Americans are looking to their backyards for more control over their food supply and fresh, nutritious food for their families.
Checking out the variety of breeds last week at Bowman's Feed and Pet in Westminster, Lindsay Buscher had trouble deciding which spring chick she wanted to take home. She choose seven for their unique markings and healthy appearance.
"We already have 40 at home. It just kind of becomes an addiction to collect the different breeds," said Buscher, of Woodbine.
Buscher has three children and the family eats quite a bit of eggs.
"I've found eggs from farm-raised chickens are just better because their yolks are darker and they have more vitamins," she said.
Bowman's manager Randy Martin said the store has seen a dramatic increase in backyard flock popularity. He predicts the store will sell 12,000 chicks this year.
"I think it's because the price of eggs has spiked and people want to try it at home," Martin said. "It's something they can learn in a matter of minutes. We explain what the chicks need for food, water and clean bedding."
Earlier this month, the Maryland Department of Agriculture issued a statement warning citizens that incorrectly handling live poultry, including chicks and ducklings, can cause serious illnesses. According to the release, the state is still in heightened alert for high path avian influenza better known as "bird flu." If any poultry shows signs of sneezing, watery eyes, trouble breathing, not eating or drinking, flock owners should quickly report it to the MDA.
"We ask people to think twice before bringing baby chicks and other live poultry into their homes. The risk of illness from improper handling is much higher this time of year, especially among people not used to handling live birds," said Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder in a prepared statement. "Anyone with poultry should practice heightened biosecurity to prevent diseases like bird flu from entering their flock."
Martin said bird flu has not been a local issue.
"We track every chick sold here," Martin said. "It's up to the owner to register their premises with the state so they can get updates if there's a problem."
According to Tractor Supply Co.'s backyard chicken contributor Kathy Shea Mormino, Americans are looking to their backyards for more control over their food supply and fresh, nutritious food for their families.
"Breakfast from the backyard is just the beginning — the joys and benefits of raising chickens are endless," said Mormino in a prepared statement. "Beyond eggs, another enormous perk of keeping chickens is garden fertilizer; there is no more valuable amendment to garden soil than nitrogen-rich chicken manure."
Karen Broadhurst, of Mount Airy, stopped into Bowman's to pick up black Australorp, Columbia white cross and black sex link chicks so she can have fresh eggs.
"I've had chickens for three years, but a fox got my whole flock," Broadhurst explained. "I've moved to a new place and decided to get more. They make sweet little pets. They follow you around."
Candy Cole, of Manchester, brought her 20-month-old granddaughter Emma to check out Bowman's chicks.
• Bowman's Feed and Pet, 101 Englar Road, Westminster. Receives chicks through April. First come, first serve. Offers 28 breeds of chickens, four breeds of ducks, three breeds of turkeys and French guineas. For more information, call 410-848-3733.
• The Mill of Hampstead, 607 Hanover Pike, Hampstead. Receives chicks every Thursday through May 12. First come, first serve. Offers a large variety of chick breeds including Welsummer, cuckoo Maran, French Guinea and ducks. For more information, call 410-374-6066.
• Tractor Supply Co., 1151 Baltimore Blvd., Westminster. Receives chicks through April. First come, first serve. Offers a large variety of breeds. For more information, call 410-848-2060.
R.S.V.P.: Seating is limited. Call 410-329-6558 or 410-374-6066 to make a reservation.
Bowman/Purina Chick Chat
Learn how to raise your baby chicks to be productive egg producers. Light refreshments, feed and accessory discounts, door prizes. Live demo by 4-H Fine Feathered Friends Poultry Club.
Where: St. John's Portico, 43 Monroe St., Westminster
When: 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., March 21
R.S.V.P.: Seating is limited. Call 410-848-3733 by March 18
MDA's Tips for Handling Live Poultry
•Purchase chickens only from hatcheries that are certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Poultry Improvement Plan and have a permit from MDA. NPIP hatcheries follow strict biosecurity practices, maintain detailed records of where their chicks come from, and have had their sites and chickens tested for particularly debilitating diseases.
•Be aware that chicks and other live poultry can appear healthy and clean while carrying salmonella germs.
•Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after touching live poultry or anything in the area where poultry live and roam. Adults should supervise hand washing for young children.
•Do not allow children younger than age 5, elderly persons, or people with weak immune systems to handle or touch chicks, ducklings or other live poultry.
•Clean any equipment or materials associated with raising or caring for live poultry outside the house, such as cages or feed or water containers.
•Don't let live poultry inside the house, in bathrooms, or especially in areas where food or drink is prepared, served or stored, such as kitchens or outdoor patios.
•Don't snuggle or kiss the birds, touch your mouth, or eat or drink around live poultry.
MDA's Steps to Protect Flocks from Bird Flu
Protect your flock with the following biosecurity practices:
1. Clean rigorously. Wear clean clothes, scrub your shoes with disinfectant and wash your hands thoroughly before entering your bird area. Clean cages daily. Change food and water daily. Clean and disinfect equipment that comes in contact with your birds or their droppings, including cages and tools. Remove manure before disinfecting. If you have been near other birds or bird owners, such as at a feed store, clean and disinfect your car and truck tires, poultry cages and equipment before going home.
2. Buy new birds from reputable hatcheries. Keep them separate from your flock for at least 21 days. Start with healthy birds and keep them healthy.
3. Restrict access to your property and your birds.
4. If you show birds at exhibitions, be sure to have them tested first, and keep these birds separate from your flock for at least three full weeks after.
5. Register your flock with MDA. If there is a bird flu outbreak in your area, they will let you know and tell you how you can protect your birds. To register, visit www.mda.maryland.gov or call 410-841-5810.
6. Report sick birds to MDA at 410-841-5810. They can help you find out if your birds have the flu and tell you what your options are if they do. For more information about bird flu, visit: www.mda.maryland.gov/avianflu.