The founder of Pampered Poultry tells Moneyish how she’s making more than $30K selling designing diapers, tutus and saddles for chickens.
Pampered chickens need Pampers.
That’s what New Hampshire farmer Julie Baker realized more than a decade ago, when her then 8-year-old daughter Bridget would bring their hens into the house. “Chickens were her version of American Girl dolls, so she was always playing with them — and they were making a mess,” Baker, 47, told Moneyish. (The biddies leave wet droppings a couple of times an hour and are impossible to housetrain.) “So we just thought we could make the birds a diaper.”
They found a couple of DIY chicken diaper tutorials on YouTube, and crafted a couple of apron-shaped cotton drawers in polka-dot and floral patterns lined with waterproof nylon. And now they’re selling 500 to 1,000 of their $18 reusable, machine-washable diapers — and the extra $20 saddles and $15 tutu dresses — every week. They expect to earn $60,000 this year, up from $30,000 last year, as the backyard chicken market has taken flight.
More than 1% of households in U.S. urban areas like New York, Los Angeles and Denver now raise chickens, according to a 2013 Department of Agriculture study, which predicts that the number of these urban chickens will increase by 400% next year. And as Americans continue coddling their fur (and feather) babies, spending $1,560 a year on average on their pets, it’s finally chickens’ turn to move up on the pecking order. Suddenly there are “chicken whisperers” charging $225 an hour to consult on turning your backyard into a poultry paradise, and Silicon Valley chicken farmers dropping $20,000 for high-tech coops, according to the Washington Post.
So how did this at-home craft project become a nest egg? Baker and her daughter, who’s now 20 and in college, hit upon the perfect diaper, which straps across the hens’ backs (beneath the wings) to fit under their tails to catch the droppings. The Bakers started bringing their birds swaddled in the eye-catching garments to poultry shows, and other chicken owners started putting in orders for their own birds. So Baker, who was homeschooling Bridget at the time, thought that turning their pet project into a small business would be a great economics lesson.
They launched Pampered Poultry in 2008, largely selling on eBay. Since then, Baker has also sold her diapers wholesale to feed stores, and counts Instagram as a major source of free advertising. (The “Drinking with Chickens” Instagram account showing birds dressed to thrill in diapers, dresses, flower crowns and scarves, for instance, has almost 46,000 followers.) She has been one of the few chicken diaper makers (including My Pet Chicken, Purely Poultry and FeatherWear) to corner the fledgling market in its early stages.
“One thing that I’ve learned is that even if it’s a tiny, tiny, tiny market, the world is a very big place right now thanks to the internet,” she said. “So when you have something like a chicken diaper, we pop up first when you search Google or Etsy; we don’t have to pay for sponsored listings. And we don’t have to pay for any advertising.
“We were part of a much bigger wave; the right idea at the right time,” she added. “And I was part of the early group of people who were saying backyard farming is a thing, and the whole ‘glamping’ and celebrating our agrarian roots in a fancy way was a thing. And people love to dress their chickens up in tutus and take pictures of them, because it’s just so much fun. And I always push the envelope to see how crazy it can be.”
Pampered Poultry has expanded into stylish saddles, dresses and even petal-shaped pouches for little chicks, which are being shipped to all 50 states. And while Baker used to make the pieces herself at home, she now fills those orders by partnering with the Sewing My Future women’s sewing co-op in the Dominican Republic, and ferries the garments back and forth herself on frequent trips to the island. “Now we have five women sewing full-time, and two part-time women sewing in Puerto Plata,” said Baker. “They’re earning probably four or five times above the (Dominican Republic’s) minimum wage.”
And the Sewing My Future women sets Pampered Poultry apart from the flock because they can produce more pieces. “A lot of the other [chicken diaper] makers are Etsy sellers and selling them at home; they’re smaller producers,” Baker explained.
Baker suspects we may have hit peak pampered chicken, however, so she plans to expand into bunnywear next so that families can dress up their rabbits, too. (Even that’s already a thing. See: bunnydiapers.com.)
“Once something has made it to family status, it goes into a different realm — so suddenly, buying a tutu for your chicken doesn’t seem so silly, because you already buy Halloween costumes for your dog and cat,” she said. “And anyway, dressing your chicken is easier than dressing your cat. You can pretty much do anything to a chicken if you flip it on its back and cradle it in your arms like a baby. It freezes.”
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