Chickens are no longer just the quirky animals you see wandering around farms—they’re now found in suburban yards and urban spaces where they’re treated more as pets than livestock. Although they’re not on the same level of domestication as cats and dogs, the demand for chickens is growing, meaning it’s up to retailers to ensure that customers have all the knowledge and products needed to successfully raise and keep these birds.
Martin Hodson, head of marketing and sales for ChickenGuard, explains that chicken owners can’t skimp on these animals’ living spaces. A coop needs to be at least 2 or 3 square feet per chicken but no more than that—too much room could be a problem in winter, as the chickens may not be able to generate enough body heat to keep the space warm.
A chicken coop should also be ventilated, as chickens create a lot of dust with their bedding, feathers and manure. It should include nesting boxes for egg laying and a roosting space where the birds feel safe. Only wood shavings should be used in the coop and straw in the nesting boxes, as the scent and oil in cedar shavings can be toxic to chickens.
Outside of the coop, chickens should have enough space to roam—chickens can bully and peck each other if they don’t have enough room. A chicken run should have 8-10 square feet per hen.
Of course, chicken care is not without its challenges. Ben Braithwaite, ChickenGuard’s founder, learned this the hard way when a fox attacked the first flock of chickens he owned, inspiring him to invent the ChickenGuard, an automatic chicken coop door opener that keeps flocks safe at night.
"ChickenGuard products are specifically designed to ‘outfox’ predators," says Hodson, explaining that the coop door openers are designed to work in all weather conditions and come in Standard, Premium and Extreme. All three are equipped with programmable timers so chicken owners can choose when the coop door opens.
The Premium and Extreme door openers also come with light sensors, and the Extreme version can lift heavier coop doors. ChickenGuard also offers self-locking coop doors made from aluminum that can be used in combination with all three door openers.
Hodson says that ChickenGuard provides resources to help retailers understand and market poultry products. The company offers a demo kit that shows how the products work, countertop displays and a training manual that retailers can pass on to their staff.
"We strive to help our trade partners maximize sales by providing marketing materials for in-store promotion," he says. "We suggest handing out our flyers of ChickenGuard products with every purchase."
Hodson adds that retailers can recommend specific chicken breeds to prospective poultry owners. Silkies are a placid breed on the smaller size, which can make them easier for children to handle. Buff Orpingtons are considered to be the "Golden Retriever of the Chicken World," because they are friendly and enjoy being held.
Tobi Kosanke, founder of Crazy K Farm Pet and Poultry Products, believes that retailers "should communicate the necessity of clean, safe housing and proper feeding."
Kosanke says that specific diets should be given to different types of chickens, as feeding chicken scratch is the equivalent of feeding children cotton candy. Chicks need medicated feed that gives them protection against coccidiosis, a parasitic disease that affects the intestinal tract; hens should be given layer pellets, which contain the necessary calcium to keep them healthy while they’re of egg-laying age; and males should have rooster pellets, as they should not be fed a high calcium diet.
In addition to nutrition, there’s other poultry products that retailers need to have readily available when chicken owners need them. To that end, Crazy K Farm offers the Hen Saver hen apron, the Birdy Bootie, the Hen Holster diaper/harness and the Birdy Bra.
The Hen Saver is worn like a saddle and protects a hen from scratches on its back and shoulders during mating—which causes feather loss—and helps promote healing and feather regrowth.
The Birdy Bootie is a healing, protective shoe that provides cushioning and coverage for birds with injured feet or bumblefoot, a staph infection on the foot pad or toe. It can help keep medicine on the foot while protecting the affliction from dirt.
The Hen Holster diaper/harness and the Birdy Bra enables chickens to be kept inside without soiling the home. Worn over the chicken’s chest, the Birdy Bra protects the crop, which is a pouch-like enlargement of the esophagus that stores food. A chicken’s crop can sometimes become distended and in need of support, which can be provided by the Birdy Bra.
Kosanke says that retailers can showcase products in a "poultry zone" that features items for pet chickens and backyard flocks. She adds that retailers need to make sure they only offer safe products and "remain educated and not offer items that are actually unhealthy for chickens."
Examples of products that could be unsafe include hen aprons that are made of slick material that cause roosters to slide off the hen’s back during mating and possibly injure her sides. Hen aprons should also be made from breathable material to prevent overheating.
Kosanke emphasizes that retailers should only carry coops that are a proper size.
"One of my pet peeves in small chicken coops that are sold all over the internet," she says. "Chickens need to stay active to remain healthy, and small coops with small runs lead to obesity and short lives.
By offering appropriate products and helpful tips, retailers can effectively help their customers navigate the challenges of chicken care. PB