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LI chickens, other social media pets generate income for their owners

Designer and business owner Kristen Steinhardt with some of her silkie chickens: She has been operating a popular Instagram account featuring the birds, @lux_chicken, for three years and has been promoting chicken feed brands and products.  (Credit: Newsday / Morgan Campbell)

A flock of silkie chickens in Brookhaven Town is "endorsing" brands and laying golden eggs for their owner, part of a wave of pets that translate social media celebrity to cash and free products.

Kristen Steinhardt oversees the brood of six silkie chickens: hens Willow, Aspen, Poppy, Cash and Fawke, and the rooster, Turbo. Their @lux_chicken page on Instagram has more than 7,000 followers.

Steinhardt, 24, charges $75 per photo for sponsored posts on her Instagram.

"I try to lock in one brand for a three-month period," she said. "This can generate $150 per month for my chickens. Minus expenses, they can profit around $130."

Those revenue numbers can climb for pets whose followers number in the millions.

Celebrity animals such as Grumpy Cat (now deceased) and Crusoe, the celebrity dachshund, can attract millions of followers to social media accounts on Facebook and Instagram. For instance, Grumpy Cat's Instagram account still has 2.7 million followers two months after her death in May from a urinary tract infection.

That media magnetism translates to marketing muscle for brands seeking to cut through the advertising clutter.

Loni Edwards founded The Dog Agency in Manhattan to represent social media pet stars, including Tuna the chiweenie — a cross between a Chihuahua and a dachshund — with an overbite; Duke Bush, the canine featured in Bush's Baked Beans commercials; and Crusoe, who has 3 million followers on Facebook. She said that A-list celebrity pets can fetch $10,000 to $15,000 per picture or video posted on Facebook or Instagram, the leading social media sites for pets.

Crusoe, who has had more than a billion video views, qualifies as a mega-celebrity pet, essentially a four-legged Kardashian. He has landed on The New York Times bestseller list; appears on calendars, blogs and short-form videos; and received the 2018 People's Choice Award for being an animal star. 

"We manage those campaigns," Edwards said. "We help brands with creative ideas. We make it easy for brands and influencers to work together."

Edwards' agency also is staging a series of PetCon conventions in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago that feature branded products and celebrity pets, such as the puggle (a pug-beagle mix) Bruno from the Netflix series "It's Bruno!" and human co-star Naim Solvan. Attendees are invited to bring their own critters.

Steinhardt, co-founder and chief executive of gyroplane dealer Gyro Revolution LLC in Ronkonkoma, bought her chickens in September 2016 from Swanky Silkies in Berkley, Massachusetts. Cost: $20 per chick.

"I always wanted them as pets, and they come with many benefits, including fresh eggs, great fertilizer and tons of amusement," she said. "As their Instagram account took off, brands started reaching out. I saw this as an opportunity where they could generate some extra income and pay their own rent."

The silkies have endorsed Chicken Chew, a corn-free, soy-free, non-GMO feed, as well as First Saturday Lime, a nontoxic pest repellent.

They also have made guest appearances at children's birthday parties and have an upcoming four-month exclusive endorsement deal with Manna Pro, a provider of  feed and other products for poultry, goats, rabbits, cattle, horses and swine.

In East Islip, Jennifer Aponte's 5-year-old border collie, Leo, models pet bandannas that she sells through her Fancy Little Fluffers page on the website Etsy. Aponte's grandmother does the sewing, and her mother packages and ships the items.

Aponte, 26, who works as a veterinary technician, said Leo also has won treats, leashes, cameras and a dog crate in Instagram contests. 

"Leo has yet to do any commercial work, but he is a phenomenal model," Aponte said. "I would absolutely love for Leo to become even more Insta-famous."

And for Steinhardt, the appeal of her silkie chickens extends beyond the barnyard.

"I think people are most drawn to them because their photos are fun and quirky," she said. "They have pool parties, drive with me in the car, fly on a jet, go on dates with each other, have Sunday brunch."

While social media can get "oversaturated" with copycat photos, Steinhardt said she tries to be "unique" and "stay true to their brand."

In addition to spinning off some cash,  her snowy white hens also each lay about four organic eggs a week in the summer.

"They're definitely paying their rent," said Steinhardt.

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