PEI

How COVID-19 has inspired more Islanders to raise chickens

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a boom in the sale of chicks and hens for rent on P.E.I. this summer as people want more of a hand in producing their own food.

'This year has been just out of this world, the demand has been huge'

Six-year-old Emma lifts the hatch to let Captain Clucks and Shiny Nincompoop out of their coop. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a boom in the sale of chicks and hens for rent this summer as people want more of a hand in producing their own food. 

Sally Bernard of Barnyard Organics in Freetown, P.E.I., has rented hens for five years, but this year has been different.  

"It's been immense," Bernard said. "It's always gone well, but this year has been just out of this world, the demand has been huge."

Bernard sold out in March and has been keeping a waiting list that continues to grow. 

"I'm getting new registrations all the time even though I have no coops left and no hens left to rent," Bernard said.

Sally Bernard rented so many chickens this spring that she won't be able to sell eggs until she rebuilds her supply of hens this fall. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

"People just so desperate they are going to buy their own coop somewhere else and they just need a couple of hens. It feels like a desperation, they just really want to have chickens right now."

Bernard said the interest in chickens has been growing, but the COVID-19 pandemic amplified that interest.

She said it's similar to what happened this spring at garden centres, with people new to gardening.

Bernard sold out in March but has been keeping a waiting list that continues to grow even though she has no coops left to rent. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

"There has been a little more demand each year, but I think the pandemic sort of exacerbated that and ballooned that trend just that much faster," Bernard said. 

"A little bit of food security I guess, a little bit maybe of panic, but also just wanting to have a hand in producing your own food."

It's not just chickens

Barnyard Organics also sells organic feed and there has been an increase in that side of the business as well.

Bernard said she's hearing similar stories from other farmers. 

These rental hens are named Captain Clucks and Shiny Nincompoop and are living with the Gunn McQuillan family in St. Peter's Harbour, P.E.I. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

"The demand for piglets is also way up," Bernard said.

"We've had some people contact us for feed who have goats for the first time. It's all over the map.

"People are just trying out new things, I guess, because they're home and they can." 

Increased interest from families

Bernard said the new hen renters this season include single people and seniors, but the biggest demographic has been families. 

The Gunn McQuillan family in St. Peter's Harbour are renting two hens this summer, as kind of a "tester" for nine-year-old Finlay and six-year-old Emma.

The family is keeping the two hens and will be building a winterized coop, with six more laying hens coming in the fall. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

The pandemic, they said, did play into their decision.

"Certainly having that time to be at home and be with our family a little bit more gave us that opportunity, to kind of reflect on things that we wanted to do," Jarrod Gunn McQuillan said.

"Even when we post on social media, we have a lot of people inquiring and asking about our chickens and want to know about them so there's certainly an increased interest for sure."

Shiny Nincompoop got her nickname because she likes to peck shiny objects including the CBC camera. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

The experiment has gone so well that the Gunn McQuillans will now be keeping the two hens, named Captain Clucks and Shiny Nincompoop.

They will also be building a winterized coop and have six more laying hens coming in the fall.

Chick sales up 30 per cent

At the Agro Co-op in Charlottetown, manager Colleen Dean has also seen a dramatic jump in the sale of chicks and ready to lays, hens that are ready to start producing eggs as soon as they're purchased. 

Dean said sales are up 30 per cent, most of those people new to raising chickens.

Emma and Finlay say the eggs are 'better than a store,' with nice golden yellow yolks. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

"It's the questions they ask, what they would need, how they would raise a chicken, all the equipment they'll buy when they're starting up," Dean said. 

"So we would just determine that they have never done this before."

There has been one small downside in the popularity of chickens this year: Bernard won't have any eggs to sell until she has a chance to replace all of the hens that she rented out this spring. 

Barnyard Organics also sells organic feed and there has been an increase in that side of the business as well. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

Bernard said she's not sure how long the the interest in raising chickens will last.

"You can't help but think that maybe it's some of it is a bit of a trend, maybe lots of people won't keep this up in the long term, but there will be a few that do," Bernard said.

"They will probably grow their flock, or have a pig every year, and I think every person who's raising their own food, I'm encouraged by that."

More from CBC P.E.I.

 

About the Author

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog. Nancy.Russell@cbc.ca

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