- Egg prices have risen by 70% over the past year, according to federal government data.
- More people are turning to backyard chickens, but experts warn it’s not as easy or cheap as it seems.
- Farm rescues are bracing for people who will be trying to get rid of chickens purchased on a whim.
The appeal of backyard chickens — roaming around, grazing on grass, and producing fresh, delicious eggs — is clear, and the high price of eggs at the grocery store has made the idea of bringing chickens home even more enticing for some consumers.
Driven by inflation and an avian flu outbreak decimating flocks, the price of eggs has soared. Altogether the bird flu has led to the deaths of more than 58 million farm birds since January 2022, through infection or culling, drastically impacting the egg supply. Over the past year, egg prices have risen by more than 70%, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Earlier this year, The New York Times, Insider, and others wrote about people turning to backyard chickens to address inflation.
Farmers say they have been inundated with requests from people who are interested in getting some egg-laying hens of their own, a trend that even predates the “eggflation.” Tractor Supply Co., a leading seller of chicks, told The Wall Street Journal its live chicken sales have more than doubled since 2018, and that they expect to sell 11 million chicks in 2023 alone.
But backyard chickens may not be the budget-savvy trick some hope for.
Farm rescues told Insider they are bracing themselves for an influx of people looking to dump their chickens after they realize they are unable to keep up the cost or time associated with caring for the birds.
Backyard chickens can be expensive and a challenge to care for
“Besides pot belly pigs, calls for chickens and roosters are the most frequent calls we get,” Matt Lieurance, the co-founder of Farm Animal Refuge in San Diego, California, told Insider. “People get chickens mainly for egg production and then a few things happen. One is they don’t have the proper setup and they get a predator attack.”
Chickens can be preyed upon by creatures that are commonly found in American backyards, such as coyotes, hawks, raccoons, or possums. Someone might buy a simple chicken coop at the same farm store from where they buy chicks, but it may be too small as the chickens grow or not adequately protective against predators. Proper housing for backyard chickens can run anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars.
There are also some costs associated with backyard chickens that may not be clear upfront to a first-timer, such as ongoing food costs, which are becoming more expensive, and unexpectedly high medical bills due to chickens requiring specialty veterinarians and being at risk for health complications that could require ongoing treatment or medicine.
Farm Sanctuary, which has locations in New York state and Los Angeles, said backyard chickens make up the majority of animal placement requests they receive.
“Many guardians who reach out to us for help are new to caring for a backyard flock and are ill-prepared for the challenges of providing lifelong care. In some cases, they underestimate the challenges associated with protecting birds from predation, the expense involved, the difficulties of wintertime care, or the general level of care and commitment,” Ashley Pankratz, Farm Sanctuary’s senior manager of rescue and placement, said in a statement provided to Insider.
Pankratz also noted that backyard chickens are not necessarily the answer for people who view it as a more humane way to eat eggs, adding chicks are often coming from the same facilities that supply factory farms.
Complicated by the bird flu outbreak
Many people also don’t realize that it could take four to six months for chicks, which are often purchased instead of full-grown chickens, to start laying eggs, or that they’ll only produce eggs for a few years and live much longer than that.
“The same thing kind of happened in 2020, when everyone went into quarantine and decided they were going to homestead,” Lieurance said of people rushing out to buy chickens and later realizing it was a bad idea.
This time around, the problem is compounded by the bird flu outbreak, as sanctuaries like Farm Animal Refuge are unable to take in new birds due to the risk of spreading the disease, meaning people looking to get rid of their backyard chickens may not have many options.
“That is another huge problem with everybody going out and buying these chicks right now — they’re potentially moving around this disease to places it hasn’t been before,” Lieurance said, adding: “We’re kind of bracing for three months from now to be getting a lot of these calls and unfortunately having to say no and not having an option for them.”
Some think they are buying hens and end up with roosters
Another challenge with buying backyard chickens is that you may unintentionally end up with a rooster.
Determining the sex of chicks can be difficult, and stores will often sell a group of small hens that actually contain a rooster.
“When you buy baby chicks, they tell you that they’re female, and then six to eight weeks later one of them starts crowing and your neighbors complain,” Lieurance said, adding that Farm Animal Refuge often hears from people looking to get rid of roosters.
Pankratz of the Farm Sanctuary also said they “receive daily requests to take in roosters who are unwanted, abandoned, or surrendered to shelters.”
In addition to not producing eggs, roosters are also illegal or heavily restricted in many jurisdictions where egg-laying hens are allowed. They can be difficult to rehome for similar reasons.
Kelly Rutkowski, the founder of the Adopt a Bird Network, said the roosters represent a “big animal welfare issue.” Her organization serves as an intermediary between people who want to adopt chickens, and rescues, sanctuaries, or shelters that are looking for somewhere to place them.
Rutkowski said the hens are easy to place, often to people who’d just like to keep them as pets, and that they are typically adopted out the same days she posts them online, but roosters are much harder.
“There are people who see them as more than just egg machines and see them for their personality,” she said. But even those people may live in places that make it illegal or impractical to have a rooster around. She tries to discourage people from buying backyard chickens on a whim, to avoid having more roosters with nowhere they can go.
“It does worry me,” Rutkowski said of the high egg prices and increase in people buying chicks. “I’m just waiting for all the birds to start showing up in shelters, especially the roosters.”
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