Renee Shannon has been raising five chickens in her Worthington home in Ohio, the United States, for more than two months now, but she still can’t tell any of them apart except for one.
That would be Angel, named because she likes to sit on top of the feeder and because she has emerged as the “head chick” in Shannon’s eyes. The rest are identified by different coloured bands around their legs.
“They make you laugh, they’re funny and they’re cute, ” Shannon said. “Their personalities are bigger than they are.”
Shannon, 62, never grew up around chickens but had always wanted them. It was the pandemic that finally persuaded her, and she’s not the only one.
Denise Beno, who teaches urban chicken classes and works part-time at City Folk’s Farm Shop in Clintonville, said she’s seen two or three times the normal number of people come in to buy chicken feed or ask questions about how to get started raising chickens over the past few months.
“A lot of people already had it in the back of their mind that this was something that they wanted to do, and the pandemic just pushed them forward, ” Beno, 57, said.
Shannon was motivated by the idea of having her own personal supply of eggs when she couldn’t find any at the grocery store.
“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have chickens producing eggs and being able to share them with neighbours and friends and family?’” she said.
Shannon has been raising her chickens from baby chicks, which Beno recommends for first-time owners. However, chickens don’t reach point of lay, or when they regularly start laying eggs, until they’re about 20 weeks old. Shannon doesn’t mind it, though.
“I kind of forgot about that aspect, ” Shannon said. “I’m just enjoying seeing them enjoy life.”
Amy Smith, 45, also recently bought chickens with eggs in mind. The Ohio native used to live in Florida, where she had a farm with more than 150 chickens. When she moved back – she now lives in Sunbury – she was burnt out and didn’t want to be tied down by chickens if she wanted to travel.
But when the pandemic hit, Smith realised she probably wouldn’t be travelling anywhere anytime soon. Now she has eight chickens, which she bought about three weeks ago from a seller on Craigslist. They were nine weeks old when she bought them, so she’s expecting eggs starting near the end of August or the beginning of September.
“I feel very comfortable and confident knowing that in two more months, I’ll have a daily source of eggs that I can just go out and get, ” Smith said. “That makes me feel in control of a food source.”
She forgot how much she missed having chickens around, even just as pets.
“I have a seat outside my coop where I sit and watch them in the evenings, ” Smith said. “I think sitting there listening to the chickens make their little happy noises is very relaxing and something that I didn’t realise I missed.”
According to Columbus Public Health, residents can own up to eight laying hens with a permit, which costs US$150 (RM640) for four years, about the lifespan of a chicken. Owners are required to have 1.5sq ft of space per bird inside the coop, and 8sq ft per bird of space outside in a fenced-in run.
Beno said that chickens are one of the easiest and least expensive livestock to keep, costing about US$1,700 (RM7,300) from chick to the point of lay, and then about US$500 (RM2,140) annually. These costs include the permit, feed, a coop, bedding, medical expenses and the cost of the animals themselves. Baby chicks only cost a few dollars each, but the cost goes up the older the animal is.
One of the biggest concerns for chicken owners is predators. Raccoons, foxes, hawks and dogs all can pose a threat to chickens.
“Everything likes to eat chickens, ” Smith said. “You have to work hard to keep them alive sometimes, and people don’t realise that.”
Smith spent a week just preparing a coop to ensure that it would be able to keep out predators, having lost chickens to various animals in the past.
“We wanted to make sure that if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right, ” she said.
Beno encourages people to do their research before spontaneously buying chickens. But with the proper care, she thinks they can make great pets.
“Chickens are hilarious, ” Beno said. “Since we can’t go to the theatre, you can take a couple lawn chairs and sit them out back in the evening and feed them table scraps and just be entertained by them. They are the clowns of the barnyard.” – Tribune News Service/The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)/Maya Fenter