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

Victoria Police Department looks to identify a person of interest after a Friday night stabbing. (VicPD handout)
Police seek person of interest after Victoria stabbing

Friday night assault leaves one with potentially life-altering injuries

Daniel Foster, last seen in downtown Parksville on Saturday, May 1. (submitted photo)
RCMP seek help locating missing Victoria man, last spotted in Parksville

Daniel Foster, 43, seen via surveillance camera using an ATM

Police stopped, then let go this man and his large collection of cans during a stop Monday morning on Resthaven Drive. Police had received a report of a possible theft, but let him go after he had returned the property, which he believed was his to take after being left out in public. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Report of theft, balancing act on Sidney street draws curious onlookers

Incident happened just before 8:30 a.m. opposite of Vancouver Island Regional Library branch

Sean Hart, 34, unexpectedly left the Seven Oaks Tertiary Mental Health Facility in Saanich on Nov. 6, 2020 and has now been missing for six months. (Photo courtesy Penny Hart)
Search continues for Saanich man Sean Hart six months after his disappearance

Support from community, police keeps his mother hopeful

Victoria Police continue to investigate a stabbing in downtown Victoria. (Black Press Media file photo)
Passerby calls police after finding man stabbed, sobbing on Victoria street

One man was sent to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

The B.C. legislature went from 85 seats to 87 before the 2017 election, causing a reorganization with curved rows and new desks squeezed in at the back. The next electoral boundary review could see another six seats added. (Black Press files)
B.C. election law could add six seats, remove rural protection

North, Kootenays could lose seats as cities gain more

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the shooting of an Indigenous woman in the Ucluelet First Nation community of Hitacu. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation wants ‘massive change’ after its 3rd police shooting in less than a year

Nuu-chah-nulth woman recovering from gunshot wounds in weekend incident near Ucluelet

Nurse Gurinder Rai, left, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Maria Yule at a Fraser Health drive-thru vaccination site, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The site is open for vaccinations 11 hours per day to those who have pre-booked an appointment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID vaccine bookings to open for adults 40+, or 18+ in hotspots, across B.C.

Only people who have registered will get their alert to book

Dr. Victoria Lee, CEO of Fraser Health, hosts an update on efforts to contain B.C.’s COVID-19 transmission in Surrey and the Fraser Valley and protect hospitals in the Lower Mainland, May 6, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate slowing, 20 more people die

Deaths include two people in their 40s, two in their 50s

The Canadian Forces Snowbirds are in the Comox Valley for their annual spring training. Photo by Erin Haluschak
Suspected bird strike on Snowbirds plane during training in Comox

Pilot followed protocols and landed the aircraft on the ground without any problems

BCIT. (Wikimedia Commons)
BCIT apologizes after employee’s ‘offensive and hurtful’ email leaked to Métis Nation

BCIT says employee’s conduct has been investigated and addressed

Most Read