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As eggs are harder to get and more expensive, some Wyomingites have decided to raise chickens

A woman holds a basket of eggs. There are chickens around her feet and a small child stands behind her.
Hugh Cook
Wyoming Public Media
Karla Schwartz and her five-year-old niece Gracie collect newly laid eggs in a shed with some of their laying hens at Fort Farm, LLC, near Gillette.

This past January, one might’ve gone to the grocery store looking for eggs but the shelves were empty. And if there were eggs, they may have been costly. Melissa Hemken owns Melissahof Hatchery, a pastured poultry business in Lander.

“Here in Lander in January, both Safeway and Mr. Ds did not have any eggs for several days,'' said Melissa Hemken, owner of Melissahof Hatchery, a pastured poultry business in Lander. “And then when they did get them, they didn't have as much supply. And I know in Jackson, they were rationing them so customers only could buy one dozen at a time.”

As a result, Hemken said her business saw a huge demand for eggs.

"I had a lot of requests coming through my website to the point that I had to have my web developer, who's located in Riverton, she had to limit orders," Hemken said. "Because I had so many orders coming from out of state, I was having to refund all these people."

Hemken said it’s difficult to replace eggs on shopping lists as so many food items use them. She added the prices have been continually increasing since 2019 due to supply chain issues, but also due to an outbreak of avian influenza last year. She added that the outbreak has reduced the number of chicks, leading to fewer chickens and eggs overall. She doesn’t think the issue is going to stop any time soon.

“People are more thinking about the fact that there [were] no eggs to buy in the grocery store,” she said.

A flock of chickens in a grassy area.
Taste of the Wind
Chickens on the property of Taste of the Wind, a small farm north of Laramie.

BJ Edwards said she has seen this firsthand. As the owner of a small farm called Taste of the Wind north of Laramie that raises chickens, lambs, and pigs, a lot of people are asking her about tips for raising poultry lately.
“I know a lot of other folks who weren't raising chickens before have started now, or they had been doing it and they're increasing what they're doing,” Edwards said. “Because a lot of people come and ask me for advice or for tips or things like that, so I'm seeing an influx of people asking for poultry advice and rearing tips.”

Edwards said it’s important for new owners to understand what chickens eat and the expenses that it requires to feed them.

“We try to educate our customers on what the animals that provide them nourishment eat themselves and because I think that's where true sustainability is at,” she said.

That also rings true for Karla Schwartz, owner of The Fort Farm, LLC near Gillette. She’s new to owning chickens and bought her first chickens around 13 months ago. Now, she has about 50 birds living in several enclosures, including three old pickup truck toppers that have found new life as a poultry habitat. There are 39 laying hens and one rooster. Her birds lay around 33 eggs per day.

A truck topper has been converted into a chicken pen. Hens lay in the shade under it.
Hugh Cook
Wyoming Public Media
A repurposed pickup truck topper shelters chickens on the property of Fort Farm, LLC.

She enjoys feeding her family food products that are made from their own birds.

“Feeding your family a fresh egg versus a store bought egg that's eight weeks old and that's been bathed in a Clorox bath because it's dirty [is the alternative],” Schwartz said. “They have to wash it and it has to be refrigerated and you have no idea what state it even came from.”

For Schwartz, it's not about feeding her family food that they know where its origins are, but also about teaching her community.

“We're doing it for ourselves, but also on a scale that we can produce for our neighbors and for those in our community,” she said. “We're not trying to get big scale overnight here but we are hoping that we can grow by more people adopting this model and wanting to raise chickens.”

The increased interest in raising chickens has become so widespread in the state, that the University of Wyoming Extension released basic guidelines on how to raise chickens just last month. Some joke that chickens are a gateway to other farm animals, but for now, those who have raised chickens just want to make sure new owners know how to properly care for them.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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