Why You Shouldn’t Buy a Backyard Chicken Because of Egg Bloat

  • Egg prices have risen 70% in the past year, according to federal government data.
  • More and more people are turning to backyard chickens, but experts warn it’s not as easy or cheap as it seems.
  • Farm rescues are set up for people trying to get rid of chickens bought on a whim.

The appeal of backyard chickens — which roam, graze on grass and produce fresh, delicious eggs — is clear, and the high price of eggs at the grocery store has made the idea of ​​bringing chickens home even more enticing to some consumers.

Driven by inflation and an outbreak of bird flu that is decimating flocks, the price of eggs has soared. Altogether bird flu has led to the death of more than 58 million farm birds since January 2022, through infection or culling, drastically affecting the egg supply. Over the past year, egg prices have risen more than 70 percent, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Earlier this year, the New York Times, Insider and others wrote about people turning to backyard chickens to combat inflation.

Farmers say they have been inundated with requests from people interested in owning laying hens, a trend that even predates the “egg boom”. Tractor Supply Co., a leading chick seller, told the Wall Street Journal that live chicken sales have more than doubled since 2018 and that they expect to sell 11 million chicks in 2023 alone.

But backyard chickens may not be the budget-conscious trick we’re hoping for.

Rescuers at the farm told Insider they’re bracing for an influx of people wanting to throw away their chickens after realizing they can’t sustain the cost or time associated with caring for the birds.

Backyard chickens can be expensive and a challenge to care for

“Other than pot-bellied pigs, chicken and rooster calls are the most common calls we get,” Matt Lieurance, co-founder of Farm Animal Refuge in San Diego, California, told Insider. “People get chickens mainly for egg production and then a couple of things happen. One is they don’t have the proper regulation and they get attacked by predators.”

Two chickens grazing in a field of green grass.

Some people buy backyard chickens to combat egg inflation.

Kelly Rutkowski, Adopt a Bird Network

Chickens can be preyed upon by creatures commonly found in American backyards, such as coyotes, hawks, raccoons, or possums. One can buy a simple coop from the same farm where they buy chicks, but it may be too small as the chickens grow or not provide adequate protection from predators. Proper housing for backyard chickens can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars.

There are also some costs associated with backyard chickens that may not be clear upfront at first, such as the ongoing cost of food, which becomes more expensive, and unexpectedly high medical bills due to the chickens needing specialist vets and are at risk for health complications that could require ongoing treatment or medication.

Farm Sanctuary, which has locations in New York state and Los Angeles, said backyard chickens make up the majority of animal placement requests they receive.

“Many guardians who come to us for help are new to caring for a backyard flock and are unprepared for the challenges of providing lifelong care. In some cases, they underestimate the challenges associated with protecting birds from predators, difficulties of winter care or the general level of care and commitment,” said Ashley Pankratz, Farm Sanctuary’s senior director of rescue and placement, in a statement provided to Insider.

Pankratz also noted that backyard chickens aren’t necessarily the answer for people who see it as a more humane way to eat eggs, adding that the chicks often come from the same facilities that supply factory farms.

Two chickens in a chicken coop

Coops must be created to protect the birds from potential predators, including coyotes and hawks.

Kelly Rutkowski, Adopt a Bird Network

It is complicated by the outbreak of bird flu

Many people also don’t realize that it can take four to six months for chickens, which are often purchased instead of chickens, to start laying eggs, or that they will only produce eggs for a few years and live much longer. from this.

“The same thing happened in 2020, when everyone went into quarantine and decided they were going to go home,” Lieurance said of people rushing to buy chickens and later realizing it was a bad idea.

This time, the problem is compounded by an outbreak of bird flu, as shelters like the Farm Animal Refuge can’t take in new birds due to the risk of the disease spreading, meaning people who want to get rid of their backyard chickens they may not have many options.

“That’s another huge problem with everybody going out and buying these chickens right now — they’re probably moving around this disease to places they weren’t before,” Lieurance said, adding, “We’re protected for three months from now I’m going to get a lot of these calls and unfortunately I’m going to have to say no and have no choice about them.”

Some people think they buy hens and end up with roosters

Another challenge with buying backyard chickens is that you may inadvertently end up with a rooster.

Determining the sex of chicks can be difficult, and stores often sell a group of little hens that actually contain a rooster.

“When you buy chicks, they tell you they’re female, and then six to eight weeks later one of them starts crowing and your neighbors complain,” Lieurance said, adding that the Farm Animal Refuge often hears from people who want to get rid of them. of roosters.

Two chickens in a chicken coop

Hens usually lay eggs for a few years, but they can live much longer.

Kelly Rutkowski, Adopt a Bird Network

Farm Sanctuary’s Pankratz also said they “receive requests daily to take in roosters that are unwanted, abandoned or surrendered to shelters.”

In addition to not producing eggs, roosters are also illegal or heavily restricted in many jurisdictions where egg-laying hens are allowed. It can be difficult for them to return home for similar reasons.

Kelly Rutkowski, the founder of the Adopt a Bird Network, said roosters represent a “huge animal welfare issue”. Her organization acts as an intermediary between people who want to adopt chickens and rescues, shelters or shelters looking for somewhere to place them.

Rutkowski said hens are easy to place, often to people who just want to keep them as pets, and are usually adopted the same days she posts them online, but roosters are much more difficult.

“There are people who see them as more than egg machines and see them for their personality,” he said. But even these people may live in places that make it illegal or impractical to have a rooster around. He tries to discourage people from buying backyard chickens on a whim, to avoid having more roosters that can’t go.

“It worries me,” Rutkowski said of high egg prices and the increase in people buying chicks. “I’m just waiting for all the birds to start showing up at the shelters, especially the roosters.”

Have a news tip or personal story to share? Contact this reporter at kvlamis@insider.com.

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