two day delivery estimate. Two days later the package hasn’t budged. Four days later and it’s finally made it to Austin regional distribution center. To top things off, Priority is no longer guaranteed. Argh!
Additionally we are getting reports of very, very inconsistent hatch rates. Some folks have near perfect hatches, while others have disappointing results (a couple folks have even reported zero hatching).
We hatch the same eggs on farm to fulfill our chick orders and typically see 60-95% hatch rates, depending on weather, molting, etc. The lowest hatch rates occurred during the extreme heat of summer.
So when I hear back from folks that none of the eggs hatched, I’m left a bit perplexed. I know the eggs we ship are viable. But once they leave our farm, things are no longer in our control. My theory is some packages are handled more roughly. Others are exposed to either extreme heat or cold. And others may even be x-rayed – despite being marked as live embryos on the box. Regardless the reason, once we hand the package over to USPS we can’t control circumstances.
Beyond shipping issues, there is also a lot of variability with incubators. Things like humidity, temperature consistence, or even issues like a power outage can all effect final results. These are also out of our control once the eggs leave our farm.
These challenges requires us to make some clarifications to our policies and to offer a new shipping option.
New Shipping Option for Hatching Eggs
Given the reasons outlined above, we are now going to offer the option for Priority Express mail. This does increase the cost considerably. Shipping fees will be based on the destination – typically $40-$50 per dozen eggs. But these packages are guaranteed by USPS to deliver on time and will minimize the time eggs are spent in transportation.
New Replacement Policy for Hatching Eggs
Along with this new shipping option we are formalizing a replacement policy. For packages shipped USPS Priority Express only we will offer a one time replacement option if you experience less than 40% hatch success. Replacements will be sent for the cost of shipping the replacements to you (use your original shipping fee to calculate the replacement cost). To claim this, please take a picture of the unhatched eggs 23 days after you start incubation, writing side up (all our eggs are dated and often include the hens or roos name) and email us at [email protected].
If you opt for the standard $25 flat fee priority shipping for your eggs, there will not be a replacement option and you understand hatching rates are not guaranteed in any way.
Why The Changes?
As a husband and wife team on a micro farm, we hope you understand the reason for these changes. We started raising and breeding American Bresse after our own search for the perfect homestead bird led us to the breed. We fell in love with their curious personalities, strong foraging, and unique steel-blue legs. And we’ve been impressed with their egg laying and equally impressed with the flavor of the meat.
What we weren’t impressed with was how hard and how expensive it was to acquire these birds! Which is why we started offering them to our friends and neighbors. And now online in small quantities to others enthusiastic about the breed. Our goal one day to have a network of homesteaders like us realizing the benefit of the American Bresse and raising their own from their flocks. But this isn’t a money-making endeavor. Organic feed bills, shelters, bedding, electric fencing, energizers – these all cost lots of money. Daily chores, brooding chicks, emergency care, predator defense – these all take time. And we both have jobs we manage on top of this side project.
And so while we are enthusiastic to share this wonderful breed with you, we can’t continue if it cost us money to provide them. With such a delicate thing like a live-embryo hatching egg, there is just too many variables that can go wrong that we are unable to control and can’t be financially responsible for. If you want a low-risk option, consider ordering chicks instead.
What Is Best? Hatching Eggs or Chicks?
You may be asking what is best – hatching eggs or chicks? Luckily, unlike hatching eggs, I’ve had good success mailing chicks. Chicks are always mailed Priority Express and when postal workers hear the “cheep cheep” of little chicks they are often mindful how they handle them. They don’t want to see dead chicks either!
So in most cases, my recommendation is chicks. Unless you are far off in someplace like Alaska or you are local and can pick up hatching eggs directly, chicks offer guaranteed timing and guaranteed numbers. And while they are more expensive than hatching eggs, often times if you run the numbers, they are worth it. For example, let’s say you want 1 dozen chicks. Here’s how things break down:
12 Chicks = $15 x 10 + 2 Free + $45 shipping = $195
Now let’s say you decide to hatch eggs and your goal is still 12 chicks. If we use a 50% hatch rate:
24 hatching eggs = $50 x 2 + $25 shipping x 2 = $150
The hatching eggs are cheaper by $45 in this scenario, but there are no guarantees of a successful hatch or the hatch rate. It might turn out really good – and you end up with 22 chicks! But it might fail, too. And if you upgrade your hatching eggs shipping to Priority Express, the cost is almost identical for 24 eggs as the cost of 12 chicks.
Additionally with chicks, the risk if shifted from you to us. We overset eggs to account for some failure. We also deal with any issues that occasionally occur with freshly hatched chicks. And if for some reason we don’t have enough chicks to meet your order, we will either refund the difference or credit it towards a future order (your choice).
We appreciate all of our customers that turn to us to source the American Bresse chicken. Very likely we share similar values just by virtue of our shared love for the perfect homesteading bird. Homesteaders and farmers are gritty, resilient, and creative folks. And we applaud anyone taking their food security into their own hands.
Our goal for this project is to improve the quality of the American Bresse chicken and select for traits that homesteaders and small farms need in their flock: health, vigor, growth, personality, and conformation. It’s a project out of love and determination. And a project we hope to continue for years, if not decades.
If you have any questions about our policies, shipping, priorities, nutrition – anything – please reach out to us at [email protected]