Whether it’s a hunt for self-sufficiency or a need for a quarantine project, the interest in backyard chickens has soared during the COVID-19 pandemic, making the process to get chicks more difficult.
Many feed stores in the Northland said their orders are backed up through August because hatcheries can’t keep up with the demand.
Dan's Feed Bin in Superior usually gets its last batch of chicks in June, but owner Rob Wicklund said orders are backed up by about two months. The wait time hasn't deterred new or returning customers.
“It’s definitely been a different year,” Wicklund said. “There is a huge demand.”
Maple Hill Feed & Farm canceled their annual chick day due to COVID-19 restrictions, but they’ve been unable to offer chicks to in-store customers due to the high demand. The Maple feed store only has enough coming in weekly to keep up with pre-orders, said employee Philomena Lindquist.
Widdes Feed and Farm Supply in Esko has been overbooking its shipments of chicks to meet the increased need. Office manager Meggan Urevig said orders for chicks have tripled this year. The feed store hasn’t had trouble getting chicks from the hatchery, she said, although anyone ordering now will have to wait until July or August for their birds to arrive.
“A lot of people were just waiting to start, I think, but this has really pushed them, being at home,” said Urevig, who raises 500 to 600 meat birds a year.
Egg laying chickens are more popular than meat birds, she said, and many children are raising the chickens as school projects.
Eric and Carolyn Phillips of Superior are one of the families taking up the hobby. It’s been eight years since they raised chickens. The parents of 10 decided to introduce their younger children to backyard chickens this year.
“It’s been fun. It’s been educational,” said Carolyn Phillips. “It’s given them something happy during all this crazy time when we can’t really go anywhere and we can’t do things.”
Only two of their original six-chick order came in at Dan’s Feed Bin in April, but they were able to snag an additional three. The family is building a backyard coop as the chicks — Apple, Bobby, Eleven, Darla Fluff Butt Phillips and Dumbledore — grow in a garage brooder.
Callie Kirkpatrick of Carlton began hatching and selling chicks to help meet local demand this spring.
“I have 80 turkey and chicken eggs in an incubator right now,” she said. “I have already hatched 30 chickens and turkeys and they have all sold or been spoken for.”
Kirkpatrick said the most requested breeds today are "Easter eggers" or any chicken that lays colored eggs. The protein-packed ovals can come in a rainbow assortment, from blue and olive green to copper.
“I think one of things I appreciate so much about chickens is that they are able to inexpensively produce protein for people year round,” said Jason Amundsen, head clucker at Locally Laid Egg Company in Wrenshall. “That’s in contrast to the efforts of a vegetable garden. A garden, while wonderful, won’t produce for nine to 10 months a year.”
Lindquist said if people are picking up chicks for eggs, they’re going to need patience. It can take six to eight months for chickens to start producing eggs.
Folks who don’t want to wait may want to consider procuring a pullet, an adolescent chicken about to start laying. To help meet local demand, Locally Laid offered 500 pullets for sale this year, due in mid-June. The offer went out May 11. Amundsen said they sold out in 48 hours and still get two to three calls a day from prospective buyers.
Chicken swaps, where people bring livestock to sell, are another option for would-be poultry farmers. TJ’s Country Corner in Mahtowa began holding chicken swaps May 9. They are held the second and fourth weekend of every month at the store. Kirkpatrick was afraid of chickens until three years ago when she visited a swap and her son, Luke, picked up an abandoned bird.
“So we went back home with this adorable baby rooster. I had no clue what to do or even how to take care of him,” Kirkpatrick said.
Spike, as they called him, was resilient, tough and smart. He survived an owl attack and learned to come when his name was called. He died protecting his flock from a coyote.
“I could have taught him so many tricks,” the Carlton woman said.
Backyard chickens allowed in Duluth, Superior
Backyard chickens can be raised almost anywhere, even the cities of Duluth and Superior. Duluth requires chicken owners to get a $10 license and caps the number of birds at five. Superior doesn’t have any chicken ordinances on the books. Chickens can be kept so long as they are not a nuisance to the neighborhood. Roosters are not allowed in either city.
Raising the birds is not labor-intensive. Amundsen said the key ingredients are ample food, fresh water and a secure, insulated, well-ventilated coop.
“They’re pretty easy to keep once you get them through the first few weeks,” Urevig said.
They are, however, habit-forming
“I love their toughness, their resilience and just their overall usefulness,” Kirkpatrick said. “I love how each chicken has its own personality. Some are flighty, some are calm, some are mean and some are social. I really could not just pinpoint one thing I love most about chickens, but I do enjoy being able to provide a natural food source to my family, friends and others.”