When receptionist Heidi Heilig was told she could work remotely at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, she figured the extra time at home would allow her to get a pet for her 6-year-old and 2-year-old sons.
Trouble is, her kids are allergic to cats and dogs. The solution? Raising three chickens in her small, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn backyard.
“The children were off school, bored, and chickens have been a great diversion from what was happening in the world,” says the 40-year-old, also a published author, who bought newly hatched chicks, named Salt, Pepper and Oreo, in April.
Although the birds are still too young to lay, Heilig tells The Post she’s looking forward to mornings with fresh eggs for breakfast — a clear advantage over dog or cat ownership.
Heilig is one of a growing number of first-time poultry owners who have taken up the hobby as a result of the coronavirus lockdown, taking the uptick in pandemic pet ownership to new heights. Her supplier, My Pet Chicken, reports a boom in sales since March as people have begun seeking an uplifting distraction from the doom and gloom.
“We’ve seen a 260 percent increase in demand since last year and have struggled to keep up with it,” says CEO Traci Torres, who operates out of Monroe, Conn. “The main reasons are that people have more time on their hands now to look after a flock, plus they realize they are a steady source of protein and nutrition.”
Not to mention, people can’t help but feel things are getting a bit apocalyptic these days. “When all else fails, people want to be able to feed themselves and their families,” Torres says.
Much of her business has centered on New York City, where it is legal to keep hens as long as they don’t create a “nuisance” with their noise, mess or any other complaint that a neighbor might file. Roosters are banned because of their trademark loud calling card.
“We mostly sell to the outer boroughs but people do keep chickens on their rooftops in Manhattan,” says Torres.
Less committed chicken fanciers need not fret: Hen and coop rental is available through suppliers such as Rent the Chicken — a play on Rent the Runway clothing company — based in Freeport, Pa. They usually hire out the birds and equipment for a period of six months during prime laying season, before winter sets in.
“People are looking for things to do, especially with their kids, because they’re not out traveling to gymnastics, soccer, ballet and cooking classes anymore,” says co-founder Jenn Tompkins, who has seen a 30% rise in business from last year. “They have really slowed down and raising chickens is soothing.”