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Blue Chickens Flying Off The Shelves At Local Hatchery

Chicken eggs in a bowl.
Renee Wilde
An assortment of chicken eggs from Mt. Healthy Hatcheries in Cincinnati.

With the new season coming into full swing, Danielle O'Hara of Cincinnati hatchery Mt. Healthy Hatcheries spoke with producer Renee Wilde about the high demand for baby chicks this spring.

Cardboard boxes of day old chicks are making their way through the U.S. Postal Service, as mail order hatcheries rush to meet the rising demand for chickens during the pandemic. For her podcast Grounded Hope, producer Renee Wilde travels to a fifth generation hatchery in Cincinnati that hatches millions of baby chicks each spring.

Spring is the busy season for the mail-order hatcheries who send millions of baby chickens through the US Postal Service to eager farmers and backyard enthusiasts around the country.

"We’re right in the thick of it - March, April, May," said Danielle O'Hara.

Danielle O’Hara is the great granddaughter of "Chick" O'Hara. Chick started Mt. Healthy Hatcheriesout of his basement in the 1920s, raising chicks for his family and neighbors. Danielle is the fourth generation to help raise chicks, ducks, turkeys and game fowls for the family hatchery.

"So, these are the shipping boxes for the orders going out this weekend because once those chickens hatch it is like go time, you have to get them out the door."

A newborn chick will absorb the yolk from the shell as it’s hatched, supplying enough nutrients for the first few days of its life.

"They say up to 76 hours, but we try to get them to their destination by 48 (hours), for sure."

Inside one of the low profile hatchery buildings are hundreds of bakers racks lined with multi-colored eggs. The eggs are grouped in hues of brown, beige, white, green and blue, each rack representing a different breed. Over a quarter of a million eggs will be hatched here over next week, but you won’t see any laying hens.

"So, we actually have breeder farms, where we go and pick up our eggs three times a week. We bring ‘em back here and incubate them. (It) takes 21 days to incubate."

According to the Ohio Poultry Association, Ohio is one of the biggest egg laying states, with 31 million laying hens. This hatchery works with ten Amish farms around the Holmes County area in Ohio, and one English farm in Indiana. These 11 farms breed the eggs for over fifty five varieties of poultry sold through the Mt. Healthy mail order business.

"So you have your staples, like your Barred Rocks, your Rhode Island Reds, Comets, Cornish, that kind of stuff that you know is going to sell. We’ve seen a big increase in rare, fun, kind of backyard varieties. So, recently we added Creamed Legbar, Barnevelders, and some different types of Marans. We made a couple hybrids people seem to like."

They want good production, but they want something that’s going to look nice in the yard. So that’s where the retail market is shifting.

During the pandemic demand for chickens has risen dramatically as both backyard pets and as a local source for meat and eggs.

"I don’t know whether it was the fear within the scarcity of food, or the concern with the food system failing, or just being home and having nothing else to do, but our sales almost doubled compared to 2019. It was a huge upswing."

So what trends is the hatchery seeing for 2021?

"Actually Rob, who's our Operating Owner, I guess you would call him, he brought in the first blue breed and they just sold like crazy, people love that grey color. But, our Blue Rocks, our Rhode Island Blue which is a hybrid that we made, Blue Laced Red Wyandotte, Blue Copper Marans, Blue Giants, Splash Giants which Splash is like a variation of blue, We sell those quicker than I can keep up with, for sure."

Personally, I like Orpingtons. They look like little butterballs.

Renee Wilde produces stories for the Center for Community Voices at WYSO. This has been an excerpt from her podcast Grounded Hope, produced by the Agraria Center For Regenerative Practices in Yellow Springs.

Renee Wilde is an award-winning independent public radio producer, podcast host, and hobby farmer living in the hinterlands of southwestern Ohio.