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Scott Stevenson
The Advocate

Local Journalism Initiative

The COVID chicken craze is showing signs of feather loss.

On Oct. 22, the Montreal SPCA posted a message and photo on Facebook of an abandoned rooster: “Napoleon” was found in Montreal’s Angrignon Park.

“Although urban chicken-keeping is still in its early phases, the Montreal SPCA already receives nearly 30 abandoned hens and roosters every year, and the number is on the rise,” the organization wrote online last month. “Keeping chickens in urban areas creates a serious abandonment issue.”

In spring 2020, not long after the COVID pandemic began, farm supply stores had customers flocking to them for laying hens. The backyard chicken craze had begun. Suddenly, you could hardly find anything chicken-related any more. It flew off the shelves.

CBC Radio Montreal interviewed a Townships’ farmer who couldn’t add to his layer flock because his local supplier, Clark & Sons in Lennoxville, was already sold out for the season. Staff at the store were in a flap trying to keep up with consumer demand for all things chicken: feed, fencing, waterers, feeders, bedding, egg cartons.

Store manager Shelley Deacon saw the bright side.

“I think it is a good thing that people are actually thinking about the agricultural side of life a bit more,” Deacon said.

Arguments for and against

The Montreal SPCA’s plea for a moratorium on urban chicken-keeping in its post on Facebook last month generated only a few comments, like Deacon’s, among the 142 others mostly decrying the human race.

“There are numerous benefits of owning your own chickens,” wrote Tristin Lovett on Oct. 25. “It’s unfair to punish and blame responsible chicken owners for the few that are not.

“People becoming more food sufficient, wanting to know where their food is coming from and that the animals are way better treated is a positive thing.”

The SPCA followed up its Oct. 22 post with a link to a news report by Noovo Info on Oct. 27, interviewing enthusiastic urban farmers, showing some of the rescued hens under the SPCA’s care, and indicating that Napoleon, the Silkie rooster abandoned in Angrignon Park, had found a happy new home in the country.

“The Montreal SPCA makes a considerable effort to place these birds in sanctuaries willing to take them in, but each placement is a real headache for us.”

At Clark & Sons this fall, the aisles are a little quieter and staff seem more relaxed. The shelves are stocked full of chicken feeders, waterers, de-icers and much more. But Deacon said she still underestimated the quantity of some winter chicken-keeping products the store would need.

“More people are over-wintering their chickens,” she said. “People get attached to them.”

Demand still there

Here, the current realities of rural and urban farming perhaps diverge.

“I thought (the demand for chickens) would slow down this year, but it didn’t,” Deacon said.

Clark & Sons sold 8,000 laying hens this year, which was the same as last year, but 2,000 to 2,500 more than in 2019, prior to the COIVID pandemic. They also sold 3,500 laying chicks, offered for the first time this year.

For Deacon, the silver lining of the pandemic was exposure, particularly among kids, to farming.

“We’re all so removed from agriculture now,” she explained. “It’s a different lifestyle,” she added, describing customers who bring chickens back to the store when death looms due to injury, illness or age. “People don’t want the chicken to die on their property.”

Cutline:

John Crease, owner of farm and garden supply store Clark & Sons in Lennoxville, and store manager Shelley Deacon have had two busy seasons selling chickens.

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