New Brunswick

Pandemic chickens: The demand for farm birds spikes during COVID-19 outbreak

While New Brunswickers have hunkered down to wait out the coronavirus it appears - for some - their ambitions have risen to try their hand at becoming chicken farmers.

The demand has more than doubled for chickens, according to farm bird retailers in NB

The demand for chickens in New Brunswick has spiked during the COVID-19 outbreak. (Joe McDonald/CBC)

While New Brunswickers have hunkered down to wait out the coronavirus it appears - for some - their ambitions have risen to try their hands at becoming chicken farmers. 

Demand for chickens has spiked across the province, and retailers think it's due to food security fears during the pandemic. 

"At least double for what we normally sell for our laying birds," said Francis Dempsey, manager at the Bathurst Agricultural society. "Meat birds as well." 

Dempsey says with the global pandemic, people are hoping to make fewer trips to the grocery store, and want to get back to knowing exactly where their food comes from and what exactly is in it. He says it's a direct response to COVID-19. 

"I would believe so a hundred per cent," said Dempsey. "People are starting to get a little more conscious about their eating and where their food is coming from." 

Chicks are in high demand across the province to the point that some suppliers have run out of chickens. (Joe McDonald/CBC)

It is the same story in southern New Brunswick where demand for "day olds," freshly hatched laying chicks, as well as chickens raised for meat, has more than doubled. 

"The numbers have just spiked, unbelievably so," said Sara Hayes, manager at Shur-Gain Feeds'n Needs in Fredericton. 

"Everybody wants to grow their own food," said Hayes. "They want to know where it's coming from and now that they're being told to stay home they have the opportunity to do that. And it's a great experiment for people who have young children at home." 

"Some groups of neighbours are getting together," said Hayes. "So, they're doing this experiment together." 

Hayes says the increased demand is coming both from those who buy chickens every year, but are buying more, and those who have never raised the birds before. 

Hayes says raising chickens isn't overly difficult, but recommends doing their research before buying the birds. 

Jane MacKinnon, head clerk at Fredericton northside Co-op Country Store says the increased demand for chickens is great, but she reminds people the birds must be cared for year-round and require heated coops for the coldest days of winter. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

The company does sell chickens that have been raised to nearly egg-laying age, but she says chicks are the biggest demand. 

"The day-olds are still by far the most popular," said Hayes. "Just because people want them when they're young, they want to grow them up. The new people obviously want the experience for their kids. 

Across town at Fredericton's north side Co-op Country Store, the demand for chickens has also spiked, but customers there seem more interested in chickens that can start producing eggs now. 

"I find this year there is a lot more demand for ready-to-layers, rather than day-olds," said  head clerk, Jane MacKinnon. 

"Because people have nothing to do, so they want their chickens laying now, because they want their eggs, because maybe they don't want to go to the grocery store." 

MacKinnon is also glad to see interest in agriculture again, but cautions people to know what they're in for before buying birds. 

"If you get an egg-laying chicken, she's going to lay an egg a day," said MacKinnon. "They don't realize how many eggs they're getting into." 

Laying hens are in high demand across the province as New Brunswickers look to be more self-reliant during the COVID-19 outbreak. (Shane Fowler/CBC News)

She also reminds potential chicken-farmers to remember that chickens need to be kept warm year-round. That means having a heated coop for them in the cold winter months. 

Anything with eggs 

The demand has grown so high that some suppliers are tapping out. 

"We just received our phone call on Monday to tell us that we cannot get anymore laying birds and now people are like 'well what else can we get that will have an egg?" said Dempsey. "Like, they have not much of a clue." 

So the demand isn't just up for chickens, but livestock across the board. 

"Ducks, quails, turkeys," said Dempsey. "Little piglets, small beef cows as well." 

When some people can't get chicks, some suppliers are asked for anything else that lays an egg, so the demand for ducklings has also increased. (CBC)

Both Dempsey and MacKinnon have also watched demand for produce seeds skyrocket, saying New Brunswickers seem keen to become self reliant in terms of food, regardless if it's a carrot or a chicken. 

Hayes says the cost of freshly hatched chicks has increased in recent years. 

"The day-old meat birds are $1.60 each, and the laying birds are $2.65 each," said Hayes. 


Shane Fowler


Shane Fowler has been a CBC journalist based in Fredericton since 2013.


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