The United States—and the world—is in the throes of a medical crisis the likes of which haven’t been seen since the Spanish Influenza pandemic of the early 20th century. As more and more governors issue shelter in place mandates for their residents, those of us who keep chickens may have a concern beyond that of the typical American: How can I maintain my flocks during the coronavirus crisis?
While there is no blanket answer for everyone, as restrictions vary from state to state, we do have some suggestions that should address and hopefully allay some of your anxieties as we all deal with the coronavirus.
Your source of layer rations may indeed still be available to you, although possibly not as conveniently as before. In some states, essential services include farm-supply stores that carry livestock feed.
Smaller, local mom-and-pop feed mills and stores may choose to close on their own over coronavirus concerns. But larger, national chains may well be open in your area.
Your best bet is to call your store. If they are closed, search the internet for “livestock feed” and your city or zip code. This will bring up the locations closest to you.
Even if they are open, these farm-supply stores may be implementing different operational protocol.
They may only allow five customers in the store at one time. They may require you to call ahead with your order or order via an app or online before heading to the store.
Or they may only offer curbside service. Have a very detailed list of what you need ready to pass through your window.
Options for Feed
If your area’s feed stores and farm-supply stores are closed, there are options available to you.
The first is to allow your birds out to forage. If you do not have a fenced-in yard, you or someone in your family will need to accompany your flock so that they do not venture onto your neighbor’s property, the road or other dangerous locations.
Not all breeds of chicken are accomplished foragers, so be sure to collect all your kitchen scraps—even crumbs of bread—in a compost pail or designated container to feed to your flock.
If you have wild bird feeders, the seed meant for your robins and finches will help fill your hens’ bellies. If you have neighbors who keep chickens, call or message them to see if they might have some feed to spare.
You can also order feed via Amazon, but understand that, as they grapple with coronavirus-heightened orders, shipment may take a few days.
Bedding and Litter
If your supply of shavings or straw runs short, don’t worry. Nature thankfully supplies us with grass that needs mowing and leaves that need raking.
If you live near a body of water, the fluff from cattails can be collected to be used for nesting. Dryer lint can also be used for nest boxes.
If you have a bag of play box sand, grouting sand or driveway de-icing sand, these can be used in a pinch as litter for your coops. Avoid using sawdust, as this can be inhaled by your birds and adversely affect their respiratory systems.
None of these options are ideal. But they will all make due until you can purchase your regular bedding.
If your hens are already laying this season, your supply of egg cartons may already be dwindling. You also may not have enough room in your refrigerator to store all the eggs your hens are laying.
Check online resources, such as eggcartons.com, for egg cartons that will ship directly to your home.
Fortunately, if you cannot purchase cartons, you can store freshly laid eggs at room temperature for approximately a month. Just don’t wash them, as that removes their protective bloom and allows bacteria to enter through the shell.
Use ceramic bowls and containers to store your eggs once you run out of cartons.
Should you find yourself simply overflowing with eggs, consider scrambling them up and feeding them back to your flock. The eggs will provide them with a much-needed source of protein should they be foraging for their feed.
Many of us supplement our layers’ rations with crushed oyster shell, which the hens’ bodies process for the calcium needed for shell building.
If you cannot purchase oyster shell locally, use the source of calcium you have on hand: egg shells! Be sure to wash all traces of the albumin and yolk from the egg shell so that no lingering taste remains.
Crush the egg shells finely and either mix them in with the flock’s regular rations or offer them in a separate hopper or container. Remember to keep your calcium supplements out of reach of chicks, as too much calcium can adversely affect their renal system.
If possible, keep in mind your neighbors who also keep chickens. If your neighbors are elderly or at a high risk for COVID-19, call or message them to check in and see if they are short on supplies, for themselves and for their flock.
Leaving a bag of feed on their doorstep—or by their mailbox, to protect yourself and them from coronavirus exposure—will not only help them but their birds get through these stressful days.