If you love mystery boxes and you love chickens you’re in luck, you can get the best of both worlds with the Cackle Hatchery Surprise Box. It might sound super strange but if you’re looking to grow your flock and you love adventure it might be just the thing for you.
Cackle Hatchery is a large family-run hatchery in Missouri. They sell day-old chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese, guineas, peafowl, partridges and pheasants, and probably more that I’m just missing.
I have been ordering from them for years. All of my birds, with the exception of my geese, are either from Cackle or were born here from birds that I got from Cackle.
While I have worked with them in the past this is not a sponsored post and I had no contact with them about this order. My Surprise Box was no different from any other box you could order (what I’m trying to say is they didn’t send me a “good one” so I’d say nice things).
What is a Cackle Hatchery Surprise Box?
The Cackle Hatchery Surprise box is a random collection of poultry. The boxes are a flat price including shipping, as of 2/2023 they are $149.95, and they are filled with 40-50 baby birds.
The boxes are filled with the birds left over at the end of the day. They are shipped from Mid-February through Mid-August.
I ordered my first surprise box way back in 2014 and it introduced me to several breeds I wouldn’t have picked out myself like Appenzeller Spitzhaubens and Welsummers. That box was all chickens but the hatchery does inform (warn?) you that you might be getting turkeys, ducks, guineas, or geese along with chickens.
Read more about Appenzeller Spitzhauben, the Best Crested Breed
The main thing to keep in mind is you’ll be getting a lot of birds at once and you’ll need brooder space for all of them. 40-50 chicks need a lot more space than the dozen you pick up at the feed store!
You might be able to get away with a single brooder for 40 chicks for a week or so if you are using a large space, but remember those babies are going to grow quickly and you’ll need to keep them indoors until they’re fully feathered at around 5-6 weeks.
Read more about Setting Up a Brooder for Baby Chicks
This really gets to be an issue if you get 40 chicks and 3 ducks. You cannot keep ducks (or any waterfowl) and chicks in the same brooder for more than a day or two.
I had the two ducklings in the tubs with the chicks for about 8 hours while I scrambled to set up yet another brooder because 3 just didn’t cut it. The two ducklings ended up with a plate brooder and a gosling names Goosifer that I stole from the parents and forced to thrive after a very rough start.
Ducks grow much faster than chickens, they need different food and they’re gross. So, so gross.
Curious about what types of poultry can you raise together? Learn more about Mixed Species Brooders
Ordering a Surprise Box
If this seems tempting it couldn’t be easier to order. The Hatchery Surprise Box is a flat rate with shipping included.
You get to skip all the decision-making and cart filling, un-filling, and refilling that normally goes along with placing an order for chicks. The only choice you need to make is your shipping date.
Read more about Ordering Chickens Online
Just like with a ‘regular’ order the earlier you place your order the more options you’ll have for shipping dates. If you have your fingers crossed for ducks or turkeys make sure you pick a shipping date in the window where they are available.
The box will ship on the date you select and should be at your post office 2 days later. If you aren’t from a farming family the idea of shipping chicks probably seems crazy, but it’s not for a few reasons.
Something a lot of people don’t realize is that chicks don’t need to eat as soon as they hatch. If they were under a broody hen she’d be waiting in the nest box for a few days for the rest of the eggs to hatch.
Read more about Broody Hens
Another thing that shocks people is how full the boxes are. They need to be pretty packed for the sake of the birds.
If the boxes were more spacious the chicks would get ping-ponged around and end up stressed or injured. It also helps them to stay warm together.
If you’ve ever picked up a mama hen and watched an impossible number of babies tumble out from under her you’d understand that they don’t mind being up close and personal for a while!
2021 Cackle Hatchery Surprise Box
I thought the best way to really explain what the surprise box was to order (another) one. I’m pretty happy with the size of my flock so I’ll be taking most of these birds to my kids’ grandmother once they’re fully feathered.
I’m sure the kids will rope me into keeping a few but that’s the plan!
I ordered the box back in March and I picked the earliest available ship date or May 12th. I prefer to get my birds in April for timing reasons but that’s what they had available and that’s what I took.
They arrived nice and early, I got a phone call from the Post Office at 6:25 am to come pick them up. The box was very loud and the girls couldn’t wait to open it up and see what we got.
Right off the bat, I noticed we got two ducklings in this box and as I was unpacking them I found 2 turkey poults in the mass of chicks. Speaking of chicks we got either 40 or 41, the kids were very helpful with the unpacking.
Everyone arrived healthy and took right to eating and drinking. I briefly considered moving the 2 ducklings into the brooder with my 1.5 weeks old Cayuga ducklings but the size difference was just too much and I’ll be raising them alone for a while.
The turkeys will be kept with the chicks (along with my 5 Royal Palms I got last week and a random chick I found in the barn). Right now they’re split into two brooders, they’ll likely outgrow them right around the time I can move the older ducks into the barn so I should be good.
Read more about Raising Turkey Poults (aka baby turkeys)
I remember my last surprise box having some variety but lots of duplicates. This time almost every chick is different!
We’ve already picked out a Naked Neck aka Turken, a Polish, and a Houdan. Some of the more generic-looking chicks are tricky to ID and we’ll be having fun with that for the next few months.
Save Money with a Surprise Box
One of the biggest benefits of the surprise box is the cost. It depends on exactly how many birds you get but you’re looking at 2.99-3.75 per bird including shipping. Heritage turkeys are about $10 a piece, ducks are around $5-8 and chickens vary from a few bucks up to over 15.
This goes for the other “surplus” options too, you’re giving up a lot of control but you’ll be saving a lot of money in the process.
Is it all Roosters?
I can’t speak for this round yet, they’re all too small to sex, but my last surprise box was about a 50/50 split. When you’re ordering chicks and you elect for “straight run” you get them as they hatch.
Since there is no way to tell if they’ll be males or females when they’re in the egg all you can do is hope for an even split. Things rarely work out perfectly but you’re usually in that range.
Unless you’re me, with an incubator in March 2020 and you let your kids hatch eggs for fun and ended up with 75% roosters.
I don’t think these boxes are an excuse to get rid of extra males (they have that option if you’re looking for more soup than eggs by the way).
Other Options for Mystery Poultry
Maybe the idea of a random box of poultry makes you a little nervous, maybe 40 is just too many birds, but you’re still looking for some mystery and surprise.
The good news is most hatcheries offer some kind of surplus boxes. I’m going to stick with Cackle because they’re who I use but there are other hatcheries out there.
One option is the Mini Cackle Surprise, something I just learned about, it’s a smaller version of the regular box and has 20-26 birds with the same mystery varieties including different types of poultry.
There are other “surplus” options where you’ll end up with a random variety that you don’t pick. It’s great if you sort of know what you want but you’re open to try something fun or you’re just overwhelmed with all the options but the TSC standards seem too boring.
Some of the surplus options are breed-specific, you can get a mix of Cochins, a mix of bantam Silkies or a mix of French Marans. Others are based around a specific trait like a mix of crested breeds or a mix of long-tailed breeds.
And of course you can get a mix based on egg colors, like the blue egg layer mix or the dark brown egg layer mix.
And it’s not just chickens, you can also get a mix of ducks, a mix of heritage turkeys or a mix of surplus geese. Those are great options if you’re looking to branch out but you’re not feeling picky.
Learn more about French Marans & their lovely Dark Chocolate Brown Eggs
Looking for more info? Check out my Chicken Keeping page or start here:
Monday 13th of February 2023
How do I order the surprise box?