At the end of March, The New York Times reported that “America Stress-Bought All the Baby Chickens.” And over the past few months alone, chicken suppliers across the country report a 500 percent increase in business, says JSTOR Daily.
Kyle Smith, owner of Smith Poultry in Williamstown, NJ, painted the picture for us: “Most of the phone calls I got [requesting chicks] were in April. The demand was completely ramped up because people were going to the stores and they were rationing meat. The amount of time people had at home shot up. People had this idea of sustaining their own food chain. So it was the perfect combination.”
Beyond food, Smith says there are plenty of other benefits to backyard chickens that justify the desire to go all in: “It’s like having a pet that puts out an egg a day for you and runs around the yard and eats bugs. A lot of people I talk to just sit outside and watch their chickens. You don’t need a truck, trailer, or even a huge coop. It’s appealing to people on a small scale because if they have shelter, feed, and water for them, they’re good.”
We recently checked in with a few newly minted backyard chicken parents to see how things are going back in the coop. Here’s what they had to say.
Marie and Brad, Central NJ: 17 Chickens
Before May 22, 2020, Marie and Brad had approximately zero chickens. Now they have 17. “On his birthday, I promised [Brad] we could finally get them after a bottle of wine,” said Marie of the impetus to purchase them.
Brad’s birthday wasn’t the only good reason to build a coop, though. At the time, he was working from home in his job as a property manager, so the timing was right. “Because of the pandemic, I think we had the time to get ourselves prepared for it. In a scary time, it was nice to know that they’d be producing eggs too,” said Marie.
While the chickens are not of age to produce eggs yet, when the time comes Brad estimates they they’ll be laying around 15 to 20 a day. “I’m going to eat all the eggs without a doubt — and pass them on to family and friends,” he said. “But let’s face it, if there’s a crisis and we need to eat the chickens too, I’m doing it.”
For Marie, they’re pets first and foremost. And while the chickens all have names (Thelma, Louise, Lizzie Borden, Opal, Olivia, Gertrude, Georgia, Lotty, Lola, Suzie Sunshine, Grace Joes, Gigi, Annette, Savannah, Ebony, Whoopie, and Betty White), Marie and Brad simply call them “the girls.”
More than anything, the chickens have become a source of levity. “We hang out inside the coop after work and sit with them and talk with them. We have chairs set up and people come over every night to see them. In a time when everyone is feeling very isolated, it’s made us feel a little more connected,” said Marie.
Tera, Coastal Alabama: 5 Chickens
Like Marie and Brad, Tera and her husband have been thinking about getting their very own backyard chickens for years. “I wanted to raise them from chicks but [my husband] said we didn’t have time because we both work,” said Tera. “Since the pandemic, he’s been working from home, and I had a few weeks off as well, so it was perfect timing.”
Fear of an egg shortage was far from Tera’s mind, but she admits that once the chickens are of laying age it’ll be a bonus since they already have neighbors lining up to request farm-fresh eggs.
“We got the chickens mainly as pets not producers. They all have unique personalities. We have a shy one, a level-headed one, and one that is very energetic and adventurous. Seeing them grow is so exciting. I love to let them roam the yard.”
Lee, Jackson, NJ: 12 Chickens
Lee’s decision to purchase backyard chickens back in May had a lot to do with New Jersey’s tick population. (Lee, her son, and her mother all have lyme disease.) “I hate to use chemicals, so my husband and I decided that it would be great to get a bunch of chickens. They love ticks — they’re like a delicacy for them,” she said.
“[Getting the chickens] had a little bit to do with COVID-19 too,” says Lee who took time off from work during the pandemic to care for her mom. “People panicked and got worried about having a food supply … so they bought out the chick population. Luckily I was able to get them from a local farmer because I called last year and my name was on the list.”
While Lee and her family plan to enjoy the eggs, they won’t be eating the actual chickens anytime soon. “Mine all have names and you can’t eat anything that has a name! There’s Joann (she’s redheaded and fuzzy and looks like my mother-in-law, Joann), Axel, Georgia Peach, Peanut, Bobo, Carol, Penny, Mr. Speckles, Cheddar, Angel, Olive, and Mystic.”
Lee took it a step further and purchased baby ducks and turkeys from a local farm supplier as well. The turkeys come with an added bonus: “They’re noise makers so if predators come around your chickens, they can fend them off.”
Ariel, Fredericton, NB (Canada): 3 Chickens
“I’ve always wanted chickens, not only for the eggs, the companionship, and the composting, but for their de-bugging as well — I’m allergic to mosquitoes and we have a lot of ticks in the area. I’m hoping they’ll make outdoor living a little easier for me,” Ariel, the blogger behind PMQ for Two says.
Echoing the others, extra time at home is what prompted Ariel to finally get them. “No one is going anywhere anytime soon, so we figured this was the right time to start with chicks, which require a little more attention than full-grown hens.”
The chickens are also meant to help teach a few lessons around the house. “Our daughter will grow up with this flock, and egg collection will be her main responsibility.”
Michelle, Atlantic County, NJ: 23 Chickens
While Michelle has technically owned chickens for a year and a half, she’s super passionate about helping others raise their own. “I have my own flock, but I also have babies that I supply and sell to help people get started.
She’s a high school math teacher by day who also does accounting and marketing for Ryan’s Roost, a family farm. “I do all the spreadsheets and advertising and I have a family member that does the breeding and hatching. They’re the science and I’m the math.”
Michelle has noticed a market uptick in interest over the past few months and credits it to COVID-19. “I’m going to say that demand has at least tripled during the pandemic. In March, I couldn’t hatch them fast enough. I would have waiting lists of people who would call me and we were hatching supply and demand at that point.”
Her biggest concern? People that don’t do their research. “When I started, my husband and I would sit up at night and watch YouTube videos on our TV, Chicken 101. He also built me a chicken mansion. We learned what to do, what not to do before we even brought them onto our property,” Michelle said. “I have people who have done their homework, but then I have people who are starting with zero knowledge. How do you go and start something and know nothing?”
For people who have no idea where to start, Michelle is a resource. “I’ll spend hours on the phone with them. I’ve had people come to the farm and I’ll walk them through a day in the life. There are so many people out there right now that are just getting started.”
Did you buy a chicken or two in the last few months? Let us know how it’s going in the comments!