Postal restrictions put Wasilla hatchery in bind

Posted: Monday, October 08, 2001

WASILLA (AP) -- When the terrorist attacks back East grounded planes in Anchorage, Anthony Schmidt helped rescue thousands of stranded birds. The Wasilla area farmer took in 7,500 baby chickens headed for Korea that would have otherwise died.

Now those same terrorist attacks have grounded his business -- Triple D Farm and Hatchery. Schmidt can no longer import birds through the mail -- his main delivery source for poultry -- because of new security restrictions. He also is struggling to ship birds to his customers.

Postal officials in Palmer last week refused to mail a batch of eight hens addressed to a woman in Naknek, who wanted them for fresh eggs, he said.

They handed his box back to him along with a written bulletin that said the postal service would no longer accept live animals in many places, including Anchorage.

Schmidt says the restrictions could put him out of business. That could mean no birds for lots of Alaskans.

He's the biggest live poultry supplier in the state, according to feed and pet supply store owners who resell birds they get from Schmidt to their customers. He said he brings in more than 30,000 ducks, geese, quail and chickens a year.

Some are shipped to the Bush, and others are raised for meat at his farm just south of Wasilla. Some people use Schmidt's birds to train dogs for hunting, and others keep them as pets, he said.

''I'm just trying to figure out how they (the postal service) can put me out of business, because that's what they're doing,'' Schmidt said.

Postal service spokeswoman Nancy Cain Schmitt said the order to Naknek should have been delivered. There's no ban on carrying live animals in the state, she said. But Schmidt will have trouble importing birds from the Lower 48 through the mail, she said.

New postal regulations limit carrying day-old poultry as mail because of concerns delivery will be delayed and the chicks will die, she said.

Farmers ship newly hatched birds because they can survive on their yolk sacs for a few days without food or water.

The new regulations are in response to new security restrictions that require any mail over a pound to be delivered only on cargo planes, Schmitt said.

They're also the result of an ongoing national battle among the postal service, airlines and farmers over poultry shipping.

Some major airlines, most recently Northwest, now refuse to carry chicks or other warm-blooded animals as mail. They argue they deserve to be paid more for carrying the birds, which require more care than transporting a letter.

The airlines will still carry birds as cargo, but for a higher fee.

''The handling requirements of live animals is fundamentally different than a stack of Christmas cards,'' said Kurt Ebenhoch, spokesman for Northwest Airlines. ''But we're being paid as if that's all they are.''

Poultry farmers argue the airlines should not be able to choose what mail they want to carry. The farmers, some of whom ship millions of chicks a year, are supporting a bill in Congress to require airlines that transport U.S. mail to carry live animals, said Monroe Fuchs, who runs Ideal Poultry in Cameron, Texas. The company ships 3.5 million chicks a year to farmers around the country, including Schmidt, Fuchs said. But all that means little to Schmidt, who said he needs to get birds sent to Alaska in time for the holiday season. Breeding the birds is too costly, and shipping them from the Lower 48 by barge or truck would take too long, he said. The birds would die, he said.

''This could do me in,'' he said.

Schmitt, the postal service spokeswoman, said there's little hope the farmers will be able to import birds through the mail again anytime soon.

''Right now it doesn't look good,'' she said. ''This gentleman should look for a freight source.''

But Schmidt said that's not an option because of the cost.

''I can't imagine that's going to work,'' he said.

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