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Hundreds of thousands of Americans become chicken keepers

In a historic farmhouse made of white wood in the New York borough of Queens, around 40 citizens of the city will be taught something over the next few weeks that doesn't seem to fit in with the world metropolis.

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Hundreds of thousands of Americans become chicken keepers

In a historic farmhouse made of white wood in the New York borough of Queens, around 40 citizens of the city will be taught something over the next few weeks that doesn't seem to fit in with the world metropolis. You learn how to raise young hens at the County Farm Museum.

"There's a huge influx of people buying their own chickens right now," says executive director Jennifer Walden Weprin. Egg prices have recently reached unprecedented heights. "We hope that the participants will gain the knowledge they need to raise productive, healthy and stress-free chickens themselves."

Hundreds of thousands of Americans are getting chickens. Not only in the country, also in the backyards of the metropolis. Hatcheries everywhere are reporting record orders for chicks, many of which are already sold out for the upcoming season. Americans are now five times more likely to search for the term “chicken farm” in the Google search engine than they were a year ago.

The timetable at the County Farm Museum is already in place. Four days in March, each two hours long, all free. In the first sessions, the prospective breeders learn the New York regulations for keeping chickens, there is an introduction to the different breeds. They are then taught the requirements for accommodation and care. And finally, a visit to the chicken coops of the museum's own farm is on the program.

Professional courses like in Queens seem to be necessary. Hundreds of thousands have joined forces on social networks to support each other - to the best of their knowledge and belief. The Backyard Chickens Facebook group, BYC for short, has almost half a million members. Nancy, for example, a mother of three chickens from Brooklyn, New York, is currently worried about her hen Beatrix's butt.

"Not laying? Mites?” she asks her colleagues in a post. Lauren is unsure about feeding. "I hope that's not a stupid question," writes the hobby owner. She wants to know if she should ration the feed for her chicks. And Chanda, on the other hand, has no idea how far away the heat lamp should be at least from her chicks, which she bought just a few days ago.

On average in all American cities, a carton of twelve eggs currently costs $4.82, in expensive metropolises such as New York sometimes up to eleven dollars. This is shown by data from the Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis. A year earlier, the dozen cost less than two dollars. In addition to feed and transport inflation, another thing that has been driving prices up is the recent outbreak of bird flu.

Since February of last year, the disease has killed around 58 million birds bred on large farms in the US alone - including more than 43 million laying hens. It is the deadliest outbreak on record, the US Department of Agriculture said. Egg stocks in the United States in the last week of December 2022 were 29 percent lower than at the beginning of the year.

The opposition Republicans blame the US government for the rapidly rising prices. It was the "failed career politicians" like Joe Biden who allowed this to happen, raged Rick Scott, Senator from Florida, a few days ago. "So if you're in the supermarket this week and you can't buy as many eggs as you could a few weeks ago, you can thank the politicians."

Some grocers have taken to limiting sales to one or two boxes per customer. Democratic Senator Jack Reed called on the US competition authority to open an investigation into "potential price gouging and other fraudulent practices." He suspects that the big producers would take advantage of the situation.

Lisa Steele does not believe that the calculation for the hobby holder will work out. The American describes herself as "Eggspertin", has published several cookbooks and even an international TV series about chicken eggs. "There's an upfront effort involved with attitude," Steele warns. After all, hobby keepers need a stable, ideally an outlet for their chickens, feeding and watering systems. "The cost can easily range from a few hundred to thousands of dollars," says Steele.

However, the investments would pay off over several years, because the costs for maintenance and repairs are relatively low. "Anyone who bought chickens in 2009 is in a good position now." At that time there was a veritable rush for laying hens for house and farm in the USA. It was concern after the collapse of world financial markets that drove people.

And even at the beginning of the corona pandemic, Americans increasingly got into private rearing - although the motivation was different three years ago. "Because so many people were working from home and kids weren't in school, a lot of people thought now was a good time," she says.

The high prices for eggs would only have given further impetus to the development. What is new, for example, is that feed dealers are now also selling chicks. Or that resourceful entrepreneurs rent out their laying hens for a fee.

Phil and Jenn Tompkins of Freeport, Pennsylvania built one such business. Rent the Chicken is the name of her company, and it offers four chickens as a set, a mobile coop with equipment and feed for six months. The rental chickens lay up to 28 eggs per week.

A backyard measuring three by five meters is enough. The smallest packages start at around $400. "Children quickly realize that chicks are not as much fun as the game console," explains the couple. "And parents find out that you can't housetrain chickens." If a chicken dies, there's a free replacement. And when the rent expires after six months, the hens move on to the next customer.

However, the trend worries animal welfare organizations. "We are preparing for an onslaught of abandoned chickens," says Julia Magnus. The lawyer is an organizer with the Chicago Roo Crew – a support group that takes care of the well-being of chickens. Magnus believes that once people realize they are overwhelmed with caring for them, they want to get rid of the animals.

"In areas where backyard chickens are allowed, animal shelters and organizations are constantly getting calls about free-roaming animals," the animal rights activist complains. In many cases, these are unwanted taps. On the one hand they don't lay eggs, on the other hand there is the loud crowing - a stress test for any peaceful neighborhood.

Magnus is already trembling ahead of what animal rights activists are calling "rooster-throwing season." It is during the months between summer and fall when purchased chicks grow and the roosters begin to crow. "We've already reached the capacity limit," says Magnus. If the inexperienced owners don't rethink, the impending onslaught cannot be managed.

The Queens County Farm Museum, on the other hand, is excited about the trend towards self-sufficiency. "We're thrilled that New Yorkers are taking an interest in growing their own food," says executive director Jennifer Walden Weprin. Even if they still have a lot to learn. In any case, the course for prospective chicken keepers is fully booked. If you still want to take part, you have to be put on the waiting list.

"Everything on shares" is the daily stock exchange shot from the WELT business editorial team. Every morning from 7 a.m. with our financial journalists. For stock market experts and beginners. Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcast, Amazon Music and Deezer. Or directly via RSS feed.

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