- Kelly Dowling – Assistant Dean for Advancement, Stony Brook University College of Engineering and Applied Science
- Ken Bradley – Former Winter Park Mayor
- Ron Piccolo – Chair, UCF Department of Management
- Mark Dickie – Professor of Economics
- Jonathan Hasford – Assistant Professor of Marketing
- Carolyn Massiah – Associate Chair, Department of Marketing & Associate Lecturer, Marketing
Paul Jarley: Green Acres was a popular TV show when I was a kid. Simple plot line. Wall Street attorney forces socialite wife to give up New York and move to the farm. Cultures class, chaos ensues, but now it seems the tables have turned. Chickens are leaving farms in favor of urban backyards. Some inner city chickens even have Facebook pages. What’s going on here? Are backyard chickens a thing? If so, why, and more importantly how can we stop them? This show is all about separating hype from fundamental change. I’m Paul Jarley, dean of the College of Business here at UCF. I’ve got lots of questions. To get answers, I’m talking to people with interesting insights into the future of business. Have you ever wondered, is this really a thing? Onto our show.
Paul Jarley: My wife and I lead complicated lives. Careers and homes in two different states, five children spread across four time zones, our club’s soccer schedule that takes Suzanne and sometimes meets towns far and wide, my work related travel, and our love of experiencing new places. Honestly, there are days I’m not sure where I am when I first wake up. One morning a few years ago, I was home in Lexington when I heard this. Suzanne was raised on a farm, but I was pretty sure we weren’t at her parents’ place. When she woke, I asked her about hearing that rooster crowing. She smiled and told me that the neighbors have installed a chicken coop, and that we were getting farm fresh eggs as part of the deal. “Much healthier and better tasting than store bought eggs,” she stated with authority. Everybody knows eggs come in two rows in nice little cartons that sell for a few bucks at the grocery store. If you want to go crazy, you can buy the free range chicken variety, pay a dollar more, feel morally superior, and cook an extra one because they’re puny.
Paul Jarley: No one in their right mind believes it makes any economic sense to raise chickens at home. Besides, they’re dirty, smelly creatures. There’s a reason most of us stay away from the harsh realities of the food chain. I cracked a few eggs, scrambled them, and took a few bites. Different, not obviously better, I thought. Not a thing. Just a few hippies. This thing will be gone very soon. It turns out, I may have been wrong.
Kelly Dowling: Hi, chick chicks.
Paul Jarley: This whole chicken in the backyard thing has got some legs. The government has even released a series of studies on it. The best data on chicken migration to the cities comes from a 2013 study by the US Department of Agriculture. They looked at urban chicken issues in LA, Miami, Denver, and New York City. A few takeaways. More than half a percent of single family homes in these urban areas have backyard chickens. That’s a lot of chicken. Second, overall more than 40% of people in these cities were in favor of allowing chickens in their communities. That’s a lot of chicken support, and third, nearly 4% of households without chickens said they plan to have them in the next five years. Now, lots of people tell you they intend to do something and never follow through, but let’s take that last nugget as evidence that urban chickens are on the rise. The USDA did. To understand why people do this, I wanted to get into the mind of an urban chicken owner. Someone who is harboring those dirty birds.
Kelly Dowling: Really, I think of it as the pet that makes you breakfast.
Paul Jarley: That’s Kelly Dowling. Kelly has her MBA from UCF. She is wonderfully quirky, and she was my development officer. These days, she’s assistant dean for development at Stony Brook’s College of Engineering, and most importantly she is a novice urban chicken owner.
Kelly Dowling: I have not done the chicken math as yet, but I can tell you so far I’ve had these chicks and I bought these chicks at four days old. I’ve got the feed, the brooder, the chicken run, the chicken coop. I bought a chicken playground set for them to jump up around on. I have built a little chicken sanctuary, and so far I’m all in about $1,700 dollars.
Paul Jarley: Chicken playground. Since Kelly is a novice chicken owner, we’re going to use the resources of UCF to help her out. I’ll do the chicken math for Kelly. Kelly has six chickens. Egg production varies a bit by breed, but to keep the math simple, let’s say these chickens lay 500 eggs over their lifetime. Not a bad estimate. That means those six chickens will produce 3,000 eggs. She’s in $1,700 dollars. A little of that is variable cost, mainly chicken feed. So, let’s say that her fixed costs are $1,600 dollars. That means just the fixed cost of an egg for Kelly, 53 cents. That translates into $6.40 a dozen. Comparison, Publix $2.49. Whole Foods, $4.99. Now in fairness to Kelly, she may be able to spread her fixed costs over more than a couple of years. That’s about the average length chickens are regular egg producers, but if you consider that there still are more variable costs, it’s not an economic bargain. Don’t believe me, believe a real economist. Now, Mark Dickie is a professor in our economics department. As he explains, the industrial egg complex is built to minimize costs and Kelly’s six little chickens, well they just can’t really complete.
Mark Dickie: So, the industrial egg complex has many, many chickens. They’ve got everything automated. They’ve got everything down to the last cent measured, and they’re going to do it more efficiently. She probably has happier chickens than the industrial egg complex, but doubtful that she’s gonna get the eggs more cheaply.
Paul Jarley: In fairness to Kelly, she mainly wants to enjoy them as pets. It’s how you end up spending $1,600 dollars on a chicken mansion, but what I really want to know is, do they love you back?
Kelly Dowling: One of them seems to at least enjoy my company. The other five run screaming every time I come into the coop.
Paul Jarley: And then there’s the biggest question facing any pet owner. When you go on vacation, what do you do with your chickens? Do you send them to a chicken pound where they hang out with other chickens? What do you do?
Kelly Dowling: I have two extended feeders so my chickens can live in their coop and in their run for a week without any problem for food and water. I also have a battery powered door opener and closer, so every night that door to their coop closes automatically. Every morning, it opens automatically. So, I have them on automatic pilot. Everything is easy peasy for me.
Paul Jarley: Chickens seem a lot like cats. Disinterested in love, but low maintenance.
Kelly Dowling: So, I hope that I like to eat the eggs of my chickens. I hope that I like it. I’m not entirely sure because a tiny bit of me is a little grossed out by this, but I feed them really well.
Paul Jarley: I told you she’s wonderfully quirky. Let’s help Kelly out here.
Jonathan Hasford: Anything that we invest time, and effort, and energy into we feel more attached to, we feel more bonded towards and so we like it better.
Paul Jarley: That’s Johnathan Hasford, assistant professor in our marketing department. Johnathan thinks Kelly is gonna like those eggs just fine.
Jonathan Hasford: There’s literature and marketing research on co-production of value and stuff like that, and so-
Paul Jarley: Talk to me about that.
Jonathan Hasford: Yeah, I mean companies from the time they start to innovate a new product, the benefits are immense. They can bring in consumers and have the consumer feel like they’re a co-producer in whatever this idea, service, object, thing is that’s being developed and so it could just be the fact of co-production in a sense of, “I feel like now I’m contributing more to the food that I produce.”
Paul Jarley: So, she’s going to love the eggs, but can she really raise the chickens?
Kelly Dowling: You know me. I was born in Detroit, so I didn’t come by this naturally.
Paul Jarley: No, you’re not really prepared for this.
Kelly Dowling: That’s absolutely correct. It took me a year to get it together. I took a backyard chicken class, I bought several books, I told everybody I know I was gonna get chicken. I sought a lot of advice from people, and then after about a year I felt comfortable in starting.
Paul Jarley: But Kelly seems to have prepared well for the challenges that lie ahead.
Ron Piccolo: And then only once that’s done does someone like Kelly have confidence in her ability to raise chickens.
Paul Jarley: That’s Ron Piccolo, chair of our management department and an expert in how people build confidence when facing new challenges. Ron has only one piece of advice for Kelly; maybe she should join an urban chicken support group.
Ron Piccolo: My reaction is if someone’s making an effort to raise chickens, which is a rather unique circumstance, they’re gonna look for validation of that effort from other people who are doing the same thing. People like to be different, but not all that different, and so she’ll want to do something distinctive and get support and validation from others who are doing similar things.
Paul Jarley: But not everyone has prepared like Kelly, and winging it can lead to a rarely talked about issue: chicken abandonment.
Kelly Dowling: This is an issue, and there are many Facebook pages for re-homing chickens and roosters.
Paul Jarley: It doesn’t always end well though, people. Cover the kids’ ears.
Kelly Dowling: [inaudible 00:09:18] are people that will let them just run out into the yard and a raccoon, or a hawk, or an osprey will pick up that chicken. Remember, chickens are on the bottom of the food chain not just for us as humans, but for the entire animal kingdom. So, if we don’t want them anymore all you really have to do is let them out in the yard and another animal-
Paul Jarley: Yeah, you get the idea. Roosters crowing, chicken abandonment, predators lurking behind the bush, kids wanting to play in the chicken coop. Makes you wonder, what do your neighbors think? Has anybody had any concerns about their property values falling or chickens that are getting in their backyard, or [crosstalk 00:10:02].
Kelly Dowling: Doubtful. I have to tell you, besides the predators my number one concern is what the neighbors think. I have not gone around my neighborhood and had the chicken talk.
Paul Jarley: So, we had the chicken talk for Kelly. We went to her former mayor Ken Bradley to ask him about the types of complaints people raise about urban chickens.
Ken Bradley: I’m not aware of any complaints. I’m aware of residents being concerned when we were looking at our ordinances, and I know the City of Orlando went first. Oviedo had done some things.
Paul Jarley: Oviedo is chicken heaven, by the way.
Ken Bradley: You know, Winter Park, this is one area where Winter Park didn’t necessarily want to be at the forefront of. We wanted to see what other municipalities and others would do, and for the most part I’m not aware of any complaint.
Paul Jarley: Winter Park has been a little chicken about legalizing chickens, but rogue chicken operations don’t seem to be a problem either, and Kelly has good reasons for wanting those birds. Do you distrust the food supply?
Kelly Dowling: Absolutely.
Paul Jarley: Give me your top three hesitations.
Kelly Dowling: Chemical additives and preservatives, the freshness, and ultimately the experience of the animals in the food supply.
Paul Jarley: Johnathan backs Kelly up here.
Jonathan Hasford: The grocery store does …eggs sometimes will take thirty days from the time the egg is hatched [crosstalk 00:11:26].
Paul Jarley: And I know from my days at an unnamed, large Midwestern university that when you walked past the poultry research building, it sounded like this, but I think the real reason that a lot of people raise urban chickens is this.
Kelly Dowling: So I feel in control of what they’re eating, and so I feel in control of what I’m eating.
Paul Jarley: I blame FUD marketing for people’s insecurity around the food supply. Listen to Johnathan Hasford talk about fear, uncertainty, and doubt in food marketing.
Jonathan Hasford: In food, I think that when it comes to health one of the biggest motivators that people can use is fear and anxiety we’ve seen in over the years when it comes with what you eat might be causing cancer or something, and so I think it’s an easy thing to play on people’s fears and then offer them a route to fixing that. It’s a great way to motivate people’s behavior if you can pull it off effectively.
Paul Jarley: One last insight into the mind of Kelly Dowling. I don’t know what to do about this. Are you gonna have your own Facebook page for your chickens? Have you considered that?
Kelly Dowling: Not only have I considered it, I don’t know if you’ve ever watched chickens, it’s really [crosstalk 00:12:39].
Paul Jarley: No, don’t got the time.
Kelly Dowling: It’s calming, and it’s relaxing. There’s something about watching chickens peck, and scratch, and peep that is just harmonious, and so I thought I’m gonna put some chicken cams up and people can sign into my chicken cams and watch my chickens.
Paul Jarley: Can Kelly’s chickens be social media stars? We asked Doctor Carolyn Massiah of our marketing department to take a look at Kelly’s chickens and give us her assessment.
Carolyn Massiah: This would actually be Facebook worthy.
Paul Jarley: Carolyn takes this conversation in a bit of an unexpected direction.
Carolyn Massiah: This would probably end up being a mid-workday break for individuals to escape from the office you’re in to nature, and be able to watch it. I’ll tell you, it’s a form of meditation that people aren’t having to put the effort into calm themselves for meditation, to talk themselves through, to isolate themselves in a quiet area.
Paul Jarley: Believe it or not, Carolyn goes on to suggest a multi-platform approach.
Carolyn Massiah: Actually, what would probably be really neat is they had their own Twitter so that then … yeah, that would really build that all together. You’d have the complete brand then. The Facebook, the Twitter feed, and Snapchat. Share the names and have them form relationships. Next thing you know, people are buying t-shits.
Paul Jarley: You can tell why Carolyn is in marketing. She goes on to talk about the lessons for students in urban chickens.
Carolyn Massiah: First of all, they can learn that no matter the technology that they know, particularly here in the United States we see a shift to simplicity, particularly at home and in extracurricular activities, and so that might actually be the new frontier of products, is actually in simplicity not technology. The other thing that we can learn or our marketing students can learn as they go forward is, literally anything can become a product. So, even simplicity.
Paul Jarley: Yeah. I’ve lost control of this whole podcast, and probably the argument around urban chickens, but for the record, are urban chickens a thing? From Kelly Dowling.
Kelly Dowling: As more and more people become concerned over what they’re eating, the backyard chicken movement will continue to grow because of the control issue.
Paul Jarley: It gets worse. From Johnathan Hasford.
Jonathan Hasford: Oh, sure. Whether it’s because it’s just a hobby and things that you like to do, or whether you’re trying to retain a part of yourself if you used to live in the country and now you’ve had to move into the city for work-
Paul Jarley: She’s from Detroit, Johnathan.
Jonathan Hasford: Or just as it becomes more efficient, people might use it to save money.
Paul Jarley: They’re not saving money.
Jonathan Hasford: As this grows, companies devoting R&D and technological development to help people do this in their own backyard more efficiently and cost effectively.
Paul Jarley: I’m thinking of firing him. Finally, a voice of reason… from Ron Piccolo.
Ron Piccolo: I say it’s a passing fancy. I suppose people finding ways to be different and looking for healthier ways to eat that’s against these prevailing culture, that’s not gonna go away, but raising chickens is just one example of that.
Paul Jarley: There’s a reason why he’s a department chair, people. From Mark Dickie.
Mark Dickie: I’m glad they’re not a thing next to my backyard.
Paul Jarley: From College of Business Hall of Fame member, Mayor Ken Bradley.
Ken Bradley: I don’t think it’s gonna go away. I have a cousin that has backyard chickens in Seminole County, and they love it. It’s a great addition to their family.
Paul Jarley: From Carolyn Massiah.
Carolyn Massiah: I think they’re gonna say the more we saturate ourselves with technology everywhere else, the simplicity we look for, and its immediate access to simplicity either through a social media like Facebook or Twitter, or stepping out into your backyard and experiencing it. It looks like an idea ready to hatch.
Paul Jarley: It’s my podcast, so I get to go last. Simplicity and control are powerful motivators. Oliver Douglas moved his wife from New York City to Hooterville in search of that simplicity and clean living. Trouble was, he was a terrible farmer and his life was anything but simple. In fact, it was chaos. I’m afraid there are many more Oliver Douglases in the world than there are Kelly Dowlings. The urban chicken movement might be comprised of more than just a few hippies, but I don’t think store bought eggs are going away any time soon. What’s your take? Check us out online and share your thoughts at business.ucf.edu/podcast. You can also find extended interviews with our guests and notes from the show. Special thanks to my producer, Josh Miranda, and the whole team at the Office of Outreach & Engagement here at the UCF College of Business, and thank you for listening. Until next time, charge on.