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9:42 PM   April 24, 2015
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The Little Red Hen Makes a Comeback

Retailers can reap the benefits of the ongoing urban farm trend by adding poultry supplies to their product offerings.
By Lizett Bond

There’s a renaissance going on and retailers who are taking advantage of this new phenomenon are reaping the benefits. Urban chickens are making a comeback in a big way. Described as pets by many municipalities, city folk are now taking advantage of this designation in order to provide their families the benefits of poultry pet possession.

With six hens in the flock, the Harris family of Apple Valley, Calif., represents a typical suburban chicken keeper. They obtained chickens for the organic eggs, but found other benefits as well, including insect and fly control. Credit: Troy & Karen Harris
Farm fresh eggs impart a healthy alternative to store bought along with a tastier flavor. In addition, families are finding that chickens make good pets, eat insects, provide fertilizer and allow their children the opportunity to experience farm living in a relatively simple and inexpensive manner.

Suzie O’Connor owns, an online chicken product store created in February 2009. Her chicken adventures were launched with her own backyard ownership and the decision to build a chicken coop and advertise that coop on line. She sold her endeavor the next day and from there her site was born. Having since branched out to include fertile eggs, she also now offers incubators, brooders, chicken feed including organic feeds, educational DVDs, even chicken décor.

“A majority of my customers are schools doing science fair projects with fertile eggs and then I also have my customers that are into organic all natural food and live on maybe an acre, now I’m seeing an increase in those that have a small backyard and want two hens for fresh eggs every morning,” O’Connor said.

According to Nancy Harm, urban chicken farmers flock to Animal Feeds Inc., in the Bronx N.Y. for their hen supplies. Credit: Nancy Harm, Animal Feeds Inc.
Use of Internet keywords brought traffic to her site but she also distributed flyers and walked farmer’s markets handing out discount coupons.

Every shipment contains some type of marketing materials. Her store is strictly online and her customer base is countrywide.

“I just designed an A-frame chicken coop for someone’s city balcony,” she added.

Lisa Munniksma, managing editor of Urban Farm Magazine (a sister publication at BowTie) stated that urban farming is taking on popularity and not just in the larger east and west coast urban areas but also in middle America as part of an overall self sustainability movement. 

“Chickens area a big part of that movement,” Munniksma said.

Jack Horowitz of Animal Feeds Inc., in Bronx, N.Y., has witnessed this trend firsthand.

Animal Feeds Inc. got its start more than 75 years ago selling chicken feed to live poultry markets. In the early ‘50s, pet food products joined the mix. As live poultry markets phased out of operation Horowitz continued to carry poultry feed primarily due to nostalgia for his own farming background and a small market for the product. 

“We started noticing the laying hen thing within the last two years,” he said, “It kind of fits with the rest of our operation because I wanted my store to have the feel of a small town feed and farm supply, even while selling pet food and products. 

“Because of that, we’ve been described by many customers as a real destination,” Horowitz continued. “We were just coasting along, bringing feed in every two weeks and it was easy enough to keep up with the demand. But it kept increasing and increasing and then we found that there was this movement going on with these hens, which are the only legal livestock you can have in New York City. It’s very similar to what I had done myself 30 years earlier, being a hippy and living on a commune and wanting to know what was going into the food that I was eating.

We carry many things. I have an assortment of feeders and waterers and heat sources for winter as well as feed, including organic,” he added.

Chicks in the City

To those of the depression era, raising backyard chickens became a necessity; a means of survival alongside the relief gardens those long-ago flocks helped fertilize and de-bug.

There is a new movement afoot; folks are gardening, growing their own food for health as well as economic reasons and chickens are entering the medley once again. Key “urban chicken” into your Internet browser and see how many hits come up. 

Chicken ownership is becoming increasingly popular. Most cities allow hens, which are classified as pets. Urban roosters, almost across the country, are forbidden for obvious reasons. 

Some cities require a permit to possess chickens within their limits while others regulate the distance from owner’s residence to coop, which can keep poultry ownership in a small yard out of reach. Codes vary from city to city but the information is easily accessed on line. In addition to an Internet search, a call to local animal control agencies or municipalities can yield answers to zoning questions.

Cities not allowing chickens experience their share of “squatters” and often have vociferous groups working to change the rules.

Surprisingly, states such as California and New York, with their many urban cities, appear to be more lenient than some in the Midwest. New York City requires a permit and allows an unlimited number of hens but no roosters or other poultry, such as turkeys. Los Angeles does not have a limit but hens must reside 20 feet from the owner’s residence.

Chicago requires birds to be penned but does not list a maximum allowed. Detroit states flatly “no farm animals.”

Washington D.C. allows for hens but has a 50-ft setback requirement from the owner’s residence, as well as calling for written consent from neighboring residents.

With the current emphasis on the First Lady’s White House garden, can “first” chickens be far behind?  --LB

While this pervasiveness has caught on in the United States with more and more cities allowing chickens, in Canada the trend has not seen the same growth. Tom Manley, owner of Homestead Organics in Berwick, Ontario, has not experienced a significant increase in those requesting feed for small flocks.

“We are a feed mill and manufacturer of certified organic feeds, we don’t handle conventional feeds. A lot of customers will buy at our location here but we also supply feed stores and country stores,” Manley said.

Manley also said he is not yet seeing an increase in the urban sector because few cities have actually accepted urban production of poultry into their ordinances. Urban citizens are working to change that as they lobby to modify existing laws.

“I’ve been doing some reading and seeing what is happening in the States, but in Canada it has not caught on yet. I don’t know of many cities that have changed their bylaws to allow that,” he added.

In Petaluma, Calif., once known as the chicken capital of the world and an hour north of the San Francisco Bay Area, Rivertown Feed and Pet is experiencing a change along with a boom in the chicken business.

According to Jennie Frey, manager and buyer for the store, poultry and poultry products account for 35- to 40 percent of their business during the season, March to September.

Rivertown Feed and Pet carries waterers, feeders, heat lamps, nesting boxes and ready-made chicken coops in addition to feed supplies, including organic. It also sells baby chicks, purchasing about 500 baby chicks every two weeks during the six-month season. Its customers are primarily purchasing for small personal flocks, sometimes as few as two birds.

“We have people coming from San Francisco, Berkeley, they come pretty far,” Frey said. “When the baby chicks are here, feeders and waterers are probably our No. 1 sellers and, obviously, a heat lamp because they won’t survive without one.”

In the southern California city of Yorba Linda, Aaron Gallegos, general manager of Yorba Linda Feed and Tack has also noticed a change in the type of chicken customer that shops in his store. “Our typical chicken customers used to come in and buy maybe 10 to 20 baby chicks at a time,” Gallegos said. “Now it is common for customers to come in and want to buy one or two, but chickens are flock animals and we’ve found they tend to survive better if there are at least three and so we require a minimum purchase of three, it increases the survival rate,” he added.

Eric Fleming of Flemings Outdoor and Farm Supply in Ramer, Ala., has experienced an increase in backyard poultry supply sale, too. Their on-line store carries just about any want or need for poultry, including chicken houses and coops.

“We have been in the poultry supply business now for about 25 years, with an online site for about 10 years,” he said. “I would say in the past three to four years there has been a significant increase in the number of people purchasing feed and supplies for what you would call a backyard flock. They are raising anywhere from two to ten chickens.

“A lot of people have chickens as pets but you also have your green movement of people and they want to be conscientious of nature and you can take a chicken and it will provide you with eggs, and for the garden it provides chicken litter, a natural fertilizer,” Fleming added.

Compact, easy-to-assemble coops, such as this custom-built chicken coop from Suzie O'Connor, make keeping chickens in a backyard or urban setting a viable option for consumers and a potential money-maker for retailers. Credit: Courtesy of
Numerous websites exist to help owners with education and questions regarding their flocks. A common question that threads through many of these blogs and forums is where to purchase supplies, feed products and the chickens themselves.

Many retailers are finding that by sponsoring workshops or advertising in magazines and on chicken blogs and websites, they are able to reach potential customers. Urban chicken farmers are big on Internet research and communicate their findings to each other through the many chicken blogs and forums found on websites.

“Our business has increased a lot but we have done a lot of things, we advertise on chicken care websites and in urban farming magazines,” Fleming said. “Chickens have been good to us. I don’t have any now but I tell people I’m going to have to get some.” 

Backyard chicken owners Troy and Karen Harris of Apple Valley, Calif., along with 7-year-old son Caden, typify the suburban consumer. With six hens in their flock, they obtained chickens for the organic eggs, but found other benefits as well, including insect and fly control. 

The family special orders their organic feed from a local feed store and did a lot of Internet research prior to purchasing their chicks and coop from online providers as a result. A favorite activity for son Caden when he gets home from school is to head out to the coop to gather eggs.

“We were paying so much for our organic eggs, so decided to get our own chickens, and nothing beats a fresh egg Troy said. <HOME>

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