Saturday, April 4th 2020, 9:52 am - Baby chicks are cute and fresh eggs taste great, but there's a lot of work that goes into raising backyard hens.
First, it was toilet paper. Then it was hand sanitizer.
Now it's ... baby chickens?
Here's another example of that: a recent report in the New York Times (NYT) suggests people in the U.S. are now "stockpiling" baby chickens, due to a combination of COVID-19-fuelled financial instability, more time around the house and fears of a food shortage.
NYT cites Tom Watkins, vice president of Murray McMurray Hatchery in Webster City, Iowa, who tells the publication his company is "completely sold out of chicks" for the next four weeks.
“People are panic-buying chickens like they did toilet paper,” he said.
It's a trend that appears to be happening across the U.S., and the uptick in sales is being placed squarely on the shoulders of COVID-19 uncertainty and anxiety, according to industry watchers.
Look I know I'm cute, but please don't panic-buy me during a pandemic. FILE PHOTO: Getty.
SHOULD I STOCK UP ON CHICKS?
The short answer is no.
"There is no need to panic-buy hens," Esther Attard, interim director of Toronto Animal Services, tells The Weather Network in an email.
Attard oversees the city's UrbanHensTo program, a pilot project that began in 2018 and runs until March 2021. It allows residents to keep urban hens in designated parts of the city.
"As part of Toronto’s response to COVID-19, the city has taken action to enable 24-hour retail deliveries. This exemption will ensure retailers can receive deliveries 24 hours a day, seven days a week to ensure essential goods remain in stock."
Similar accommodations can be found Canada-wide.
Experts are largely recommending against stock-piling or hoarding of any sort, given there are currently no food shortages in Canada.
DON'T FORGET THE PERMITS
Whether or not you are legally able to own hens or chickens depends on where you live, because every city has different bylaws.
You may require a permit to own the hens, and another permit to install their housing on your property.
But even in communities where it is allowed, you may not be able to get the appropriate documents approved until the pandemic has passed.
"Based on recommendations from Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, the City of Toronto has cancelled most city-operated programs and closed a number of city facilities, to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic," Attard says.
"Toronto Animal Services is responding only to emergencies now. Registration for the UrbanHensTO pilot program has been suspended for the time being."
Experts say there's no food shortage in Canada, so you won't have to rely on backyard hens for eggs. Courtesy: Ken Emberson.
OK, FINE. BUT I STILL WANT HENS.
If you're still considering adopting hens, and have managed to acquire the proper permits from your municipality, and you've secured a proper coop along with a food source, there's one other thing to consider: your time.
In a few weeks, lockdown restrictions may be eased. That means less time at home and less time to care for the hens.
"One thing to remember above all else: chickens aren't appliances," says Daniel Martins, a Weather Network reporter with experience raising hens.
"When you have them on your property, you are now looking after living creatures. That means you can't really take a break from them, so if you go on vacation, you need to have a friend or family member who's willing to come by your house every day to check in on them."
On average, hens require about 10-15 minutes of work a day, depending on how many you have. That involves monitoring food levels, changing their water and cleaning their living spaces regularly because, according to Martins, hens "aren't hygienic creatures."
His family stores collected eggs in a separate basket in a barn fridge and once there's enough, they are hand-washed in a process that takes between 30 and 40 minutes.
"You've got to be thorough," he says.
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Your up-front costs could be significant, according to Ken Emberson, a southern Ontario-based farmer.
He says 20-week-old chicks cost about $15.00 and feed runs for around $25 for a two-week supply.
Then there's the matter of a chicken coop -- which can cost anywhere between $250 and several thousand dollars, depending on what you want, how many hens you have, and the climate in which you live.
"Make sure the enclosure is 100 per cent secure due to predators," he adds.
IS THERE ANY UPSIDE TO THIS?
That's a matter of opinion.
"When you have store-bought eggs, it takes no more effort than just buying a dozen or so," Martins says.
"For backyard chickens, beyond looking after the things, you have to wash and store the eggs yourself. But you won't regret it -- I've never met anyone who prefers supermarket eggs over farm-fresh ones -- and the work isn't hard or excessive. Just know that it's an ongoing process while keeping your eyes on the tasty, tasty prize."