Chicken Side Businesses
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Like many women of her generation, my great-grandma used to raise chickens for “egg money.” Without an income of their own, many farm women relied on income from their chickens to pay for household expenses — everything from groceries to clothing to school fees. My grandma remembers that the family’s piano was paid for using egg money.
In the 1940s, eggs might cost 40 cents a dozen. Today, 60 years later, you can find a dozen eggs in the store for as little as a dollar (though, of course, free-range or organic eggs can command higher prices). Selling eggs isn’t the easy way to make extra income that it used to be. But as more people start raising chickens as pets, entrepreneurs find that meat and eggs aren’t the only chicken-related business opportunities. Now there are many ways to cater to the growing market of people who love chickens.
In 2010, Julie Baker was looking for a homeschool project for her daughter and decided to go through the steps of creating and selling a product online. Bridget, her daughter, had show chickens and often spent a lot of time getting them washed and ready only for the birds to “poop in the crate and make a big mess,” as Baker recalls. So, they came up with a chicken diaper, designed it, and put it for sale on eBay. “I didn’t think we were going to sell any,” Baker says. They sold a lot. Thanks to early local and national media attention, the Bakers’ product, soon a company called Pampered Poultry, continued to grow.
Baker had connections to a village in the Dominican Republic through volunteer work and taught a group of women how to sew, provided machines, and paid them to make the increasing number of chicken diapers. “It’s been a really good thing for that community,” she says. Today, Pampered Poultry sells 3,000 chicken diapers a year and has since added a chicken tutu and a “peep pouch” to hold chicks to the mix. “When we started, our customers were people showing birds. It wasn’t a pet chicken market,” Baker says. That’s all changed. “Thanks to Instagram and Facebook, it’s more socially acceptable to have a chicken as a pet now.”
Meredith Skyer also got into the chicken business almost by accident. She started a blog, Backyard Chicken Project, to share information and education on chicken keeping a decade ago. As her audience grew, Skyer, a lifelong artist and art teacher, began to post some of her chicken-themed work as well. People responded. Writing about chickens did bring in some income, but now her focus is on ceramics — specifically mugs with chickens on them that she started making five years ago. “They sell out pretty much in a day,” Skyer says. “I try to do a release every month or two.” She sells t-shirts and custom products, but they’re not as big as the mugs.
“It’s not what I intended to do,” Skyer says. “It just happened naturally. I got chickens and became obsessed with them, and I wanted to make art that reflected that.” This is a common refrain for people who start chicken businesses. Between continuing to post on her blog, updating photos to social media, and making new ceramics, Skyer spends 20-25 hours a week on chicken businesses (in addition to a full-time job). “It’s quite a good income supplement,” she says, mentioning that while it fluctuates throughout the year, she’s bringing in $3,000 a month from chickens in a busy month. People always say you have to “balance” various projects, but Skyer finds it easier to go back and forth between her day job and chicken pursuits. Some weeks school is busy, and she has to devote all her time to that. Other times she’s able to throw herself completely into ceramics. “You’re obsessed with different things at different times,” Skyer says, and the change keeps it fun.
For Stephanie Johnson, it all started with an egg stamp she saw online. She loved the idea so much she began making egg stamps of her own in 2016. Now she makes egg stamps, egg carton stamps, stickers, and enamel pins and sells them on Etsy as FarmhouseMaven. “It took off when I added more products,” she says. “The more products you have, the more attention it’s going to get.”
She’s been a stay-at-home mom to her five children for the last 13 years, and while she loves it, it was hard to stop working. “I wanted to support myself and my family, and this was a great way to do that,” she says. She schedules the few hours a day she needs to devote to FarmhouseMaven around her other responsibilities. “I do it before the kids get up or when they go play outside.” When she first started, she had just a few sales a week, “and that was really exciting for me,” she laughs. In April, a busy time of year since so many people are getting spring chickens, she was doing 40-50 sales a day. Sometimes her kids help out with little projects like stamping bags or other little finishing touches that help customers return to her time and time again.
Like most other people in the chicken (side) business, Johnson had to learn new skills like marketing, graphic design, and bookkeeping as she went. “I know this is cliché, but I feel like if I can do it, anybody can do it.” Johnson often encourages people to go after their own business ideas, whether crafting, chickens, or otherwise. “With some thought and intention, you can make something out of it.”
Originally published in the April/May 2021 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.