The Chicken That Saved Windsor (And Dilkens’ Career)

By Sarah Kacso and Colin McMahon

(WINDSOR, ON) – Take a short drive across town, and you’ll likely spot dozens of closed factories – from shipping companies, to tool and die shops and assembly plants, right up to Big 3 facilities. It’s depressing, considering how many people used to be employed in the auto sector and its supporting industries. Now, imagine those factories up and running again, humming to the sound of machines stamping, people working, and truck after truck delivering and picking up goods. Imagine our products being shipped across North America, not stamped ‘Made in Canada’, but proudly marked ‘Made in WINDSOR’. Imagine workers once again making bolts and plastic parts, and assembling them… not into car components, but chicken coops.

Today, Windsor is quickly losing the sole industry that put us on the map. Our ‘domestic’ auto manufacturers are heading south to Mexico, where labour is cheap and workers’ rights are almost non-existent. But in the Unemployment Capital of Canada, a city where there are more people leaving than coming in, with some of the highest industrial taxes in North America, how can we bounce back? Forget about turning to the federal government, as they regularly and conveniently forget that we’re still here. The key lies in the most valuable commodities in the world, things that we already have plenty of: people, factories, and the ability to move materials. And chickens. Before you call me ‘clucking ridiculous’, allow me to elaborate.

How much does it cost to keep a small dog? A few dollars for a leash, $10 for food, some bowls, maybe a brush – all in all, quite inexpensive. But if that were the whole truth, mega-stores like Petsmart would cease to exist. In fact, last year alone, Americans spent a whopping $41 billion USD on their pets, according to Businessweek magazine. That’s more than the GDP of all but the world’s top 64 countries. Services like pet hotels, spas, doggy daycare, and even kitty MRIs have ballooned over that last few years, and even imported designer brands like Hermès and Chanel offer accessories and clothing for pets.

Now consider the average cost of keeping a trio of hens: $10 for feed, about $50 for a homemade coop (plus elbow grease, bandaids, and a few dollars in the Swear Jar). But just like cats and dogs, chickens are quickly becoming more than just pets – they are becoming members of the family. Urban hen keepers now purchase organic, vegetarian feed, stylish urban coops in a variety of trendy colours, and specialized treats, shampoos, and toiletries. Vendors of these products aren’t focussing on county chicken keepers or farmers; they’re marketing to the relatively well-off, green-minded urban consumer. Urbanites don’t want just any hen in their backyard shed: they want adorable little Silkies and Crested Polish, small docile birds that submit to being carried about in stylish handbags while wearing tiny rhinestone-studded capes and diapers. They want Colonial-style coops, furnished with lace curtains, hardwood flooring, designer wallpaper, and chandeliers. If you don’t believe me, take a look at this link, or at this one.   

But coops like these are not for sale – they have to be built by hand. Simple wooden models can be purchased for $500-$1500 US, but it’s the more popular ‘Eglus’ that are populating city backyards nowadays.

Eglus  are the iPods of the chicken coop world – they were one of the first plastic coops available to the public, they come in candy-inspired colours, and most importantly, they’re ‘cooler’ than keeping your hens in a wooden doghouse. They’re the ‘must-have’ item on most urban hen-lovers’ wish lists. These coops cannot be purchased locally. They ship from and to the United States and UK, leaving Canadian chicken lovers to resort to putting their hens in $50 coops made from old fence boards and free paint from the city dump (sorry, girls…). Eglus sell for $500-$1400, and are a manufacturer’s dream – everything is basic bolts and injection-molded plastic.

So here’s my proposition – Why don’t we take our empty factories and our unemployed workers, and start cranking out chicken coops? We have a highly skilled workforce and air, land, sea, and rail lines, giving us the means to make them and move them. Across Canada and the US, there’s a rising demand for these 100% recyclable plastic coops, but with only one manufacturer, there’s not nearly enough supply. It may sound far-fetched to think that our proud formerly-automotive city could be saved by chicken coops, but considering our economic state, nothing should be pushed off of the table.

And we don’t have to stop at basic coops; there’s an entire world of pet chicken items that people are willing to buy for their beloved feathered friends. Clothing, toys, carriers, feeders, organic treats – all of this can be made in Windsor. Instead of dismissing the idea as, dare I say it again, ‘clucking ridiculous’, why not embrace it? Sudbury has a giant nickel. Leamington is the Tomato Capital. Why can’t Windsor be the Coop Capital? This idea is doable. It doesn’t require us to cut any of the bureaucratic red tape that inevitably slows progress to a sluggish halt. This is something that we can do without the ‘OK’ from politicians. It is something that can be done now, starting in just one shop. If we start now, we can corner the Canadian coop market. For too long, we put all of our eggs in the auto sector basket. Now, it’s time to take whatever eggs we have left and hatch them into something productive and healthy for our local economy – our very own homegrown, Made in Windsor industry.

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