Chicken run in the Eastern Townships as pandemic demand for hens surges

·2 min read
A carrying case with laying hens in West Brome last year. Interest in tending to home coops has surged during the pandemic, suppliers say. (Guylaine Charrette/Radio-Canada - image credit)
A carrying case with laying hens in West Brome last year. Interest in tending to home coops has surged during the pandemic, suppliers say. (Guylaine Charrette/Radio-Canada - image credit)

The early part of the pandemic may have been all about the perfect sourdough recipe, the later stages appear to be focused on birds of a different feather.

Specifically, laying hens.

According to suppliers in the Eastern Townships, there's a run on egg-producing chickens this year. There was in early 2020 as well thanks to the pandemic. But this spring promises to reach the next level.

F.G. Edwards, a general store that has done business in West Brome for more than 90 years, moved about 2,500 hens last spring. This year, the owner expect to sell at least twice that number.

"This year, we felt the same interest and the same demand very early. Toward the end of 2020 we were already getting calls. That's when we knew we had to make some decisions on this summer's orders," said Chanel Crevier, who acquired the store just before the pandemic took hold. "Even if we'd have had 10,000 we would have sold them all very quickly."

Deliveries started about a month ago, and about half the 2021 inventory has already found a home, Crevier told Radio-Canada.

"We have the impression than in a few weeks we'll have run out of stock," she said.

Anouschka Bouchard lives in Lac-Brome on a small hobby farm her family acquired in 2019.

She's one of the legions of Townshippers who have decided to look after their own egg production. Last year, she bought nine hens.

It went so well she's decided to order 30 this year, of four different types.

'They'll follow you around a little like a kitten'

According to Bouchard, the brown hens are the friendliest.

"They'll participate in family life. And they'll follow you around a little like a kitten or a puppy," she told Radio-Canada.

But chicken-rearing isn't something anyone should dive into blindly, she said. First of all there's feed, about seven dollars' worth per hen per month. Each one also requires about 20 minutes or so of care and attention per day.

It also goes without saying the egg-layers will need a home, and a place to handle . Keeping them year-round means having an insulated henhouse with a heat source and water.

"At the very least they need a closed shelter to protect them from gusts of wind and deep cold," Bouchard said. "They also need continuous access to water. Even indoors, the water dish can freeze. So you need to get a feeder with a heating element."

Then there's the question of municipal regulations. The rules vary according to municipality. While most rural and semi-rural locales allow small coops, many cities don't.

Either way, if you have interest in having hens this summer, the Eastern Townships experience suggests you should probably act quickly.