Two years ago, thirteen-year-old Drew McFadden returned from the Millbrook Fair with two chickens.
The chicken coop in the yard near his house had not been occupied for decades, but he quickly converted it to a comfortable living space for his new charges. The renovations also took into consideration Drew’s own needs. He wanted to be sure of the birds’ safety given their tender age, but rather than camp outside and physically check them, he set up a camera in the coop so he could watch them from his bedroom.
A few weeks later, Drew’s chickens produced offspring – cute, fluffy little chicks. The circle of life continued to gradually increase the size of the flock and Drew took it all in stride, relying on YouTube videos to learn how to care for the birds.
A visit from Drew’s two-year-old cousin inspired his business. When he was leaving, the tearful youngster asked if he could take home some chicks. Why not?
Drew created his first chick kit, which includes a cage, heat lamp, bedding, food and water to provide his cousin everything he needed to foster the baby birds. After two weeks, chicks begin to grow feathers and have doubled in size, making them less appealing and more work, so the novelty of chick-rearing quickly wears off. Now Drew had a model upon which to build his unique business. He sells chick kits to families, teachers and retirement homes which allow them to foster young birds for two weeks, when they are returned to the farm to join the egg-laying flock which now approaches 200.
Things really took off last October. COVID was keeping most people home, including Drew. Supplemented by eggs from local farmers, Drew’s flock became more diverse, with birds of different size and colour. A Facebook page created by his aunt allowed him to reach an audience eager for a unique diversion in the safety of their homes. His customers were primarily from the Whitby and Oshawa areas, and his father has helped deliver to a drop-off location at pre-arranged times. At the end of the fostering period, the birds are returned to Drew to join their extended family.
Timing is important. The window of opportunity to foster cute chicks is limited, so as soon as new chicks are hatched, they are dispatched to waiting customers. There is an extensive waiting list, and customers are contacted when chicks become available and must be ready to pick them up on short notice. Since the pandemic restrictions eased a few weeks ago, customers are now coming to the farm to pick up their kits and see the adult birds in their environment, roving around the yard and roosting on low branches near the coop. It’s a relief for his father, who looks forward to the day Drew can drive.
Drew has expanded his offerings to include ducklings and baby quail which are housed separately. The chicken coop has been equipped with more technology. The door automatically opens at 7:30 am to release the birds and closes at 9pm. Most of them make the evening deadline, and stragglers are rounded up after hours.
During the school year, Drew relied on his business to earn a high school credit, sharing his experience with his teacher and classmates. This summer, Drew’s chick business earned him a spot in Peterborough & the Kawarthas’ Economic Development’s Summer Company program, providing him mentorship and a $3,000 grant. Last Friday, he was interviewed on CBC’s Ontario Morning show to discuss his business. The new-found celebrity has not affect this personable, modest young man who is still excited to see his birds hatch.
As fall approaches, the business will scale back as Drew returns to in-person learning as a Grade 11 student at Crestwood. We can hardly wait to see what he does next. Congratulations, Drew! KG