By Anna King
It’s quiet at Chad Cottrell’s home outside of Benton City, Washington, but it used to be loud.
In this fenced-in yard, a couple roosters and a baker's dozen of free range chickens scratch.
“At one time we had about 3,500 birds running around this place, chicken houses and everything before we got hit with the avian, and lost it all,” Cottrell said. “That was hard.”
Several years ago, Cottrell ’s domestic ducks mingled with wild ducks, then flew home. The trip landed avian flu in his chicken yard.
He said the toll was immediate. One day his flock looked fine. The next day, hundreds were dead. Other birds staggered like they were drunk. Cottrell still gets a bit misty as he looks out at his near-empty chicken yard.
“Losing that many birds, that much of an investment, you can’t claim it on insurance,” he said. “It was just a loss.”
Bird flu has had a devastating effect on flocks this year across the country, not just in the Northwest. With more than 58 million birds affected, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, most Americans have seen egg prices surge – and there may not be much relief on the horizon.
Some Americans are turning to backyard flocks, and that’s led to a boom in chick sales.
Suzanne Chandler, north of Bellingham, Washington, showed off her chicks in their brooder box on a recent February day. The box is where the small birds arrive right out of the hatcher. They’re whisked under a heat lamp and nestle into a pile of their friends.
”Peep, peep, peep, peep, peep!” Chandler exclaimed. “What’s that scary camera thing? They’re so cute!!!”
Chandler hatches more than 100 chicks a week at Flower Feather Farm during the peak season. This year – like many hatcheries and feed stores across the country – she’s seen a dramatic increase in orders.
“It’s up 300%from last January,” Chandler said. “January is usually kind of a slow month. People aren’t really interested in it yet. January is still winter and chicks are seen as a spring thing. But man, we hit Boxing Day and the inquiries started coming in.”
Right now, she and other chick breeders have a chick-before-the-egg situation.
“We’re at where every chick is spoken for before the egg has even been laid,” she said.
Many of the families Chandler sells to have never owned chickens before. She’s had people from as far away as Portland, Oregon, and Montana come in person to get chicks.
“That’s part of the joy of what I do, is getting new families kind of educated and mentored. I even rent them the equipment so they don’t have to buy all the brooder equipment,” Chandler said, “so that they can get started having their own chickens, and their own hens, and their own food supply.”
That new-chick-education these days is requiring a heavy dose of reality about biosecurity and avian influenza.Click here to see more...