By Susan Redden
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Starting now and for about the next 10 weeks, thousands of baby chicks will arrive at local farm and feed stores. Many will leave to start or replenish flocks.
That’s nothing new, since the region always has been an agricultural hub, but what is growing is interest from city dwellers and suburban “farmers” who raise their own chickens and eggs to keep costs down and maintain control over what goes on their dinner tables.
“We’re seeing it more and more,” said Steve Doran, manager of Atwoods Farm and Home in Webb City, which received a load of chicks last week. “A lot more people are doing that, and growing fruit trees, too, so they can decide what kind of food and pesticides they want to use. And then they can and freeze what they grow.”
Saving money was the first goal for Angela Lewis, of Pittsburg, Kan., when she and her family started raising chickens two years ago.
“It started with using coupons, which saved a lot, then we planted a really big garden,” she said. “Then we decided it would be fun to raise chickens.”
Lewis said her husband, Mike, built her a chicken coop as a Mother’s Day gift.
Today, their four children enjoy caring for the chickens and gathering the eggs.
Lewis said her original flock of 11 birds included several noisy roosters.
“I liked them, but I’m not sure the neighbors did,” she added.
The flock has dwindled to four hens. Lewis said she plans to buy more chicks this spring.
“You have to keep the chicks in tubs in the garage, because they have to be kept really warm. It will take nine months before they start laying eggs, so it will be the fall. But it’s exciting when that happens,” she said.
Joe and Dana Abromovitz, of Wentworth, bought a dozen chicks at Atwoods on Thursday.
Joe said the couple have had their own small flock of chickens for years and started it to save money on their grocery bill. The couple’s three children help care for the chickens, added Dana.
“They love it,” she said.
“And it’s great because we never have a bug problem. They keep all the ticks and fleas and chiggers out of the yard.”
Trying to exert control over her own food supply was the goal when Virginia Snodgrass started raising chickens. Her flock of about 35 hens is part of an organic farm that she and her husband, Jim, own north of Stone’s Corner. They also raise “heritage” pigs — the Red Wattle — because they want to help continue a breed that was nearing extinction.
“I like to eat good food, and I want to know where it comes from,” Snodgrass said.
She raises varieties of chickens that produce white, brown and even green-colored eggs. Snogdrass said she often answers questions from people interested in starting their own flocks. She learned from reading books and magazines about organic gardening, but said information is far more accessible today. She said she also welcomes visitors, especially children.
“People need to know where their food comes from. It might make them a little more respectful about what they eat, and how much,” she said.
Lewis said information on raising chickens is accessible at libraries and on the Internet — even in YouTube videos. Information also is provided by stores that sell the chicks, including Midwest Ag, in Carthage.
“We have guide sheets that tell you how much space they should have and how warm you need to keep them,” said Dale Wickstrom, store owner. “The first week, they have to be kept at 95 degrees and then you can reduce it gradually, but they can’t be chilled.”
The first load of chicks will arrive at Wickstrom’s Carthage store on Tuesday. He said he’s already hearing from people who want to buy them and said most want hens that lay brown eggs.
“It’s coming back to like it was when I was a kid,” he said. “People say their grandparents used to have chickens and they want to raise enough to have fresh eggs for themselves and their family,” he said.
Champions Feed, Pet & More in Joplin takes orders for the chicks and expects to sell at least 400, probably some time in mid-April, said owner Lynn Oxendine.
“We’ll start taking orders next week,” he said Thursday. “We’ll have them for everyone who has pre-ordered and about 150 more for walk-ins.”
At Atwoods on Thursday, the peeping chicks were an attraction, even for shoppers who were there for other purchases. The chicks in tubs under heat lamps in the middle of the store were drawing customers, particularly parents with children. Workers with a spare moment also were pausing to watch the fluffy chicks and listen to their peeping.
Ducks and guineas
The store also sells baby guineas and ducklings. Doran said duck eggs are popular with some cooks because they are richer in flavor.
“I was saying not long ago, ‘Nothing says Valentine’s Day like a duck from Atwoods’,” he joked.
For a time he raised chickens and ducks, Doran said, and neighborhood children on their way home from school always would stop for a look.
“I would give them lawn chairs and bags of hot dog buns (for feed). They loved to watch the chickens and watch the ducks paddle around,” he said.
Midwest Ag in Carthage will start selling chicks on Tuesday and Champions Feed, Pet & More in Joplin expects to take its first chick deliveries in mid-April. Atwoods already has received shipments and Heather Flynn, assistant manager, said the store will sell between 300 to 500 chicks a week until the end of the season.
Check with the stories for delivery dates.
Atwoods last week was selling its chicks for between $2 and $3.50 each; baby turkeys, geese and ducks cost more, from $5.50 to $10.
Before buying chicks, check on local regulations.
Some cities allow the raising of fowl and other farm animals inside corporate limits, often basing the permission on the size of the property.
The Carthage City Council a year ago looked at revising city ordinances to allow chickens in the city at the request of residents who said they wanted to raise a few chickens for fresh eggs. No action was taken after the council also heard from several residents who argued against allowing chickens.