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Shoppers make run on chicks, deplete Spokane farm supply stores

UPDATED: Fri., April 3, 2020

Empty chicken containers are seen with assorted chicken-raising products at Nine Mile Feed & Hardware on Friday, April 3, 2020, in Nine Mile Falls. Store staff said they have been selling out of chicks almost as soon as they get the birds in. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Empty chicken containers are seen with assorted chicken-raising products at Nine Mile Feed & Hardware on Friday, April 3, 2020, in Nine Mile Falls. Store staff said they have been selling out of chicks almost as soon as they get the birds in. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

It’s apparently a good time to be a chicken. Well, at least one that lays eggs sometime soon.

Shoppers in the Spokane area have ravaged farm supply stores of baby chickens, as many workers forced to stay at home from pandemic closures are also finding shortages in grocery stores of toilet paper, flour, sugar and eggs.

At North 40 Outfitters at 8307 E. Trent Ave. in Spokane Valley, shoppers stood in a line Friday for a chance to buy chicks. And each buyer faced a limit on how many baby chickens they could purchase.

At the Country Store at 5065 E. Sprague Ave., all the chick bins were silent Friday upon midday inspection.

“We definitely have seen an increase in the purchase of baby chickens,” said Michelle Muir, marketing director for Country Store, which has two locations in Spokane and one in Coeur d’Alene.

“People are trying to be more self-sustainable,” Muir continued. “That’s what is doing it, is that fear.”

Country Store generally has chick shipments come during the latter part of the week. And as somewhat of a disclaimer, March is always the busy time for folks to stock up on yard fowl, she said.

“But, I’ve never seen it where people were at the door waiting for the store to open,” she said. “And, to have all the chicks gone by 9:30 a.m. We would always have chicks. But now, we are selling them out literally the day we get them.”

But would-be chicken farmers should also research local regulations about how many birds they can keep.

Spokane limits homeowners to one bird for every 1,000 square feet of the home’s lot. If the lot is 5,000 square feet, the owner can have five chickens. Spokane also requires owners obtain an animal-keeping certification from Washington State University by taking classes offered by the WSU extension office.

In Spokane Valley, homeowners can have one chicken per 2,000-square-foot lot up to a maximum of 25 birds, and roosters are not allowed.

During the current run on chicks, shoppers are generally looking for two different kinds of young chickens, with various breeds under both categories for personal preference, Muir said.

Many chicks will become what’s called meat birds. They are bred to mature quickly and get large enough for slaughter within about eight weeks.

Chicks that will become laying hens won’t offer their first egg until about four or six months. With any luck, Muir said, the chicks purchased now will be laying eggs after the worst of the pandemic has passed.

The same run on chicks, on a somewhat smaller scale, occurred at Northwest Seed & Pet at 2422 E. Sprague Ave., store manager Corey Epley said.

“I can’t say whether we’ve had a higher run this year than normal. Now is usually a big chick season,” Epley said. “But they were buying them from us as fast as we can get them in.”

The first 100 chicks were sold in a matter of hours.

And it’s not just chickens. Stores are also seeing shoppers who are buying more garden seeds, even though the overall business for the garden center remains below average, Epley said.

“That could be the weather. If we get a couple nice days in a row, it will explode on you,” he said. “I have seen people walk out with a few handfuls of seeds. Whether they are planting that big of a garden or panic buying, I don’t really know.”

Muir, from Country Store, said her business likewise has seen an uptick in the sales of plant “starts,” or garden plants that can be transplanted.

“A lot more people are getting into gardening and raising chickens,” she said. “With the supply chain of food being compromised, people are looking at where their food is coming from.”

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