Check Out the Chickens
4 Creative Programs that Put Your Flock Front and Center in Agritourism Activities
Reading Time: 5 minutes
By Jodi Helmer
Chickens might be cheap, but the costs of housing, feed, medicines, and vet care add up.
These four farms introduced creative agri-tourism activities featuring their flocks, showcasing opportunities to help bring in a little extra scratch while providing rewarding connections between your chickens and farm visitors.
The 12 chickens living at Bushy Hill Nature Center in Ivoryton, Connecticut, do more than scratch for bugs and lay eggs; they are also clucking amazing artists. Manager Georgia Male launched a chicken art program in 2017 to help boost revenues at the nonprofit nature center.
“I wanted the farm to be more self-sustaining,” she explains. “We could make people coming to the farm and interacting with our animals a commodity.”
She was first introduced to anal art while learning about enrichment programs at zoos. Male figured of elephants, gorillas, and penguins could make art, chickens could, too.
The chicken art program is an hour-long experience. Participants choose their chickens, dip their feet in nontoxic washable paint and either gently press their feet onto a canvas or release the chickens, allowing them to walk across the canvas, creating their own designs. The program, which cost $35, has been a hit.
“It’s helped us start to get noticed in our community,” Male adds.
Male has even taken the chickens on the road to do our classes offsite. She calls it a great team-building event.
Although the concept is simple, it did take some effort behind the scenes to prepare the chickens to paint.
Male trained the chickens, introducing them to the supplies, dipping their feet and paint, and handling them more often — with lots of mealworms as rewards for good behavior — before Bushy Hill Nature Center started hosting chicken art classes.
Expecting the unexpected is also part of working with animals. Chickens poop on participants or lay eggs on canvases, but it’s all part of the fun (and these “risks” are explained to participants before classes start).
The enclosure has a separate place for chickens to take breaks for food, water, or alone time. Students are instructed not to pick up chickens in the alone zone. Male also limits the number of participants, so there are more chickens than artists, which reduces the likelihood the chickens will feel over-stimulated.
“Providing people with an experience that helps them make a connection with an animal is really valuable,” Male says. “The paintings are a way for them to hold on to memories of the farm.”
In Ybor City, it’s not uncommon to see wild chickens strutting down the sidewalk or foraging in local parks. Thanks to a creative new program, chickens have also taken up yoga.
Ybor Misfits Microsanctuary, a small nonprofit that provides refuge to abandoned, lost, and injured chickens in Florida, launched a chicken yoga program in 2021. The sanctuary partnered with a yoga studio to host the classes in the ballroom of the Hotel Haya.
Sanctuary manager Dylan Breese drew inspiration from the goat yoga trend. He bathed and diapered the chickens before releasing them in the studio to strut, peck, and pose alongside yogis.
Mackenzie Fox, director of lifestyle at Hotel Haya, told the Tampa Bay Times she was nervous about the event but felt it was an “experience that perfectly embodies Ybor,” where wild chickens have been part of the landscape for the past 100 years.
“I’ve seen cat yoga, goat yoga, and I’ve seen dog yoga,” Fox said. “Chickens are such an integral part of Ybor, so why not chicken yoga?”
Ybor Misfits Microsanctuary doesn’t charge a set fee for the classes. Instead, the nonprofit welcomes donations for the monthly classes to help support the chickens that call the sanctuary home. (The cost for goat yoga classes ranges from $10 to $30 per person for one-hour classes.)
Unlike goat yoga classes where goats hop on participants’ backs in poses like downward dog or plank pose, the chickens from Ybor Misfits Microsanctuary were less acrobatic.
“Frankenstein was definitely making some fun noises, which was funny when it was supposed to be a zen moment,” Fox told the newspaper. “They didn’t go on top of people but were chilling and walking around people. They were a lot more social than I thought they were going to be.”
Spring means one thing: cheeping chicks.
When feed stores fill with brooders full of just-hatched chicks, not all of the families oohing and aahing over their adorableness want to commit to raising a flock. At Barreras Family Farm in Blair, Nebraska, Mariel Barreras came up with a solution: Rent chicks.
It started when she noticed a glut of Craiglist ads for free chickens after cute Easter chicks grew into chickens.
“We’re trying to alleviate the abandonment of the chickens,” she told Channel 3 News in Omaha.
Mariel Barreras introduced the Rent-a-Chick program in 2014. In addition to two chicks, each $85 kit comes with a clear tote for a brooder, heating pad, bedding, water and food dishes, chick feed, and a class to help families take care of their chicks.
The program isn’t just for families; the farm also rents chicks to schools and daycares to help teach children about science and caring for animals, as well as empathy and compassion.
Barreras even created a private Facebook page to post tips and reminders about caring for chicks, answering questions and encouraging families to post information about their experiences and share photos of their chicks.
Families return their chickens after one to two weeks, and they continue their lives on the farm. Once the hens start laying in the fall, families are encouraged to return to visit with their chickens and pick up one dozen eggs.
The program has proven popular with local families and teachers, and demand for Rent-a-Chick kits has increased every year since the program started.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Francie Dunlap often participated in Zoom happy hours. Her friends often heard the sound of animals in the background and begged Dunlap to take her phone out into the pasture so the horses, mini donkeys, ducks, and chickens living on Peace N Peas Farm in Indian Trail, North Carolina, could be part of the call too.
“A couple of people suggested I rent Mambo [the mini donkey] out to appear in people’s boring Zoom meetings,” she recalls. “It went viral overnight.”
Dunlap created a website, dangrooster.com, and started booking 10-minute “Zoom bomb” events starring Peace N Peas Farm animals. The animals participated in small department meetings to international events with hundreds of attendees; she even hosted virtual farm tours.
“We had people say, ‘We just want to watch the chickens,’” she recalls. “They wanted to ask questions, especially if it’s a group of kids, they wanted to see each chicken or ask about their names, watch us petting them or feeding them or collecting eggs. We’re pretty flexible.”
The farm animals were so popular that the farm had several repeat customers.
“Even after people had already heard of farm animal Zoom bombings, they still invited us back because their meetings were still boring, and they still needed a laugh,” she says.
Mambo was the most in-demand, but the chickens participated in many events, too. Dunlap tried dressing them up and tutus, but it upset one of the roosters, and he would attack her when she carried a tutu out to the barn.
The first two months booked up immediately, with Dunlap hosting 15 Zoom meetings per day at a rate of $50 per 10 minutes. As the pandemic ranged on, the novelty wore off, and Dunlap decided to stop offering the sessions but appreciated the surprise revenue boost for the farm.
“I didn’t plan on sticking my phone in an animal’s face for a year,” she says. “I’m surprised it was so popular for so long.”
Originally published in the December 2021/January 2022 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.