This spring, a widespread desire for self-sufficiency and extra time spent at home drove interest in backyard chickens. Notably, Google searches for “chicken coop” more than doubled from the year prior. Now, the “COVID chicks” that hatched in spring are about to lay their first eggs. And while new chicken owners may have come to the category for the eggs, our Purina expert believes their owners will discover unexpected boons and companionship from the creatures.
“We call them pets with benefits,” says Patrick Biggs, Ph.D, a companion animal technical solutions nutritionist at Purina. Biggs has experience working in commercial poultry, but has since shifted gears, helping everyday individuals sort fact from fiction to keep their chickens happy, healthy and productive.
“In backyards, people aren’t typically trying to get the most eggs as possible from their chickens,” says Biggs. “They may begin with that intention, but once they start spending time with their flock, they realize that chickens have their own personalities, they’re kind of entertaining, and there’s more to them than just a source of eggs.”
Biggs has witnessed the rise in backyard flocks, which he called “off the charts,” following stay-at-home orders. In fact, PurinaMills.com saw an increase in daily site visits for their poultry webpage -- a doubling since the beginning of March -- and sales for Purina’s flock starter feeds saw a significant increase in sales since last year.
Many of these customers are brand new flock owners, including many urbanites. Biggs spends much of his time ensuring these new chicken owners are equipped with the right information and confidence, adding: “Most of the new customers have never raised a chicken, they didn’t grow up on a farm — some have never had a dog or cat even. There’s a lot of information on the internet, and it can be intimidating, trying to figure out what’s fact and what’s...not.”
The first few weeks of a chick’s life can be the most nerve-racking for new flock keepers. Fortunately, Purina has created a downloadable e-book to walk owners through flocks’ life stages and needs, week by week. Purina’s site hosts many more educational resources and articles to answer new owners’ most common questions, such as why keep a rooster? And how do chickens stay warm in the winter?
With Purina’s research-backed resources and feeds, new flock owners can gain confidence quickly to experience all the advantages of owning chickens, even unpredictable ones. For example, many of Biggs’ customers collect chickens for their pretty or exotic look or because they lay colorful eggs. For these reasons and so much more, he predicts the newcomers to the category may choose to expand their flocks in the future.
“They’re pretty easy going and fairly hearty. They don’t get sick very often with the right care and management, and they’re going to lay eggs for years to come — and provide some companionship and entertainment,” says Biggs.
Hopefully for new keepers of backyard chickens, the season has been a 101-course revealing the hard work and deep care for animals that Land O’Lakes member-owners invest into our nation’s food system every day of the year.
“There’s a connection with the animal, an emotional journey the bird takes you on,” Biggs adds. “It’s definitely worth the effort.”