Michelle Kirby holds her Light Brahma chicken, Sakura. The feather-footed hen is only a few months old and is part of the small brood Kirby purchased after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

Michelle Kirby holds her Light Brahma chicken, Sakura. The feather-footed hen is only a few months old and is part of the small brood Kirby purchased after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

Pandemic spurs egg-citement for backyard chickens in Greater Victoria

Fowl surge in popularity during COVID-19 pandemic

An unexpected side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is ruffling feathers across Greater Victoria.

Chickens are a hot commodity as Islanders suddenly find themselves with the time and willpower to build coops and chicken runs for their backyards.

Behind the home of former Oak Bay councillor Michelle Kirby, three adolescent hens roam the garden as a small flock, clucking quietly and pecking at weeds.

The chickens – Sakura, Maple and Bonsai, or ‘Bonnie Hen-ry,’ as she’s loving called for her stoic, independent nature – are a recent addition to Kirby’s family, but the brood has been a long time coming. Kirby advocated for more inclusive backyard chicken bylaws before and during her time on council.

Yet it wasn’t until the pandemic and orders for physical distancing that she suddenly had time to find her own fowl.

“The timing couldn’t be better. We’re going to be around and the kids are home [and] they can use this as a learning experience,” she said.

READ ALSO: Victoria chicken coops can cause rat problems, but only for irresponsible owners

Sakura the Light Brahma hen is one of Oak Bay woman Michelle Kirby’s three new backyard chickens. Chickens aren’t high maintenance, but they are a commitment, Kirby says. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

Backyard chicken farming seemingly goes hand in hand with other popular pandemic activities – the last few months has seen a surge in ‘homesteading’ projects such as bread baking, sewing and gardening.

“I think it’s also on our minds [because] of food security,” Kirby said. “During something like a pandemic, your first instinct is to try to prepare and be more self-sufficient when you don’t want to go out to stores regularly, you want to be home where it’s safe.”

Kirby’s hens spend their evenings in ‘Cluckingham Palace,’an insulated chicken coop with burlap sack floors, a shingled roof and sunny yellow siding (painted with leftover paint from the exterior of Kirby’s house).

Since bringing the chicks – now young hens – home, Kirby has been surprised by how attached she and her family are to the little birds.

“I thought they’d become this utilitarian source of eggs… but no, absolutely not. They have been so entertaining,” she said with a laugh. “They’re cute. We’re very attached to them and we see their personalities emerging.

“The benefits are far beyond what I anticipated and I think that goes for the family.”

According to the region’s chicken retailers and experts, Kirby isn’t the only one checking out the chicken market since the pandemic started.

Kate Fraser owns and operates Metchosin-based Bees Please Farms, where she offers rental chickens through a Rent The Chicken program. People can have a home chicken coop set-up delivered, along with temporary rental chickens that are returned after six months – unless, that is, renters become attached to their hens and decide to adopt them.

Fraser said there was a noticeable difference in popularity a few weeks after the pandemic hit.

“I sold out earlier than usual,” she said. “Everyone was calling all at once.”

In a normal year Fraser rents out about 80 chickens. This year she rented 120, and sold another 200.

“I think after people went through the toilet paper thing they started to get smarter and look at our food systems … and what would happen if the food can’t get to us, being on an Island.”

Fraser notes that chicken rentals are a smart alternative for a first-time backyard chicken farmer. While they are, generally, a low maintenance farm animal, chickens can live anywhere from five to 10 years.

“People can do it in a way where they don’t have to commit,” she said. “Not everyone wants to do it continuously.”

Light Brahma Sakura, Australorp chicken Maple and Wyandotte chicken Bonnie Hen-ry pick at some chicken feed in their Oak Bay yard. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

In Langford, Buckerfield’s says the demand for chickens is impacting supply. The farm store typically brings in an order of 100 to 400 sexed chicks every week or two over the spring and summer – depending on demand – but the store’s supplier only has enough for one more order in late June.

“We’re not able to get anymore … it’s unheard of,” said manager Travis Young. There’s really never been a problem before.”

Victoria resident Chris Marks said the pandemic inspired him to take a step towards more self-sufficiency. As a quadriplegic, the difficulties of grocery shopping during the pandemic were compounded. Marks couldn’t ask store workers or shoppers for help reaching items, and physical distancing was next to impossible.

“There’s no socially distanced way I can shop,” he said. “The chickens are a small baby step toward a little bit of food security, a little bit of autonomy.”

With the help of friends and his community, Marks’ backyard now contains a coop and chicken run. The next step is picking up his chickens.

“It’s something I’ve thought about for years but life just takes over,” he said. “Now there’s lots of time and a huge urgency, at least in my mind, to try to put in some basic things.”

READ ALSO: ‘Crying fowl’: BC SPCA calls on hobby farmers to stop abandoning chickens

nina.grossman@blackpress.ca

Abandoned chickensPetsPets & People

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Keygan Power with brother Quintin and mom Allison while camping the weekend before Keygan’s brain hemorrhage on Aug. 2, 2020. (Photo Allison Power)
Saanich teen ‘locked inside,’ regaining speech after severe brain hemorrhage

16-year-old suffers traumatic loss of function, still plays a mean game of chess

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: Vancouver Island in a January spike while B.C. cases decrease

Island’s top doc Dr. Stanwick breaks down the Island’s rising numbers

North Saanich is giving local businesses a break by waving renewal fees for 2021. (Black Press Media file photo)
North Saanich waives business renewal fees for 2021

The municipality raised $48,000 from businesses licences in 2020

The Sooke school district has filled all spots for their French immersion and nature kinderagarten programs in 2021-2022 school year. Regular kindergarten registration is still open and available. (Black Press Media file photo)
Sooke school district gets surplus of nature, French immersion kindergarten applications

Not enough room for almost half of nature kindergarten applicants

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

A Cessna 170 airplane similar to the one pictured above is reported to be missing off the waters between Victoria and Washington State. Twitter photo/USCG
Canadian, American rescue crews searching for missing aircraft in waters near Victoria

The search is centered around the waters northeast of Port Angeles

The North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP have arrested a prolific offender who is now facing more than 40 charges. (Black Press file photo)
‘Priority offender’ arrested in Cowichan Valley faces more than 40 charges

Tyler Elrix, 37, had a history of evading police; was ordered not to be in Vancouver Island

B.C. Premier John Horgan listens during a postelection news conference in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
30% of B.C. recovery benefit applications held up in manual review

The province says 150 staff have been reassigned to help with manually reviewing applications

Adam Dergazarian, bottom center, pays his respect for Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, in front of a mural painted by artist Louie Sloe Palsino, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Kobe Bryant’s presence remains strong a year after his death

Tuesday marks the grim anniversary of the crash that took their lives

Surrey RCMP are investigating after a pedestrian was struck and killed at 183 Street and Highway 10 Friday night. (File photo)
Modelling of predicted transmission growth from the B117 COVID-19 variant in British Columbia. (Simon Fraser University)
COVID-19 variant predicted to cause ‘unmanageable’ case spike in B.C: report

SFU researchers predict a doubling of COVID-19 cases every two weeks if the variant spreads

The Brucejack mine is 65 km north of Stewart in northwestern B.C. (Pretivm Photo)
B.C. mine executives see bright gleam in post-COVID future

Low carbon drives demand for copper, steelmaking coal

In this Dec. 18, 2020 photo, pipes to be used for the Keystone XL pipeline are stored in a field near Dorchester, Neb.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris Machian /Omaha World-Herald via AP
Canadians divided over Keystone pipeline, despite U.S. president’s permit pullback

Two-thirds of Canadians think Biden’s decision was a “bad thing” for Alberta

Most Read