ESCONDIDO — Starting at 7 a.m., more than 100 people stood in line braving the drizzle to get their number and pick up baby chicks.
In its 15th year, the Hawthorne Country Store’s annual Chick Day drew people from all walks of life. Whether customers were looking to live more sustainably or to beef up their numbers on a farm, store owners Heather and Terry Thelen had one of their best events ever.
This year, about 1,500 chicks were sold, while last year 2,000 chicks were purchased in 24 hours. The chicks cost between $4 and $50 each.
“You can raise your own food on a small scale,” Heather Thelen said. “We teach classes with two chickens and a tomato plant. It doesn’t have to be a large operation. It’s pets with benefits.”
The line to enter the store had about a 45-minute wait, but the masses were more than willing to brave the cold temperatures to get their hands on baby chicks. The store provides more than 100 different breeds, with a variety of color patterns, egg sizes and temperaments. The two most popular, Heather Thelen said, are Silkie’s and Orpington’s.
For Alec Roach and Mikki Geier, both 25, this was their first time buying chicks (they bought seven). They peppered the staff with dozens of questions, and were met with answers to guide them through the buying process to raising the chicks in their first few months.
Roach and Geier live outside Escondido city limits and have a property they rent through Airbnb. They want to provide fresh eggs to their guests, while also living a more sustainable lifestyle.
“The idea was to have a more sustainable life at home,” Geier said. “We got white Silkie’s. We’re thinking of sticking with the seven for the first year and see how it goes. People say after four months, their chicks lay an egg a day, so that’s seven eggs a day.”
Chick Day began as a display contest through some feed companies, and the Thelens won the contest the first six years. The event was dropped, but the Thelens realized the potential and kept it alive.
The event draws people from all over San Diego County and the Thelens are aided by their employees and volunteers, who are trained on the differences between breeds, food intake, care and protecting the birds once they move to a coop. In addition, the night before Chick Day, the Thelens host a “Peep Show,” which is a preview of the chicks.
“It just kept getting more and more popular,” Heather Thelen said. “Four years ago, there were people here early in the morning and they all came in at once. People were mad and upset … so we started the number system and people line up and get their number in the morning.”
As for feed, there has a been change in how and what the animals are fed. Six years ago, Heather Thelen said, there was no organic feed for the birds. But the explosion and popularity of organic food among people has branched into pet stores.
Cities in San Diego County and around the state and country have begun developing and instituting ordinances and laws permitting a limited amount of chickens, although roosters are not allowed in many municipalities.
“We have a giant line of organic feed now,” Terry Thelen added. “Now, it’s huge.”