COVID cluckers: Pandemic feeds demand for backyard chickens

Thursday, December 31, 2020

ROSS, Calif. (AP) — The coronavirus pandemic is coming home to roost in America’s backyards.

Forced to hunker down at home, more people are setting up coops and raising their own chickens, which provide an earthy hobby, animal companionship and a steady supply of fresh eggs.

Amateur chicken-keeping has been growing in popularity in recent years as people seek environmental sustainability in the food they eat. The pandemic is accelerating those trends, some breeders and poultry groups say, prompting more people to make the leap into poultry parenthood.

Businesses that sell chicks, coops and other supplies say they have seen a surge in demand since the pandemic took hold in March and health officials ordered residents to stay home.

Allison and Ron Abta of Northern California’s Marin County had for years talked about setting up a backyard coop. They took the plunge in August.

The couple’s three kids were thrilled when their parents finally agreed to buy chicks.

“These chickens are like my favorite thing, honestly,” said 12-year-old Violet, holding a dark feathered hen in her woodsy backyard. “They actually have personalities once you get to know them.”

The baby birds lived inside the family’s home for six weeks before moving into the chicken run in the yard. A wire-mesh enclosure now houses the five heritage hens — each a different breed — and protects them from bobcats, foxes and other predators.

Mark Podgwaite, a Vermont chicken breeder who heads the American Poultry Association, said he and other breeders have noticed an uptick in demand for chicks since the pandemic began. His organization, which represents breeders and poultry-show exhibitors, has seen a jump in new members.

“Without question, the resurgence in raising backyard poultry has been unbelievable over the past year,” said Podgwaite, who keeps a flock of roughly 100 birds. “It just exploded. Whether folks wanted birds just for eggs or eggs and meat, it seemed to really, really take off.”

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