You might be thinking I’m going to make some link between poultry and our current pandemic. Thankfully, no, unlike the Bird Flu frenzy there is no connection between chickens and Covid 19. And thankfully, this isn’t like Virulent Newcastle Disease that is sweeping through parts of the United States, which is affecting chickens directly.
I have been watching the news and seeing this virus creep closer to where I live. Until it’s knocking at your door it does feel a bit surreal. We’re still at that stage: lots of doom and gloom from around the world, but the numbers in Canada are still low. Lower still, in my area. I know what is coming so I have been doing my part to ‘flatten the curve’. I was on staycation for a week and am now starting my second week of working at home. To say I’m working is a bit of a stretch: I’m an educator, so all my presentations have been cancelled. Now I’m engaged in make work projects: doing research and developing curricula in anticipation of my return, whenever that might be.
For most of that time I have been in the house or the garden or out walking my dog in the forest. No physical contact, but as it turns out a whole lot of social contact with folks online. I, like the majority of the population, have been consumed with spending time on the computer. There are a few trends I’ve noticed, as they pertain to chickens (that is, after all what you’re here for).
I think that many of us are surprised that one virus can bring the planet to its knees in such a short time. As it sweeps around the world it brings into stark reality how fragile our economic systems are. Those who live from pay cheque to pay cheque are in the precarious position of facing unemployment and the inability to pay their bills. Some of us are quarantined in small apartments in cities with reduced services and commodities.
I live in a rural island community and commute via ferry to a small city for work. We are a self-reliant bunch with gardens, livestock and skills to see us through short emergencies like snow storms and power outages. Many businesses are closed, but the gas station, grocery store, medical clinic are all up and running, with modifications. There are farmers selling beef, chicken, lamb, eggs and produce.
Our dependence on the supply chain is a wake-up call for many to become more self-sufficient. To that end, I’m watching with curiosity folks in online farm groups lament that feed stores are selling out of seeds, ducklings and chicks. It seems that droves of folks are suddenly interested in raising chickens to supply their families with meat and eggs.
That can be a good thing, but many of us wonder if this trend will be a short-lived one. Will inexperienced chicken keepers have the knowledge and commitment to take on the care of their new birds? Will unplanned for, and unwanted, roosters be dumped at the side of the road? When the dust settles and their interest fades will those birds be neglected? I hope that impulse buying, fueled by panic, isn’t to the detriment of chickens. I want folks to see the value in raising more of our own food and that chickens require a fair amount of preparation, knowledge and care from their keepers.
As chickens become a hot commodity and feed store sell out, another trend is emerging: theft. It wouldn’t have occurred to me, but of course, when folks feel squeezed and anxious it can often bring out the worst in them. I’ve seen threads from Facebook chicken groups in both the USA and the UK in which folks are asking advice about locking up their livestock. Others have reported thefts of birds right off their property. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the correlation between the duration of the pandemic and the increasing number of livestock that go missing.
Covid 19 is going to put a dent into the little income I do make with my birds. I sell eating eggs – that won’t change, there’s always a waitlist for them. What will change is my ability to sell hatching eggs, chicks and pullets. Last fall, in an attempt to wrestle Chicken Math to the ground I downsized much of my flock. I’m currently sitting at 23 hens and 1 rooster. I’ve had lots of requests from folks wanting to buy hens, but I’ve got none to spare. If I did, they’d be flying off the shelves – so to speak.
I live on an island so there are limited possibilities of selling hatching eggs here; most of my customers have picked them up from my office, which is in an easily accessible location for people in town or for those who had to travel (some driving a couple of hours or more). One of the perks of my job is I travel to several communities and was able to deliver hatching eggs or birds – not any more. And if I am not traveling off the rock to work I am not going to be selling chicks. As long as the pandemic is looming I want to limit the number of people coming onto my property and my interaction with others.
So what are the upsides of being on lockdown?
Chicken folks are getting creative with producing all kinds of memes, many specifically about Covid 19. Nothing like laughter to get you through the hard times. And when we laugh, I feel like we are sharing a collective experience with folks we don’t even know. If we’re going to be stuck at home we might as well make the most of our time.
I’ve had lots of folks message me with requests for advice on chicken matters, especially health issues. I feel like I’ve been able to help some people get through difficult times when they’ve already got enough on their plates to deal with. I know that not everyone can afford, or have access to, veterinary care and I want to improve the health outcomes for birds so I do what I can to assist. It’s great to see people pull together to offer support to those that need it.
From a strictly selfish perspective having loads of folks at home and on their devices has been good for me. I always work in isolation: researching, writing and posting on this blog as well as my Facebook page. Sometimes it gets discouraging when the numbers are low and I don’t have the experience to understand how algorithms work.
Yes, it’s lovely when folks leave me a like or reaction, but the reality is I have big dreams. As you can imagine blogging is actually hard work. Even when I write about what I know, it always takes longer than anticipated. I’m not tech savvy so it’s been a long climb up a sharp learning curve to figure out my camera and computer. I still haven’t reached the summit so having feedback – in the form of comments or ratings – gives me that extra little push to keep on going.
I have the pandemic to thank for giving my blogs increased visibility and traffic. There are days when I’m surprised – and appreciative – to see my numbers climb. It’s concrete validation that someone out there is actually reading and getting something out of my work.
I hope that like many times of crisis, this current situation will bring out the best in us and bring us closer together; that we can minimize the impact on our communities and that chickens won’t become casualties of a passing phase.
Credit: Chickens Rule The World and Grumpy Chickens.