The catalog arrived in January while the snow was piling up outside. It was perfect timing. The hubbub of the holidays was over and we had plenty of time to make plans for the coming spring. My Dad and I perused the Murray McMurray Hatchery catalog trying to decide which of the one-hundred and ten different breeds of poultry we would like to raise. He wanted the practical egg layers. I, being ten years old at the time, wanted the fancy chickens with the funky hairdos. We settled for a little of both and added a few of the green-egg-laying Easter Egger chickens just for fun.
The weeks passed and the weather warmed. One weekday morning, bright and early before the sun even came up, the telephone rang. “Hello?” I answered.
“Hi, this is Gladys at the post office,” she said.
“Can you tell your Dad he has a package here?”
“Sure thing, I’ll have him stop on his way home from work.”
“No honey, I think he’ll want to come now.”
“Why’s that, Gladys?”
“The package is peeping.”
Every year Murray McMurray Hatchery ships out 1.7 million baby chicks in peeping packages all across the country and they’ve been doing so since 1917. They pride themselves on providing quality chicks to the small farm flock and hobbyist; sixty percent of the chicks they sell are sold in batches of twenty-five chickens, the minimum order. Their catalog and website reach rural markets where retail outlets are not available.
During the peak spring season, McMurray ships an average of 2,300 orders per week. The company employs roughly twenty-five full-time employees and seventy-five to one-hundred seasonal employees. A new, state-of-the-art, 26,000 square foot facility was built in 1991. The building provides separate areas for egg storage and preparation, incubation, hatching, washing /clean up, and a workroom.
Surprisingly, even though they are considered a rare breed hatchery, only forty percent of their business is in rare breeds. Demand determines which breeds are offered. Bud Wood, president of the company, says, “Most people want a basic flock of good egg layers and only add a few rare chickens for color." The most popular breeds of laying hens are production stock such as Rhode Island Reds and the Red Star; Cornish Rock is the most popular meat bird, prized for the fast growth.
“Over the past two years, there has been an increase in demand from two groups” said Wood, “the suburban backyard chicken enthusiast and the organic/all natural consumer." The company is meeting the demands of these customers by supplying equipment and organic/all natural feeds and supplements which can be very difficult to find in the marketplace.
McMurray Hatchery leads the market by providing a wide selection of breeds, healthy chicks and excellent customer service. Of the customers surveyed, one-hundred percent were satisfied with the wide selection of breeds. With 110 breeds to choose from, McMurray leads the industry in the amount of breeds offered. A free-range meat bird, such as the Freedom Ranger, is not offered but cockerels of other breeds can often fill this niche.
Health and quality is, of course, the most important factor when purchasing any livestock. Of those surveyed, ninety-six percent were satisfied with the quality of chicks they received. “We go to great lengths to ensure the health and wellbeing of the chicks,” Wood said. McMurray guarantees the live arrival and livability of their chicks. If notified of a problem within forty-eight hours of the chick’s arrival they will provide replacements, credit your account or provide a refund.
Most survey participants expressed that they had no issues at all with their orders. Of the few who did have an issue, all were satisfied with the resolution. Customer service representatives are available during regular business hours. All survey participants rated the customer service they received as excellent. McMurray’s commitment to customer service is well known in the industry, giving them an excellent reputation.
Suggestions of lowering the minimum order or providing a forum for groups of individuals to pool orders were made as possible improvements the company should consider. Most city ordinances will only allow for a small amount of hens to be kept. The twenty-five chick minimum is too high for most urban chicken keepers. Also, given the recent state of the economy, most customers are concerned about the rising cost of the products.
The catalog has always been the driving factor in their business; however, lately the internet is responsible for fifty percent of their orders. “People will always need someone to ask questions of, so I don’t see the phone service ever going away,” said Wood. “They need answers quickly and we’ll be here to provide them." Survey participants overwhelmingly appreciated having the print catalog available; however they suggested they would like to see more actual photos of the breeding stock versus an artist rendering.
I couldn’t resist asking Mr. Wood at the end of the interview if he kept his own flock of chickens. He does, or his daughters do I should say. “My daughters take eggs to school for their teachers instead of apples,” said Wood. I couldn’t help but smile at that. In 2002 my father was diagnosed with cancer. We reminisced about a lot of things, including the chickens we had kept years ago. When we talked about it, there was a sparkle in Dad’s eye that I hadn’t seen in a long time. He said, “We should order a catalog.” We did, and when it arrived we enjoyed the time we spent choosing our breeds and discussing the merits of each.
This time, when the peeping package arrived, my Dad was on hospice care. The chicks lived in a plastic swimming pool just next to his makeshift bed in the living room. They provided hours of entertainment when we needed it most. It wasn’t until after Dad passed away that my brother and I realized we had no idea what we were going to do with twenty-five half-grown chickens. Luckily, my uncle stepped in and cared for them for a few years. Then, when I found my own place in the country, they moved in with me. Now that the flock has dwindled over the years, I find myself perusing the catalog with my own son, choosing our favorite breeds and discussing the merits of each.
McMurray Hatchery doesn’t just sell chickens. They provide fond memories to thousands of recipients of peeping packages everywhere and have done so for generations; with their sound business practices I believe they will continue to do so for years to come.