What comes first: normal prices or your hen’s first eggs?

By Tim Nelson
Updated April 01, 2020
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With so much panic shopping taking place recently, prices for certain staples like eggs have soared to record highs in a matter of weeks. For most of us, that simply means coping with eggs that cost twice or even three times as much per dozen as they did just a month ago. But some folks with backyards and a bit more free time than normal see it as the perfect time to make an eggs-celent investment in self-sufficiency.

According to the Washington Post, the COVID-19 pandemic has inspired a significant surge in folks hoping to get their eggs from their backyard rather than the grocery store. The Post reports that a Missouri hatchery that normally hatches 250,000 chicks per week has already observed a 100 percent sales growth so far this year. McMurray Hatchery, an Iowa institution responsible for millions of hatched eggs has seen a surge of recent orders, often having to put potential customers into a ten-deep queue.

To those in the industry, it doesn’t take a complex analysis to figure out what’s driving the increase in demand for both egg-laying hens and chickens that can be bred and raised for meat.
“This has to do with the perceived hoarding that is going on,” McMurray’s owner and president Bud Wood told the Post. “People are afraid they won’t be able to buy eggs and chickens in the grocery store, and they don’t want to have to go to the store and possibly be infected.”

Though it seems like buying a $3 to $5 baby chick might pay for itself in a week or two, there are some hidden costs and key factors to consider. The coops, food, and feeding systems required to properly care for a hen can add up quickly. It’ll also take 17 weeks for a day-old chicken (what you’d get from a hatchery) to start laying its own eggs—and even then, you’ll only get about five eggs per week. If we’re lucky, both egg prices and everyday life will have returned to (relatively) normal by then.

Luckily, renting a coop and a hen or two is a short-term option for those who want to try their hand without committing long-term. Diana Phillips, who’s seen a surge of interest in her Maryland-based RentACoop business, thinks it’s a smart way to wet the beak.

“If it’s not something they really want to get into, they should just rent and then return instead of making a whole mess of the thing,” she told the Post. “[Prospective renters] want their own food source, which we understand, so we are trying to meet those needs.”

So if you’ve got some free time, a hankering for eggs, and some kids to home school, caring for an egg-laying chicken could be a useful project to try out in these strange times. Just don’t expect it to be an instant and carefree alternative to picking up that dozen from the grocery store.