Chicks Galore

One way to capture the zeitgeist of the Long Island homeowner is to visit the Talmage Farm Agway at the end of March. A crowd of people from Northport and Bayshore, as well as East End towns, had shown up at the Riverhead store for the annual Chick Day.

They were there to pet grown chickens—a barred Plymouth Rock named Roxy and a buff Orpington named Buffy, as well as Coconut the Babcock White Leghorn and Opal the Black Australorps—check out baby chicks chirping in a sawdust-lined terrarium and peer into an incubator hoping one of the eggs would have something stirring within.

But that was for the kids. Adults crowded around Kathleen Milach, an animal science educator from the Suffolk County Farm, wielding their advantage of height to get her attention.  While Milach held a chick, she fielded questions about incubation time, how often to feed chickens (and thus how much feed to buy), why some chickens don’t use their nests to lay eggs (“don’t make yourself crazy about nest boxes,” was the reply) and which years are the most productive for a layer (years one and two).

Yes, here one could witness the backyard-chicken craze invading neighborhoods near you.

And it’s not just anecdotal. Tara Besold, an 18-year veteran of the Agway and the self-titled poultry coordinator (everyone else calls her “the chick chick”) says she has sold four times the number of chicken, ducks, turkeys and guinea keets (the word for a baby guinea hen) than she did five years ago.

That means last year she sold 4,000 heads of poultry, 65 of which were turkeys, 45 were ducks and 175 of which were guinea keets. Last year she sold 2,300, the year before that 1,600 and the year before that 900.

“They’re wonderful animals,” she says. “People love them, just like a dog or a cat. And you get delicious fresh eggs.”

Acknowledging that some people sleep with their cats and dogs, Besold says, they sell diapers for chickens. Not at the Agway, but “no doubt one day we’ll do.” A new shipment comes in twice a month until June: chicks are $3.99 a head, with a 90 percent guarantee they’re female, or you could go whole hog and spend $8.25 on a turkey.

With 23 different varieties of chickens, it’s hard to pick. Do you want dual purpose: meat and eggs? (One woman was there asking how many chickens she could legally slaughter each year.) Some are scrawny and don’t like people, but lay a lot of eggs. Some are big poopers.

Then, as customers weighed their options, the woman giving this advice sat back and ate a hard-boiled egg

Newsletter