Raising Chickens in the High Arctic


April 8, 2022

I used to be afraid of chickens. Chickens and cows, actually. Which is why a lot of people who have known me a long time think it is hilarious that I am known by many as the “Crazy Arctic Chicken Lady”. I even had someone send me a photoshopped image of me done up like the character from Kids in the Hall; and my secret santa this year sent me a dress for my chickens (which was made funnier by me not getting it, and making my cats try it on…). I have been known to read to my chickens, make them toys and give them baths.

Why am I now in love with these teeny dinosaurs? Because they have funny personalities, get excited when they see me, and most importantly, they give me farm fresh eggs on a daily basis. This may not seem all that exciting to most people, but since I live 200-km north of the Arctic Circle, and approximately 800-km from the next closest local egg producer in Dawson City, this is a big deal. Our eggs in the store have travelled weeks and thousands of kilometres to get to us. Often they are already bordering on too old.

When I first got the birds, they were 22 Dekalb Hens that were shipped to Inuvik from Polar Eggs in Hay River in the early part of summer in 2020. These little gals were hard workers, and they gave 1 egg per day. I thought they would just be brainless birds, but soon I got to know them individually, and their personalities were quite varied. It didn’t take long for me to become hooked, and I found myself adding to the flock the next spring, as soon as I could take a trip to Whitehorse. I purchased another 15 birds from home producers in Hay River and Whitehorse – changing up the colours of the eggs and diversifying the flock. I could write a whole other blog post on the hilarity of traveling with birds up the Dempster Highway and having to smuggle them into hotel bathrooms to keep them warm overnight. Nothing like having farm fresh eggs rolling around in the backseat of your truck! With some changes to the flock over time, I ended up with 2 dozen chickens by the summer of 2021, and was getting 22 or 23 eggs daily.

I started an “egg share” to make my life easy, and encouraged friends in Inuvik to take part by paying $6 per week to pick up eggs on “their” day, giving them up to a dozen per week. Sometimes they got 9 or 10, but for the most part the girls were consistent all winter long. I tricked them with a heated garage and lights that went on and off on 12-hour cycles. I just couldn’t seem to break the 23 eggs per day limit though. I wasn’t sure if they were coordinating, or if one was just not laying. I wasn’t too concerned about it, as they were happy, healthy and recognized me as their rooster.  I had no idea that chickens would do this, but they started all “lording” when I came into the coop - expecting me to fulfill their desire to brood. Sorry ladies, I may be the one with food, entertainment and protection, but that is as far as my rooster duties would go!

And here is where it becomes obvious that I have been learning as I go… because I was unaware that young roosters don’t show themselves until they are about 6 months old. I know this because one day, one of my larger hens stopped getting excited to see me, and started posturing. This was new – and even more surprising was when she looked me square in the eye and yelled “COCK A DOODLE DOO”. Daisy was not a daisy at all, but a duke. 

At some point in the summer, I decided to create an outdoor coop. I was down to just 9 hens and Daisy, and I wanted them to enjoy an Arctic summer. I didn’t think about Daisy’s early morning singing, until that first morning after their outdoor coop was built and he started crowing his head off at 7am. I ran outside and pelted him with blueberries, trying to distract him with food. It worked! And then the next morning he asked for blueberries by singing me the song of his people at 5:30am. I had made a terrible mistake!

I quickly posted an apology on our local Facebook page, and over the course of the day my neighbours encouraged me to #saveDaisyDoodleDoo and not put him in the soup pot. The sound of a rooster made the community feel happy and intrigued that someone had chickens so far north. Daisy and I even ended up on CBC radio a few times before life settled back to normal. I spent a lot of time in the summer of 2021 learning about free ranging chickens, although in the Arctic I recommend supervised free range, with a very protective rooster. 

This whole experience also taught me about how expensive it is to bring feed up, but negotiating with your local grocery store for all of the off vegetables and deli/dairy products can reduce your food costs significantly. I also encouraged the egg share crew to bring their kitchen scraps. Having omnivores that produce food as pets is a pretty good way to reduce your garbage each week! Inuvik does not have a composting program and so having my girls (and boy) take on some of the scraps reduced the organic waste going to the dump. They also can utilize ashes for baths (I didn't know this, and the first year I am sure they hated me for bringing them in for a bath once in a while… although one of my cats loved it!)

I increased my flock again in the fall of 2021. 46 more hens and 18 more quail. I had ideas of a chicken empire on my hands! Supplying eggs to all who wanted them! This was a ridiculous dream, as since October of 2021 to the time of this post in mid-March, they have consistently laid no more than 1.5 dozen eggs per week and I received a grand total of 5 quail eggs.

However, when the snow melts, I plan on putting all of them in a big pen in the backyard, and hoping for a summer haul. At the very least, they will delight local children, keep my cats intrigued and give me a captive audience to read to.

If you are interested in having a small flock of chickens for your personal needs, I highly recommend it. It has been a great learning experience, a lot of fun, and chickens are hilarious little dinos. Nothing beats a fresh local egg for breakfast, laid for you by your very own feathered friend. However, if you are going to take it on, be prepared for the cost, the bumps in the road and the hilarity that will definitely ensue. Oh, and get yourself a chicken harness because nothing says “Crazy Arctic Chicken Lady” like taking your rooster for a walk.

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