Americans are stress-buying live chickens because of egg price inflation and leaving hatcheries short on supply for restaurants
Everyone knows a puppy isn’t for Christmas, it’s for life. People are now also realizing a chicken isn’t just for a cost of living crisis.
The driving factor selling out hatcheries across the States this season is consumers buying their own feathered friends to beat soaring egg prices and increased costs of meat.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the price of eggs has grown 70% in the last year, and the cost of a whole chicken is up 30% when compared to this time ten years ago.
Consumers are now cutting out the middle man and buying chicks in their droves, hatcheries have said.
Demand has more than doubled for some businesses, which have now sold out for the season and are having to turn away customers.
The increase in demand has been driven by three factors: the price and supply of poultry products, fear over the origin of food, and consumers trying to get a sense of control over their finances in a time of uncertainty.
That’s according to Cloyd Good, a manager at Freedom Ranger Hatchery in Pennsylvania.
He told Fortune: “When you do raise chickens yourself you have a handle on the cost. It definitely can be expensive to keep chickens but it can also be a very rewarding process.
“When it doesn’t pay off financially is when you’re buying a cute little chicken coop that’s going to cost you $1,200, you put five little pens in there and then every week you’re buying the chickens extra goodies. They soon become a pet.
“If you are a handy person you can make your own nice little chicken shelter –chickens don’t take a whole lot. You buy a fortified food and then when you go to give them treats it’s leftover lettuce from dinner or some other table scraps and fruit and veg peelings. The chicken doesn’t care what you paid for the treats, they just love treats.”
Good’s office sells about 200,000 chicks a week and is continually sold out, even when projections had included surplus stock on the off-chance there was a boom in demand.
It’s been a balancing act for hatcheries like Good’s to welcome an influx of new customers while keeping their existing clients happy.
He added that some customers have been “blindsided” by birds selling out earlier than expected.
Those impacted aren’t just ‘backyarders’ looking for pet birds but also farm-to-table growers and restaurant suppliers, he said.
“It’s really hard when you’re doing a high volume of sales to know who to save birds for and where to embrace opportunity,” he said.
Pets that produce your breakfast
Nilsa Alverez’s six chickens have been providing her family of four with 42 eggs a week since they purchased a flock in spring last year.
The East Tennessee mom had always wanted to farm on a small scale but said seeing inflation increase in December 2021 put “fire under her boots” to start sooner rather than later.
Speaking told Fortune: “As soon as I saw inflation increase in December 2021, I felt like it was the right time to prioritize my little farm dream knowing it would also save us money on things we really need – sustenance.”
The family bought six chicks for $3 each, with the ginger hens—dubbed ‘The Golden Girls’ by the family. Alverez said: “I recommend choosing chicks. If your family goes through eggs like water I recommend choosing hens like our golden girls.”
Push for self-sufficiency
The issue of egg supply and price has humbled shoppers across the board –even Spider-Man had to jump on the chicken-buying bandwagon when the U.K. locked down in March 2020.
Actor Tom Holland revealed he had decided to become the “source of eggs” because he couldn’t get hold of any in the supermarkets, and bought two chickens for his backyard.
The price issue has “shocked” consumers into trying to be more self-sufficient, said Cackle Hatchery’s Jeff Smith.
He added that “anytime there’s a scary thing like the pandemic people start becoming more self-reliant”, with further caution stemming from a dubious economic outlook.
However, the Missouri poultry boss cautioned first-time chicken buyers against the idea that the scheme would be an instant money maker.
“You want to do your research and due diligence,’ he told Fortune. “You need to make sure you’ve got the right type of situation for your animals throughout the seasons and for your geography.
“If you don’t have a shed you can convert, going out and buying materials can all add up. You really need to know your area with wildlife depending what part of the country you’re in.
“Where we are if you don’t have Fort Knox for your chickens you’re going to have raccoons, coyotes, possums, wild dog, owls, hawks, everything coming in to eat your chickens.”
Like his Pennsylvania counterpart, Smith is similarly having to balance backyard buyers with wholesalers: “We can’t supply all the chick needs that the demand wants right now. We can’t magically appear these –it takes six to eight months and a lot of what we do is cyclical.
“Of course if you over-produce and you don’t have a market you’ve just shot all of your profit for the year. You can’t just go out and mass-produce and flood the market otherwise you’d be out of business.”