In these toilet paper-hoarding times, people are doubting supply chains and worrying about food security. Chick purchases are on the rise in the midst of COVID-19, but this is not the time to start a backyard chicken farm, experts warn.

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“If you’re thinking of buying chicks, do your work ahead of time,” said Marisa Erasmus, an assistant professor of animal sciences at Purdue University. “Make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. These animals are going to grow up and have very specific needs. They are reliant on us to provide for them and we have to be sure we can do that.”

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For many consumers now, the thought of a fresh egg supply — without perilous grocery store trips fraught with worries of coronavirus transmission — is alluring. But chicks aren’t machines; they’re living creatures that require care. Nor is chicken farming a quick fix. Chicks take five or six months to mature before they start producing eggs, so chick hoarders will be waiting until October for those omelets.

Chickens also require a comfortable, safe home. They need a coop to shelter them from weather and predators. It should be dry, have good air circulation and, as they grow to adult size, provide at least two square feet per chicken. The coop should have perches, where chickens can happily hang out.

Like all animals, chickens are prone to illness and injury. Would-be chicken farmers need to plan for how they will deal with their birds’ wellness needs.

Ordinances vary by city. Before you start your avian enterprise, check with your town or county authorities. Many cities limit the number of backyard chickens, require certain types of shelter or restrict flocks to hens only. Some places entirely ban rearing poultry in your yard.

If you don’t factor in quality of life, your chickens may not even produce eggs, Erasmus said. “Poultry, including chickens, sometimes have the reputation of being ‘bird-brained,’” she said.  “But anyone who has experience raising chickens will tell you they are intelligent and complex creatures who have the capacity to experience suffering and contentment.”

+ Purdue University

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