Greenpoint: Pandemic flocks would sure come in handy right now

We’ve kept chickens for decades, from a handful to 25 or 30, and have never had problems with disease.

We’ve kept chickens for decades, from a handful to 25 or 30, and have never had problems with disease.

When I went to my sister’s house down in the Hudson Valley last month, she asked if I had brought eggs.

“Sorry, I forgot,” I told her, and she wasn’t happy. Eggs were almost $8 a dozen in her local market. “It’s insane,” she said.

While everyone is talking about egg prices, our hens are laying more than we can use — and this in the winter slowdown. We’re making omelets, quiche, poached and hard-boiled eggs, and there are still two dozen extra in the fridge. I’ve been sharing with a neighbor, the librarian, a couple expecting their first child.

Eggs are pricey now for several reasons: Feed prices are high and supply is lower since avian flu has wiped out flocks. There’s also supply-chain issues and greed.

Avian flu hits all over — migratory waterfowl, big and small poultry flocks. But if it shows up at one of those huge commercial egg farms the loss is big and fast. Most egg production in the country is highly concentrated, with tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of chickens on a farm in Iowa or Pennsylvania or Ohio. Get one case of avian flu and the whole flock needs to be wiped out.

Roughly 49 million birds have either died or been killed because of avian flu just in the past year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With egg prices so high, I’ve heard more people talking about raising their own backyard birds, and others — including the CDC — weighing in to tell them not to. It’s too dangerous with the flu or salmonella, too unpredictable, too expensive, they say. Makes we wonder: What happened to all those backyard flocks that showed up during the pandemic?

Remember the pandemic? Remember how everyone, stuck at home with their home-schooling kids, was building chicken coops and buying a dozen laying hens? Where are they now, now that everyone is bemoaning the high price of eggs?

We’ve kept chickens for decades, from a handful to 25 or 30. We got our first flock of barred rock hens more than 30 years ago from Abby, my sister-in-law’s neighbor. She and her family had self-sufficiency in mind, eggs and meat for their family of seven. But then they tired of the work it took to feed and water and clean up after the flock. So we took them home from Vermont, all 20 of them in the back of our car, and moved them into our barn.

Over the years we’ve bought new hens or adopted hens no one wanted. We’ve hatched out our own chicks at home the old-fashioned way, a broody hen sitting on a clutch of eggs until most or many of them hatched out and grew up.

We’ve never had problems with disease, although we have had problems with predation — some of our neighbors are hawks and eagles, foxes and coyotes. We try to keep everyone safe, with plenty of food and water and clean, dry bedding. Maybe we’ve been lucky.

There’s nothing like fresh eggs. After eating the eggs from your own chickens you can’t even abide store-bought eggs — they are pale and thin and tasteless in comparison.

But I understand that keeping backyard birds isn’t for everyone. It does take work and care, and maybe there are other ways to compensate for high egg prices. I’m glad we have a flock, though, and right now our friends and family are glad, too.

Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it next on Feb. 12. Reach Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or on Twitter @Hartley_Maggie. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are not necessarily those of the newspaper’s.

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