How to Raise Chickens in Midland County

Walking into any farm or pet supply store in April, it’s almost impossible to ignore the chirping chicks waiting for a ride home.

In recent years, it seems the temptation to bring these little farm animals home has been too much to resist. Interest in raising backyard poultry and producing eggs has increased, especially as the price of eggs has risen.

“Backyard poultry is a wonderful and rewarding hobby,” said Tractor Supply Company spokeswoman Karen Orne. “Since 2018, our live bird and feed sales have more than doubled. In 2022, we sold more than 10 million chicks and we hope to exceed that number this year.”

Before Midland area residents consider purchasing poultry, they should be aware of the rules and regulations related to livestock ownership, and especially where they are allowed to own them.

For those interested in raising chicks for the first time, Tractor Supply stores offer Chick Days, a “Backyard Poultry 101 Event” where those interested can receive expert advice on raising a successful flock. The Midland location posts their event flyers on their Facebook page.

The Chick Days website also offers a variety of resources including a breed directory, new chick checklist, feeding information, beginner’s guides, expert advice and more.

When it comes to a new interest in raising chickens, Garrett Bowland of Circle H Ranch in Sanford said it’s good that people have that interest, but he worries they aren’t prepared for the amount of work chickens have and encourages them to do your thing investigation.

Bowland advises new chicken owners to make sure they have a well-ventilated coop to prevent chickens from dying of heat exhaustion in the summer. He also encourages giving the chickens time to roam.

Tammy Nelson of JNelson Farms in Hope also recommends letting chickens roam free, but with a safe haven to use in times of attack. She noted that chickens are endangered by ground and air attacks from animals like foxes, coyotes, eagles and more.

“Part of the reason I keep roosters is that they will alert the hens to anything they perceive to be a threat and they will run under the coop or seek other shelter,” he said.

Nelson advises first-time owners to do their research and focus on what their goal is. She said she would have different advice depending on how many chickens people want to have, how often they want eggs, and whether they plan to sell the eggs or just feed their family with them.

Both farmers also commented on the initial costs of raising chickens.

“Chicken feed is not cheap,” Bowland said. “Your cooperative is also going to be expensive. If you’re building it, wood isn’t cheap. If you buy one from Tractor Supply, it will have a fairly high initial cost.”

Nelson said coops can cost around $1,000. Also, feeding the birds for about six months before they start producing eggs can cost about $1,000.

Chickens are not allowed in the city limits.

A Midland ordinance states that chickens cannot be raised within the city limits. The ordinance says the following:

“It shall be unlawful to keep, house, or raise any farm animal as defined in the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Midland, Ordinance No. 1585 being, except (1) farm animals kept in that part of the city zoned for purposes agricultural, or (2) animals used in a parade or to provide amusement rides on a temporary basis for which a permit has been issued, or (3) animals kept as part of a show or event at the Midland County Fairgrounds, or (4) miniature pigs subject to the provisions of section 2 of this article.”

This restriction is due to large amounts of dioxins in the soil and river sediment in the City of Midland due to past waste management practices at the Dow Chemical Company.

Dioxins are chemicals that are linked to health problems, including fertility problems, thyroid function, brain development, and cancer.

Chickens that are raised on land with a high level of dioxins can consume the chemicals by pecking at the ground or eating insects in the soil. These dioxins would then end up in the eggs and meat of the birds, making them unsafe to eat.

Supply and Demand Problems

People who live outside the city limits or in areas zoned for agriculture can raise their own chickens.

However, getting those chickens can be more difficult than it seems. Farmers in the Midland area have explained that there has been a significant backlog in ordering chicks as the supply chain is unable to keep up with demand.

Garrett Bowland of Circle H Ranch in Sanford said he ordered chicks two months ago. He won’t get anything until June.

Tammy Nelson of JNelson Farms in Hope said certain breeds are harder to come by than others, as some, like Australorps and Rhode Island Reds, sell out quickly.

“Those high-producing breeds will be the first to go,” he said. “If I’m feeding 65 hens, I want a breed that gives me one egg every day rather than a breed that gives me one egg every three days.”

Nelson noted that there are other breeds that can be purchased, but whether they are the right breed depends on what the owner’s goal is.

“Do you want to supply a lot of eggs or do you just want pretty chickens?” she said. “Some of the birds are cost prohibitive. I have a hen that I paid $11 for as a chick because she lays blue eggs, when the rest of the flock was paying $4 per chick.”

However, the $11 hen has only laid two eggs in a year.

Bowland and Nelson said interest in farm-fresh eggs and chicken farming has increased during the COVID pandemic.

“Before, eggs were just for us, maybe some family and friends,” Bowland said. “But pretty much when COVID hit, people started contacting us to buy eggs.”

Egg sales have slowed down at Circle H now, but tend to pick up during deer hunting season, as Bowland also processes deer and its customers buy eggs while on the ranch.

Nelson also gets a lot of egg sales from customers who come to JNelson for other products, like grass-fed beef. She believes that interest in raising chickens increased during the pandemic because people had more free time.

“People were at home and had more time for a hobby like this,” Nelson said. “I think people don’t want to be dependent on the supply chain anymore.”

She noticed during this time that people became interested in growing their own food and knowing where it came from, something she supports.

“When someone wants to invest in growing their own food, I think that’s great,” he said.

Tractor Supply Company has also noticed an increase in the number of people who want to grow their own food, particularly in certain generations of the population.

“In addition to our core customers, we’re seeing a lot of millennials get into poultry,” Orne said. “Many see it as a way to live a more sustainable life. And nothing beats having your own supply of delicious, farm-fresh eggs.”