WEBSTER CITY, Iowa (AP) _ If Murray McMurray tells you the chick's in the mail, you can believe it.

McMurray and his partner, Mike Lubbers, co-owners of a rare-breed poultry hatchery, post about 1.5 million baby chickens every year, to places like Fremont, N.H., or Hankinson, N.D. - live delivery guaranteed. McMurray adds one extra chick for every 25 as insurance.

Chicken mailing has been going on for generations in Webster City, starting with McMurray's grandfather, a banker who began the business as a hobby in 1917.

''We won't be mailing to downtown Detroit or Miami,'' said McMurray. ''These chickens are going to East Overshoe, Minnesota, or someplace where the post office is one of the most important places in town.

''Like as not the postmaster knows the customer and gives him a call and says, 'Gosh, I got your chickens this morning. Hope you don't mind if I opened the box, they sure are cute.'''

Postal workers say it's no problem dispatching cardboard boxes of chirping chicks around the country. In fact, chickens aren't the only animals allowed in the mail.

Karen Alexander, a business mail clerk at Des Moines, said postal authorities accept any ''small harmless cold-blooded animals, except turtles or snakes, that do not need food or create obnoxious odors,'' as long as they're appropriately packaged.

''We get a little help from Mother Nature here,'' McMurray said. ''Just prior to hatch, they absorb the yoke and get enough nourishment to last them quite some time.''

Among the creatures the postal service will handle are baby alligators, worms, leaches, lizards, snails and tadpoles. Not included are dogs, cats, hamsters and most other warm-blooded animals, with the obvious exception of some fowl.

Baby chicks, said Alexander, are treated with care.

''I've seen these little critters, they get expedited treatment,'' she said. ''You hear them chirping, you know they're there. You don't throw them in a mail sack or something. When you can see what you're working with, you tend to treat it carefully.''