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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.
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.
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.