Spring is the time of year many people plant vegetable gardens. Some also buy chicks in anticipation of the eggs they will lay five to six months later.
But this year is different, according to Perry Moore, owner of Moore’s Feed & Seed Store, 3721 S. Flores St., a 70-year-old shop that sells chicks for about $6 each.
“We got 150 in this morning, and I imagine by tomorrow they’ll be just about gone,” Moore said on Tuesday. “A lot of [buyers] are first-timers, but we’ve got quite a number who just had six before so they’re adding on or they’re replacing some.”
The Tractor Supply store in Boerne is also sold out. Between Thursday and Sunday, the store sold 600 chicks, but the store’s team leader, Dawson Smith, said he hopes to have more available by Thursday.
“We have a lot more people looking for baby chicks,” this year than last, Moore said.
Chicks are selling out nationwide as people put the chicken before the egg in an effort to establish food security during the coronavirus pandemic.
Egg prices are up because demand is up, according to a report by the Poultry Site. The wholesale cost for a dozen eggs has tripled since early March while the consumer price has also increased in places where grocers have passed the cost on to shoppers.
Thus, more people are looking to raise chickens in their own backyards and secure a cheap source of eggs.
Jennifer Hollander already had a source of homegrown eggs from her mother, but the ongoing crisis drove her to think now was a good time to start her own brood. “It’s also a really fun project for my kids … they only have two hours of school per day so it seemed like a good time,” said Hollander, a North Side resident.
Early one morning in mid-March, the Hollanders went to Locke Hill Feed and bought six chicks. By the end of the day, when friends stopped by the store to get chicks, it was sold out, she said. “There’s a rush on chickens … there have even been reports of chicken thievery.”
Moore buys the day-old chicks he sells from the wholesaler Ideal Poultry, a family-owned hatchery based in Cameron, Texas, and one of the 10 largest hatcheries in the United States. Ideal Poultry can’t keep up with the recent demand either.
“We’re selling everything we’re producing,” said Janet Crouch, vice president of Ideal Poultry, which produces about 150,000 chicks a week and ships about 5 million a year to every state, Mexico, and Canada.
“We have probably a three-inch stack of paper [orders] – people wanting chicks right now. If we have an overage, we start calling them.”
Freelance photographer Dayna DeHoyos has been raising chickens at her ranch in Comfort for eight years. She started with three chickens adopted from a friend, built a coop, and added 20 more hens.
DeHoyos recently purchased 40 more chicks just before COVID-19 began spreading across the nation.
“I didn’t really know how long this is going to last … and I figured having a good supply of new chicks so that in five months I could have a lot of eggs might be a smart thing,” she said. “I don’t know what my employment is going to be like or basically what my situation will be.”
DeHoyos consumes about half the eggs her chickens produce, gives some away, and incubates the rest. It takes three days at a temperature of 99 degrees Fahrenheit to develop a chick.
DeHoyos lets her chickens range free because it results in better-tasting, protein-rich eggs. But there’s a downside, too. “Every year I pay a ‘bobcat tax’ which is, basically half my chickens [are eaten by] a bobcat.”
Like DeHoyos, urban chicken farmers lose their chickens to any number of predators, including dogs, cats, hawks, and owls, as well as foul weather and accidents.
“People don’t realize that chickens are not like a cat or a dog,” she said. “I had to get pretty unattached within the first couple of years because you lose chickens. They get sick or a chair falls on them. They’re not the smartest animals.”
One way she protects them is by keeping roosters around. “When a predator comes, they actually sacrifice themselves for the hens – they’ll put themselves between the bobcat and their ladies,” she said.
People in and around San Antonio have always raised chickens, said Leslie Provence, founder of the Food Policy Council of San Antonio, which organizes an annual chicken coop walking tour. This year’s event, scheduled for April 4, was canceled.
But raising chickens in San Antonio became even more popular when the City changed the code in 2017, increasing the number of chickens owners could raise without a permit in their backyards from three to eight. Provence helped lead the effort to change the law.
She said the very recent trend of people flocking to feed stores for chicks is a good one. “It’s not like people are buying Easter chicks that will be disposed of,” she said. “They’re buying chicks with the intent to raise them and give them a home.”
Her organization provides information online about how to raise chickens. “The main thing is giving them a predator-safe coop,” Provence said, something that is well-ventilated and will keep out raccoons and snakes.
Moore said he sells coop-building kits for between $300 and $400. Tractor Supply has them for between $299 and $600, Dawson said.
If new chicken owners “get in over their head,” said Kim Rocha, who administers the San Antonio Area Backyard Chickens group on Facebook, there are plenty of people who would be happy to adopt them. “Please don’t let them go in the wild,” she said.
Kallie Rae Moffett, who lives in a rural area southwest of San Antonio, said she recently bought five hens that are close to egg-laying age and doesn’t think caring for them is as hard as she expected. She is looking forward to having eggs soon.
“It didn’t really have anything to do with shortages – we just prefer to be self-sufficient considering we live on the river and hunt and fish for our own meat as it is and have a garden for our own veggies,” she said.
However, Lynda M., who bought her chicks in March, has spent about $7,800, she said, to buy the eight chickens, build them a coop, and deal with multiple and lingering health problems among them.
“We’ve had the girls 12 days and no one has laid an egg,” said the resident of Smiley, Texas, despite being told they were all laying eggs when she bought them.
Tammy Groff has been raising chickens for 25 years and selling the large eggs for $4 a dozen, $3 for the smaller ones.
Groff gathers about 50 eggs a day from her coop on a farm in Castroville, just west of San Antonio. She hasn’t changed her price in recent weeks even though the number of new customers has grown to about 55 people waiting on eggs as of Wednesday.
“I see people advertising their eggs for more than me, but I don’t agree with their pricing, especially right now when people are in need,” she said. “I’ve given away several dozen just to help some people on fixed incomes.
“This is time to help each other out.”