By Sarah Pope
A pandemic surge in raising backyard chickens shows no signs of abating in the metro.
Fresh eggs have always been a benefit of keeping hens, but the pandemic created an additional incentive for families to raise and keep chickens, says Jon Goodwin, owner of the Waldo Grain Co.
“During Covid, raising chickens became a family thing to do with kids home from school,” Goodwin said. “It was a thing to let kids do and give them some responsibility.”
The City of Kansas City, Mo., and other municipalities around the KC Metro area have been making it easier—or at least possible—for residents to raise chickens. In Kansas City, Mo., urban livestock guidelines allow small animals, such as chickens, to be kept in pens as long as they are within a certain distance from the keeper’s dwelling. Up to 15 adult chickens may be kept with additional allowances for animals younger than four months old. Even roosters can be kept if an animal keeper meets certain distance requirements on their property. The city also permits animal keepers to sell eggs from their residence.
Selling eggs may sound pretty tempting considering the recent fluctuations in egg prices.
“With the price of eggs, people are changing from giving them away to using them for themselves,” Goodwin said.
Brookside resident Janelle Sjue and her family began raising chickens in 2016, in response to the loosened restrictions on backyard chickens. The family enjoys caring for animals and feeding kitchen scraps to their chickens in the backyard. At the start of the pandemic, the Sjues brought home more chicks and expanded the chicken coop along the side of their house. The new location made it visible to passersby on the Trolley Trail on Brookside Boulevard. Hundreds of people stopped by to see the chickens.
“I think (our flock) really exposes people to the fact that it’s not that difficult to have chickens,” Sjue said. “And it’s a good diversion for kids.”
At Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead in Overland Park, Kan., animal care supervisor Sarah Higgerson is not surprised at all that children are drawn to chickens. She was fascinated by chickens when she was a child, too.
“Chickens are basically miniature raptors,” she said. “They even move in the same way. They’re the closest thing we have to a Tyrannosaurus Rex and that draws children in.”
The diminutive stature of chickens also makes them feel accessible to children.
“The chickens are small, compared to some of the larger livestock we have, so the kids can get down on their level,” said Virgil Miles, superintendent at Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead. “Chickens can be quirky and fun to watch as they move and interact with each other, especially when chasing bugs or food.”
The results seen at Waldo Grain is that instead of leveling off post-pandemic, the demand for chicken feed has stayed steady at his store and shows signs of growth, according to Goodwin.
“It really seems to keep picking up as time goes by,” he said.
Both Sjue and Goodwin noted that raising chickens has a learning curve.
“I think people learn over time to keep their chickens penned up and fenced in—away from the predators,” Goodwin said. “One of the hazards of keeping chickens is making sure they are well guarded.”
Sjue cautions that the reality of raising chickens can conflict with a romanticized version.
“Pinterest chickens are not a realistic depiction of chicken ownership,” she said.
Despite the challenges, metro area resident Carolina Valencia finds raising chickens to be a surprisingly enjoyable endeavor. She compares the relaxation benefits to those of gardening—a chance to be outside and tend to something small and cute.
“They are a de-stressor,” Valencia said. “It’s fun to care for them and they also give you eggs.”
Our experts share advice for would-be chicken owners:
Don’t be afraid to get dirty
Chickens all have different personalities
Be aware of animals in your area that can be a threat to chickens. Keep an eye out for owls, hawks, foxes, raccoons and even your neighbor’s cat
Spoil them once in awhile—Chickens enjoy treats like mealworms and grubs