Spring Chickens

Photography by Jennifer Robertson

Raleigh is flocking to Little Birdie Hatchery, a family-owned farm and one-stop shop for backyard poultry keeping.

Ameraucana, Lavender Orpington, Speckled Sussex, Black Star—these aren’t racehorses or artisanal cocktails. They’re chickens, and if you live in a growing number of Raleigh neighborhoods opening up to personal poultry flocks, they may be nesting in a yard near you. A local family farm has been supplying these hand-raised chicks for years, and they have everything you need to start your own backyard flock.

Little Birdie Hatchery sits on a quiet cul-de-sac in a neighborhood on the outskirts of Wake Forest, marked only by a small sign in the front yard.

“I have to bribe the neighbors with eggs,” laughs owner Ann Larsen, who took over the company a year ago from father-son team Mike and Ben Alig.

She is preparing for her second spring at the helm of the hatchery, and business is booming. In this busy season, the hatchery can sell 250-350 chicks a week, at prices that range from $6 for more common varieties to $40 for exotic breeds. Customers drive from all over the East Coast to hand select chicks and get Larsen’s advice on caring for them.

“Raising chicks is really not as hard as people think it is,” she says. “You start out with a cardboard box or a Tupperware container, a heat lamp, feeder and water, and the chicks…and that’s about it.” The price is pretty cheap—that setup for three or four chicks costs about $65, including a bag of locally milled Little Birdie feed. And the chicks all come with a no rooster guarantee, meaning they will take back and rehome any chicks that turn out to be male. There are no minimum purchase requirements, but Larsen suggests purchasing at least two, as chickens are flock animals.

Ann Larsen

Once the chicks grow out of their boxes, a typical quarter-acre lot should be plenty of room for a small flock. Free-range poultry (or those confined to moveable “chicken tractors”) are unmatched at pest control, foraging for ticks, Japanese beetles, slugs and more. This “fresh air and freedom,” according to Larsen, means the chickens produce eggs that taste far better than any you will find at the store, with dark orange yolks and, depending on the breed, a range of shades and colors. Each breed has its own personality. The Buff Orpington, for example, is known as the golden retriever of chickens; it’s docile, friendly and often comes when called.

“I get a lot of people that want them for the eggs and also as pets,” she says. “They make great pets, they really do! It’s not as big a commitment as a dog or a cat, because they are somewhat self-sufficient. As long as they have clean water and food and a place to sleep, they’re good.”

Larsen, who was raised on a small farm in Denmark, left her job teaching preschool to take over the hatchery.

“I love kids,” she says. “My favorite part is when people bring their kids and grandkids, to see their excitement. It’s a fun place to come and pick out chicks. People are surprised that it’s not a big farm, but it’s just a small family business—and we try to keep it that way.”

For more information, visit littlebirdiehatchery.com

Little Birdie Hatchery will be participating in the Raleigh Tour D’Coop on Saturday, June 2. All proceeds from the chicken tour event go to support Urban Ministries of Wake County. tourdcoop.urbanmin.org
About Cameron Walker 42 Articles
Cameron Walker is a writer, mother and Raleigh native. She earned her B.A. in communication studies from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and her M.A. in the same from the University of Southern Indiana. She loves research, rainy days and sharing her favorite recipes on her blog, HoneysuckleAfternoons.com. Cameron is a writer with the College of Textiles at NC State.