Since the coronavirus drove everyone indoors to shelter in place and practice social distancing, grocery stores have been experiencing shortages as a result of some people hoarding supplies. It’s hard to find toilet paper, yeast and flour right now, and people are jury-rigging face masks at home because they can’t buy them elsewhere.
Among the shortages we’re experiencing is an unexpected one: It turns out people are buying baby chicks in droves.
In a time like this one, the move actually makes sense. We are all eating at home more often than usual. We’re also doing a lot of baking, which uses up plenty of eggs. That, combined with the fact that Easter is coming up means eggs are a hot commodity right now.
As a result, egg prices are rising. One Midwestern egg producer told Food Business News that his sales to grocery stores had risen by 200%. CNN Business notes that wholesale egg prices are up 180% since the beginning of March, leading retailers to both raise prices and take a hit to their profits on sales to the public.
Raising egg-laying chickens at home means eventually not having to go out to purchase eggs, which is important right now. In the face of uncertainty, people want more control — and backyard chickens are a good way of providing that. The New York Times reported that sales of chicks typically go up after a stock market downturn and during presidential election years.
One chick buyer, Amy Annelle of Austin, Texas, told The New York Times that since she doesn’t know how long business closures will last, “it just seems like having a steady food source is a good idea right now.” She added, “It’s just very hopeful watching them grow.”
Social media is full of people posting images of their new pandemic-fueled flocks of chickens. On Twitter, @RodNoggle posted a pic of 10 new chicks they hope will lay eggs eventually.
User @HallieMaeM gave their newest chicks names related to the COVID-19 outbreak, including Covid and Rona.
My family got 3 new chicks and named them Quaran, Rona and Covid. pic.twitter.com/f5pYKyM4qQ
— Blueberry Shua 💙 (@HallieMaeM) April 2, 2020
Meanwhile, author Cari Luna tweeted that she got four new chicks recently. She also said her local farm supply store was taking social distancing and sanitization methods seriously by offering payment over the phone and curbside pick-up of orders.
Four new chicks home safe! (It was a little weird to be out of the house and very weird to drive after all this time.) pic.twitter.com/N5NJhB0Qeh
— Cari Luna (@cari_luna) April 1, 2020
Of course, the panic-buying of chicks has resulted in a shortage of chicks available at feed stores and from breeders, so now you’re going to be as hard-pressed to find chicks as eggs.
“The demand for chicks has gone way up and a lot of hatcheries nationwide — they’re already taking orders for chicks two or three months in advance,” Bill Dougherty, who co-owns Trinity Haymarket in Dallas, told WFAA-TV.
Chicks Aren’t Cheap
For those lucky enough to have scored a few chicks, the next few months will require a good amount of expense and care for their new animal brood. New owners need to buy or build a suitable, temperature-regulated coop (new chicks need a heat source) and provide starter feed. The Farmer’s Almanac says to expect to lay out up to $700 for initial setup alone.
Of course, the coop will require daily cleaning and the chickens will need care. New owners will also probably need help from experts to troubleshoot problems and must follow local laws regarding chicken keeping. And it’ll be five to six months before day-old chicks start laying eggs. Once they start, you can expect two eggs every three days per hen. However, chickens live for up to 10 years and lay fewer eggs as they get older, so there is a real commitment involved. Hopefully, all the new owners understand this.
“If you’re thinking of buying chicks, do your work ahead of time,” said Marisa Erasmus, an assistant professor of animal sciences at Purdue University. “Make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. These animals are going to grow up and have very specific needs. They are reliant on us to provide for them and we have to be sure we can do that.”