This July, Jennifer Jones placed an order for more chicks -- baby chickens that she and her daughter, Schuyler, planned to raise at their home in Falmouth, Maine.
They have dozens of chickens that they sell and gather eggs from -- they'd supplemented their flock in April with a similar order that came in with no problems -- but when this package arrived, they found 17 of the chicks they'd ordered were dead.
“It was literally like a Stephen King novel, it was horrifying,” Jones recalled.
The retrieval of the July order began with, “a call from the Post Office that sounded really distressed,” Jones said. The mother and daughter drove to Portland, where they were stunned to find the dead birds in a box.
“We could smell something horrible, we knew there were chicks that had not survived the trip,” she said.
They are just two of the farmers and homeowners across New England to whom at least 4,800 chicks have been delivered dead in recent weeks. According to the office of Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat who represents Maine’s 1st Congressional District, the chicks shipped through from a hatchery and some farms have lost hundreds of chicks upon delivery.
Pingree and some of the farmers believe changes in policy at the USPS under Louis DeJoy, the recently installed postmaster general, are to blame for the deaths.
“We didn’t have the problem six months ago,” said Pingree, explaining that some of the changes she’s seen include “taking out sorting machines and ripping up mailboxes.”
Nearly 675 letter sorting machines were being decommissioned, NBC News has reported, citing an internal document. The machines can each sort 35,000 letters in an hour, work that has fallen to workers -- whose overtime was also being cut and who were told to no longer make additional trips to deliver mail on time.
DeJoy announced this week that he was suspending some changes at the Post Office, so as to avoid the appearance of tampering with election mail.
“We will deliver the nation’s election mail on time,” DeJoy said in a statement Tuesday.
In 15 years of caring for chickens, only one had died in shipment to the Joneses, which is why they believe something at the USPS had to have been the cause of the deaths.
“This doesn’t happen,” Jones explained, saying, “I can’t imagine the postal workers, when they get a box like this and they know that there’s something wrong, that the chicks haven’t survived.”
Jones said she believes DeJoy is to blame and should leave his position regardless of a planned appearance before the U.S. Senate on Friday.
“I think the U.S. postmaster needs to step down, I don’t think he should have a hearing,” she said and urged others who are concerned about the Postal Service to contact their congressional delegations.
Pingree’s office said on Thursday it had been circulating a letter to the Postal Service and U.S. Department of Agriculture set to be sent on Friday about the chick mortalities.
A spokesperson for the Postal Service did not immediately return a request for comment from NECN/NBC10 Boston Thursday.