Egg prices boost backyard chicken-raising class at Queens County Farm Museum
High egg prices may have people thinking twice before picking up a carton at the store, and wondering if it might be cheaper to host their own backyard flock of hens.
It’s an idea that is catching on. A class on raising backyard hens filled up quickly at the Queens County Farm Museum last year, prompting organizers to add four more for this March.
This time the program is free as part of the farm’s public education programming. The historic 47-acre farm, which dates to the late 1600s, is near the border of Nassau County and Queens.
“Attorney generals across the country are looking at price gouging on egg prices, and there’s a high influx of people going and buying their own hens,” said Jennifer Walden Weprin, executive director of the Queens County Farm Museum.
In addition, the number of people starting backyard chicken flocks on Long Island grew in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The price of a dozen eggs at major retail chains in the New York metropolitan area can range between $4.99 and $5.99, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
According to the agency, “highly pathogenic avian influenza,” which impacts birds and poultry, reduced the number of egg-laying hens in 2022. This caused inventory to drop and by the end of December 2022, more than 43 million egg-laying hens were dead as a result of the disease.
The one-day course covers basics including how to maintain a healthy flock of hens, health management and disease prevention.
“Backyard enthusiasts should consider the amount of space they have available to have healthy, stress-free productive hens,” Danny Morales, director of agriculture at the Queens County Farm Museum, said in an email to Newsday. That includes making sure they have proper water and food and a shelter that protects them from predators.
“A healthy hen will produce about one egg per day,” he said.
Morales said it’s vital for people to determine the rules and regulations for owning backyard flocks in their towns.
According to the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Suffolk County, there are many options to house hens, but large breeds need at least four square feet per bird and they should be able to roost off the ground.
Morales also said people maintaining backyard flocks need to be concerned about avian flu and other health risks. Owners should avoid allowing them contact with other birds and follow other USDA recommendations.
The classes will be held on March 4, 12, 18 and 26. Weprin said each class can accommodate 40 people and they will add more if there is a demand. Preregistration is required at queensfarm.org and click on "public education programs."
Funds from Northwell Health help pay for the free classes. As part of that partnership, the health care system will use fresh produce from the farm for both patients and staff.