The Morning Call (Sunday)

Pandemic feeding demand to raise backyard chickens

- By Terence Chea

ROSS, Calif. — The coronaviru­s pandemic is coming home to roost in America’s backyards.

Forced to hunker down at home, more people are setting up coops and raising their own chickens, which provide an earthy hobby, animal companions­hip and a steady supply of fresh eggs.

Amateur chicken-keeping has been growing in popularity in recent years as people seek environmen­tal sustainabi­lity in the food they eat. The pandemic is accelerati­ng those trends, some breeders and poultry groups say, prompting more people to make the leap into poultry parenthood.

Businesses that sell chicks, coops and other supplies say they have seen a surge in demand since the pandemic took hold in March and health officials ordered residents to stay home.

Allison and Ron Abta of Northern California’s Marin County had for years talked about setting up a backyard coop. They took the plunge in August.

The couple’s three kids were thrilled when their parents finally

agreed to buy chicks.

“These chickens are like my favorite thing, honestly,” said 12-year-old Violet, holding a dark feathered hen in her woodsy backyard. “They actually have personalit­ies once you get to know them.”

The baby birds lived inside

the family’s home for six weeks before moving into the chicken run in the yard. A wire-mesh enclosure houses the five heritage hens — each a different breed — and protects them from bobcats, foxes and other predators.

Mark Podgwaite, a Vermont chicken breeder who heads the

American Poultry Associatio­n, said he and other breeders have noticed an uptick in demand for chicks since the pandemic began. His organizati­on, which represents breeders and poultry-show exhibitors, has seen a jump in new members.

“Without question, the resurgence in raising backyard poultry has been unbelievab­le over the past year,” said Podgwaite, who keeps a flock of roughly 100 birds. “It just exploded. Whether folks wanted birds just for eggs or eggs and meat, it seemed to really, really take off.”

The Abta family bought the chicks from Mill Valley Chickens, which sells chickens, feed and supplies and builds coops and runs. Owner Leslie Citroen also offers classes for first-time chicken keepers. She estimates her sales have grown 400% this year.

“Once COVID hit, my phone just started ringing off the hook and it just has not slowed down,” Citroen said. “I don’t think it’s going to slow down. I think this new interest and passion in chickens is permanent.”

Citroen said most of her new customers are first-time chicken keepers. One of her newest is Ben Duddleston, who stopped by her home to buy three hens. He wanted to surprise his kids, ages 5 and 10, on Christmas.

“I think it’s totally pandemic related. I don’t think that I’d be doing this if in normal times,” Duddleston said.

 ?? TERRYCHEA/AP ?? Members of the Abta family — Allison, from left, Violet, Eli and Ariella — hold hens in front of their backyard chicken coop in Ross, California.
TERRYCHEA/AP Members of the Abta family — Allison, from left, Violet, Eli and Ariella — hold hens in front of their backyard chicken coop in Ross, California.

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