Mar 31, 2024 - News

What's behind the Twin Cities backyard chicken boom

Animated illustration of a flashing crosswalk signal with a chicken walking light instead of a person.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Baby chick season has hatched across the metro.

Why it matters: Early spring is one of the most popular times for chicken lovers to start — or add to — their backyard flock.

State of coops: More Minnesotans began raising chickens as pets (and egg producers) in the aftermath of the pandemic, mirroring a national trend.

  • Minneapolis and St. Paul both saw permit numbers swell immediately following the COVID-19 outbreak, city data provided to Axios shows.

Driving the trend: Most people love fresh eggs! Interest in homegrown food and sustainability are top draws, chick sellers say.

  • For many, being home more during the pandemic opened the door for a dream of backyard chicken raising to materialize.

Between the lines: A growing number of local cities have legalized the practice or taken action over the past decade to make it easier to get a license.

  • "The permitting process has become more accessible," Axios learned from Leah Van Tassel, general manager at Egg|Plant Urban Farm Supply in St. Paul.

Zoom in: The St. Paul shop lets buyers select from 18 breeds in advance. It regularly sells up to 250 chicks a week from February through July.

Yes, but: Concerns about avian flu may dampen the enthusiasm for backyard chicken farming.

  • While urban chickens with a contained coop are typically considered to be at lower risk of infection, contact with wild birds can spread the virus.

Fears of losing a flock "deterred a lot" of people from buying last year, said Nicollet Ace Hardware co-owner Elena Nelson.

  • Her sales, which peak around 300 chicks a season in a good year, were down significantly.

Both Minneapolis and St. Paul also saw a slight dip in permits from highs seen earlier in the pandemic.

Expert tips on what to expect from raising chicks

I asked Van Tassel, who owns three chickens herself, to answer some common questions about chicken care.

Flock size: Most backyard owners in urban areas start with 4-6 birds. Chickens are social, so you definitely want more than one.

Egg quantity: Depends on the type of chicken, its age and other factors, but the breeds available at Egg|Plant tends to range from 100 to 300-plus eggs a year.

  • What to expect: Chicks bought now will start laying eggs in the fall. Many lay fewer in the winter, when there's less daylight.

Taste the rainbow: Egg color also varies by breed and is often a big consideration.

The coop: It's the biggest upfront investment. Costs can range from about $500 for DIY plans and supplies to luxe designs that can set you back thousands.

  • It needs to provide protection from predators — including those that might dig under the fence — and enough insulation to keep chickens warm in the winter. Both indoor and outdoor space is required.

Family considerations: Beyond eggs, many chicken keepers make their selections based on a breed's personality.

  • The Buff Orpingtons, known as the golden retrievers of chickens, are great for families because they tend to be docile and friendly.

Rules and permitting: These vary by municipality. In Minneapolis, for example, requirements include taking a class, showing proof that neighbors have been informed and paying a $30 fee for up to six birds.

  • An animal-control officer also inspects licensees' setups.

Get smart: Both Egg|Plant and Nicollet Ace offer classes for the chicken curious.

The bottom line: Check with your city before starting to pursue plans.

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