DAVIE, Fla. — At Family Farms in Davie, the weeks leading up to Easter are usually busy, especially at farmer Robert Hoover’s chicken roost.
But not this busy. When shoppers flocked to supermarkets to panic-buy toilet paper and disinfectants, Hoover hardly expected them to make a run for his baby chickens.
“We’re selling the snot out of our chicks,” says Hoover, whose u-pick in western Davie produces fresh seasonal strawberries, heirloom tomatoes and purple kale. “People are in a survival mentality and they want eggs now.”
So far he’s sold 300 chicks and 100 more full-grown, ready-to-lay hens. Despite “shelter in place” orders, Hoover’s cluckers are a hot commodity at the farm during the coronavirus pandemic. And they’re getting more popular as Easter Sunday nears.
Hoover gets the demand. Wholesale egg prices are cracking records due to coronavirus panic-buying, rising some 50% in parts of Utah, Texas, Missouri and California. Spikes in demand usually wipe out dairy aisle staples at South Florida grocery chains.
And he’s got the chicks to meet that demand. At the farm some 400 multicolored baby chickens cheep and roam inside an octagonal coop near the horses and cows, while 100 more hens and roosters cluck and crow around the strawberry fields.
Milkshake, the farm’s resident free-range goat, likes to guard the coops for hours.
“We’re going to start with one and if we enjoy it, we’ll get more and have a source for eggs,” says Chris Dolce, of Weston, bending over the pen to select his chick. He has a chocolate labradoodle at home, so he settled on a dark-brown Copper breed. In four to five months, that chick will mature into a hen producing chocolate-colored eggs.
Dolce says his 8-year-old son Chad wanted a chick for Easter, but he decided to buy it as a therapy pet. “Chad told me, ‘I don’t think the Easter Bunny is coming this year.’ And I said, ‘No, and even if he did, he’d probably have to stay six feet away.’ With the coronavirus out there, having a chick will keep his mind off the anarchy.”
Dolce perched the chirping brown chick against his shirt breast. “So, what’s the pooping situation?” he asks Hoover.
“They can’t hold it,” Hoover says.
“Oh, I didn’t know that,” Dolce replies, moving the chick away from his shirt.
Most of the time, locals who buy Hoover’s chicks are city slickers and suburbanites with limited farm experience. Which means, before farm visits, they “don’t do their homework” about proper care, feeding and how not to run afoul of city laws banning chickens as pets, he says.
“They’re not toys; they’re live animals,” he says. “You have to be careful with the animals’ fragility.”
But the 45-year-old Hoover, who opened his farm last year to the public, tries to keep visitors educated. When customers panic-buy chicks, for example, he cautions that they won’t produce eggs for months, and that full-grown hens are probably a better choice.
“People want our Rhode Island Reds and our Rock Hens because they’re the most productive (for egg-laying),” Hoover says. “Other people are buying chicks to keep families entertained while they’re in quarantine.”
For now, chickens are legal to keep as pets in parts of Davie and Southwest Ranches, along with unincorporated Delray Beach. The city of South Miami grants up to four adult hens and five chicks per household. Farther north, the Loxahatchee and Jupiter areas allow hatchlings and adult fowl. Buyers should check their city’s code of ordinances if there’s uncertainty.
On her visit to Family Farm, Lisa Ceruti and her grandson, 2-year-old Carter, strolled to the baby chicken coop. Free-range hens swarmed and pecked at an ear of corn she held. Eggs are impossible to find at supermarkets, she says.
“It’s an interesting idea right now to buy chicks and chickens, especially when people feel scared about going to grocery stores,” Easton says.
But buying a live animal as a food source? “That’s too much responsibility,” she says.
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