FORT COLLINS — Red-velvet ropes and a bouncer held back the line of Coloradans eager to enter “The Hen House” and get their hands on some chicks Friday morning.
It was a peep show of a different variety at Northern Colorado Feeders Supply.
The family-owned feed store in Fort Collins was chock-full of mealworms, horse treats, farm supplies and a brood of cats and dogs that call the store home. But the line forming at 10:30 a.m. was for the cordoned-off room in the back that houses shipments of chicks for sale.
On Friday morning, the temperature-controlled, carefully sanitized space contained enclosures teeming with 1,000 chicks — manager Danielle Nater had learned her lesson the past few weeks after ordering her standard couple hundred and watching them fly out the door in a day.
“There is a newfound fear people aren’t going to be able to get eggs anymore, and you can tell people are starting to get nervous so they’re buying chickens,” she said.
With climbing egg prices and scarcities hitting grocery stores hard in recent weeks, local farmers and poultry purveyors say they’re seeing more Coloradans deciding to trade the uncertainty of the dairy aisle for backyard poultry, hoping to exert more control over their own source of eggs. Others are turning to technology, like the app Farmish, to hunt down local egg supplies.
A combination of avian flu and a new state law requiring that all eggs sold in grocery stores and produced on Colorado farms be cage-free has wreaked havoc on the egg supply chain — and prices, which already had been rising with inflation.
A dozen of the cheapest eggs available at a Capitol Hill King Soopers on Thursday cost $5.79, wrapped in a carton that boasted a “low price” sales tag. That was higher than the Midwest wholesale price for large, white, shell eggs delivered to warehouses the week ending Friday, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture listed as $3.87 per dozen.
Because of all this, Nater and her team at Northern Colorado Feeders Supply have been working around the cluck.
In the first two weeks of this year, the store sold more chicks than it did in the first six weeks of 2022, she said.
Nater ordered 75 chicks the first week of 2022, a supply that lasted her into the following week. This year, Nater brought in 250 chicks the first week of January — and they were scooped up within a day. The next week, the 750 chicks she ordered were sold out in a day as well.
“I’m dead shocked this year about what’s been going on,” Nater said. “People who have chickens want more, and people who have never had chickens want to get some, and we are busier than ever.”
Offsetting egg prices
Parker resident Cate Sherr signed up for the app Farmish, on which she lists fresh eggs for sale from the small farm she and her husband run on their rural property. Sherr has about 50 chickens and typically sells eggs to people she knows, but figured she’d take a crack at a wider customer pool about a year ago.
“Honestly, I forget I even signed up for it because we’ve basically had no movement on it,” Sherr said. “Up until a few weeks ago, that is. Now, I feel terrible because I’m turning people away because so many people are contacting me.”
Sherr charges $5 a dozen for her fresh chicken and duck eggs, which must have been appealing to the woman who recently tried — unsuccessfully — to order 14 dozen from Sherr.
“I don’t know if she got the impression we were a larger farm, but during winter, the chickens just don’t produce as many eggs,” she said.
Kali Mims turned to Farmish to shop for local eggs when a trip to the Walmart closest to her Aurora home left her shell-shocked a couple of weeks ago. A dozen eggs were going for $9.50, she said.
Those kinds of prices weren’t going to work for Mims, who runs a licensed bakery, CottageCore Confections, out of her home. Eggs are pivotal for crafting her gooey cinnamon rolls and custom cakes.
“Egg prices directly affect my profits and revenue,” Mims said.
Inspired by egg inflation, Mims plans to welcome backyard chickens to her home when it gets warmer. In the meantime, she’s pivoting to local poultry by purchasing eggs from her neighbors through Farmish.
“If we turn our attention from the mass-produced, commercialized farm products and turn it back to small, independent business owners, we’ll be putting money back directly into the community,” Mims said. “If we drive egg sales down, maybe we make stores like Walmart and Safeway start driving the prices back down, which I know is a super way-off thought that is best-case scenario, but that would be the ultimate goal to show them we don’t need you.”
Jessica Hill, a Loveland mom of four, exited Northern Colorado Feeders Supply’s “Hen House” on Friday morning with a cardboard box carrying two chicks. She’d already purchased four chicks on Tuesday and was back for more.
The first-time chicken owner said she and her big family go through a lot of eggs, so having chickens on hand would, hopefully, bring down the grocery bill once the little balls of fluff grew up and started producing eggs.
“We go through a lot of eggs, so I’m looking forward to this,” Hill said while her little girl ogled a rooster that sat crowing in the middle of the store. “Plus, it’ll be something fun to do with the kids.”
Before diving into the world of backyard chickens, Nater said it’s important people educate themselves on the responsibility and associated costs. Nater recommends talking to someone locally rather than scouring the internet. Some localities require people with backyard chickens to apply for permits from their city.
For example, Denverites seeking backyard chickens are required to have a Livestock or Fowl Permit, said Alexandra Foster, communications program manager for the city of Denver.
Chickens are allowed in Denver without a zoning permit, but there are some rules, Foster said. No more than eight chickens are allowed without a zoning permit. A structure built to house them must be at least 15 feet away from homes on adjacent properties. In residential areas, the chickens have to be kept on the back half of the property. And slaughtering is not allowed, Foster said.
If the structure to house the chickens is more than 8 feet tall and/or has a footprint greater than 200 square feet, a building permit is required. Anything smaller does not require a building permit, Foster said.
Other municipalities — Longmont, Glenwood Springs and Aurora, for example — all require chicken permits.
“What works for somebody in New York isn’t going to work for somebody in Colorado,” Nater said. “There are different problems, diseases, predators here. They’re farm animals, so they don’t smell great all the time. They have concerns and cares that need to be tended to, but in the broad spectrum, they’re pretty easy to maintain and take care of.”
Chicken tending started as a hobby for Christine Coburn and morphed into “a grandma-run business” about four years ago at San Luis Valley’s High Valley Hatchery in Sanford. Coburn is the owner, egg-picker, packer and everything in between.
Although Coburn doesn’t start selling chicks until the end of February, she said her phone has been ringing nonstop with customers looking to buy chicks, eggs and chickens old enough to lay eggs now. Although Coburn has about 500 chickens, she said that since it’s winter, she’s only collecting about 25 to 35 eggs per day.
“I told my husband that I feel like a drug dealer with so many people calling me asking if I’ve got the goods,” Coburn said.
During a normal week, Coburn’s website, highvalleyhatchery.com, sees about 20 to 30 hits, she said. However, for the past few weeks, since egg mayhem set in, Coburn said she’s been getting about 450 online visits.
On Monday, she even sold the farm-fresh eggs out of her own refrigerator for $4 to try to keep up with the demand.
“You’re the crazy chicken lady until eggs get scarce and then everybody wants to be your best friend,” Coburn said.
Northern Colorado Feeders Supply offers chicken starter kits for newcomers to backyard birds. Last year, the kit cost $75 and included a feeder, water, heat lamp and heat bulb, bag of shaving, bag of feed and up to six standard chicks. This year, Nater said it would probably bump up a few dollars because of increased costs.
Whether backyard chickens will be less expensive in the long run depends on how many chicks you get and how many people are in your family, Nater said. Eight chickens will likely produce about six to eight eggs a day, but Nater said it’s important to factor in the upfront costs of coops and accessories and continued costs like chicken feed.
The store holds a yearly workshop every March for people interested in learning more about backyard chickens.
“Even so, people in the past couple weeks have been calling, emailing, stopping in to chat, to ask us questions because they’re first-timers and want to know more,” Nater said. “I’ve never seen demand like this.”
Get more Colorado news by signing up for our daily Your Morning Dozen email newsletter.
Source: Read Full Article