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Backyard Chicken Ownership Continues Its Boom

High cost of eggs and scarcity prompting renewed interest

spinner image a couple raising backyard chickens
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Will Jones says that when his five new chickens start laying regularly, he’ll have so many eggs he won’t be able to give them away. “I’ll be going out at night and egging houses,” he jests. ​

A scarcity of eggs and a spike in prices were some of the reasons Jones, 70, said yes when his two adult daughters, Molly and Emery, asked if they could buy and keep chickens in his Baton Rouge, Louisiana, backyard. The Jones women live nearby, but their dad’s house sits on an acre where the chickens have room to roam. ​

spinner image will jones of baton rouge louisiana with his new hen big al
Will Jones, of Baton Rouge, with his new hen, Big Al.
Courtesy of Emery Jones

For about $50 in materials, Jones transformed a shed in his yard into a coop. Emery purchased two adult hens and three pullets (hens 15 to 22 weeks old) and comes over to care for them daily. She is so enthusiastic about the birds — Big Al, Froggie, Tuttle, Boots and Cootie — that she’s begun making her own chicken feed. ​

Jones had kept chickens in the past and enjoyed their antics. “They’re fun,” he says. “Plus, I wanted to make my daughters happy.”​ ​

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Fresh eggs and companions

Inflation, supply chain issues and the worst avian flu in U.S. history — 58 million birds affected in 47 states — has had an impact on the market. As of January, prices were up 70 percent from a year ago, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index. ​

That’s spurred some people to invest in their own backyard chickens, says Stephanie Peterson, owner of Fruit of the Coop near Brandon, South Dakota, which sells eggs to restaurants and specialty stores. Peterson has a flock of about 225 chickens and buys eggs at wholesale from other nearby flocks.​

spinner image stephanie peterson owner of fruit of the coop in brandon south dakota
Stephanie Petersen, owner of Fruit of the Coop in Brandon, South Dakota
Courtesy of Stephanie Peterson

Peterson says data’s not out yet on new backyard chicken ownership since egg prices have spiked, but she has noticed an increased interest. “I teach all the backyard chicken-keeping classes for the area, and for 2023, my class sizes have doubled and I’m teaching twice as many classes,” she says. ​

It’s a trend that has been on the rise since the start of the pandemic in 2020, says Chris Lesley, editor of the website Chickens and More and author of Raising Chickens: The Common Sense Beginner’s Guide to Backyard Chickens. People have become increasingly interested in keeping chickens, even in cities and suburbs, due to enhanced interest in organic food and understanding where food comes from, as well as concerns about the environment, Lesley says. ​

Raising backyard chickens is also about the quality of the eggs, Peterson says. Pasture-raised eggs are tastier and cook up fluffier than commercially produced eggs and have a darker yellow or orange yolk. ​

According to a 2007 study, free-range eggs contain a third less cholesterol and a quarter less saturated fat than grocery store eggs while offering more vitamins A and E, beta-carotene and omega-3 fatty acids.​

Once hens start laying, backyard chickens may provide more access to eggs. But will owning chickens save you money on eggs in the long term? Not necessarily, says Peterson. Costs can vary depending on the setup, coop and type of feed used.​

But rental-chicken options have made it easier than ever to set up a backyard flock. They offer a good way to get in on the chicken-keeping trend without the stress of a long-term commitment. Companies such as RentACoop and Rent The Chicken, which deliver to locations across the country and in Canada, provide customers with two to four egg-laying hens, a portable coop, feed, a feeder and waterer, and a handy guide for beginners. Rental periods vary from four weeks to six months, and if you find yourself smitten with your new feathered friends, you can often purchase them.​

There has been a “huge increase” in the chicken rental business in recent years, says Jenn Tompkins, owner of Rent The Chicken, noting that her business grew 60 percent from 2020 to 2022. ​

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“There’s still a continuing change in people’s perspective on their food choices,” Tompkins says, “and … seeing empty shelves at the supermarket pretty regularly helps people make different choices. Some people have decided they just want their food sources closer to home.” ​

The birds also provide companionship, she adds. Chickens are intelligent, sociable creatures that can form strong bonds with humans. “There’s so much more to backyard chickens than the eggs,” Tompkins says. ​

Bear in mind that keeping chickens takes a lot of time and effort, but if you’re thinking of giving it a try, here are some tips to help you get started.​

Do some chicken prep work

Begin by familiarizing yourself with poultry-keeping ordinances in your area. You can find these online or by calling your local government agency. Many areas allow at least three hens, but some don’t permit the noisier roosters. Fortunately, hens don’t need a rooster to lay eggs.​

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Second, share your backyard-chicken plan with your neighbors. While you typically don’t need their permission, it’s always a good idea to have their blessing.​

Third, do some research, which includes talking to more experienced chicken keepers. The Beginners Guide to Raising Backyard Chickens at Fresh Eggs Daily, created by Lisa Steele, a fifth-generation chicken keeper and author, is a great place to start. Make sure to consider your overall budget and your lifestyle.​

Plan your ideal first flock

Consider whether you’d prefer day-old chicks or started pullets. Chicks offer more variety, are less expensive per bird and let you begin bonding from day one. But chicks need special housing and feed, as well as a heat source. Hens usually begin laying at 18 to 24 weeks, so if you want eggs right away, started pullets are a good option. You’ll need a coop that is ready to go and properly equipped.​

A hen typically lays an egg every 25 hours, but production depends on factors including temperature, breed, diet and environment.​

An all-female flock of three to six birds is an ideal way to start. Gentle, friendly breeds such as Buff Orpington, Golden Comet, Silkie and Barred Plymouth Rock make excellent companions. “I love the Black Australorp,” Steele says. “They’re calm and docile, cold-hardy and great layers of large brown eggs.”​

Shopping for chickens

Hatcheries are some of the best places to get chickens. Many, such as the Meyer Hatchery and Cackle Hatchery, are family owned by veteran chicken keepers. They have decades of experience and a wide variety of breeds and are rooting for you to succeed. Keep in mind that most hatcheries are swamped right now and rapidly selling out of popular breeds, so you’ll want to place your order soon.​

Be sure to carefully read each hatchery’s order policy. Some accept small orders, but others require a minimum of 15 birds. If you’re local, you can pick up your birds. If not, hatcheries will package chickens with care and send them through the mail. Birds typically arrive at your local post office within two days of hatching. A postal clerk will call you when they arrive.

Other good options are local farm-supply stores and fellow chicken keepers.​

Focus on safety

Be aware that chickens can transmit salmonella to humans, so owners should take precautions to prevent infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control, people should wash their hands with soap and water after touching birds or eggs. In addition, backyard chicken owners should collect eggs often, since those that become dirty or break can become infected. And always cook eggs thoroughly.​ 

How to Stay Safe Around Backyard Flocks

  • Don’t kiss birds or snuggle with them and then touch your face or mouth.​
  • Don’t let birds or supplies you use to care for them into your home, especially where food is prepared, served or stored. ​
  • Clean any equipment or materials used to raise or care for birds, including outdoor cages.​
  • Wear a separate pair of shoes when caring for birds, and store the footwear outside.​

Source: CDC​

Renée Bacher is a contributing writer who covers health, pets and lifestyle. She has also written for The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post Magazine and Parade. 


Contributing writer Karen Doll writes about education and pets.

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