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Vol.18, no.2
April/May 2015


Where to Pick Up Chicks 
Story By: Mari Taketa
Photos By: James Anshutz 

“Chickens, they’re all different. Look!” says Maxie Asagi, scanning a bookshelf at the back of Asagi Hatchery in Kalihi. The titles share a theme: Basic Country Skills. Barnyard in Your Backyard. The Chicken Whisperer’s Guide to Keeping Chickens. She pulls out a picture book, Extra Extraordinary Chickens, and flips it open. “You can have a whole flock of Rhode Island Reds, and one will be bossy and mean while another will want to jump up on your lap,” says Asagi, the third-generation proprietor of Hawai‘i’s sole commercial chicken hatchery. “Silkies are puffballs. People fall in love with different breeds.”

Just off Nimitz Highway in Honolulu, Asagi Hatchery is bringing a little country to a growing clientele of city-dwellers: PR executives, teachers, kids dragging in bewildered parents. Unlike the customers at Asagi’s family farms, which raise chickens for meat as well as eggs, many of these first-timers have never touched a chicken and wonder whether they can keep one alive. All want fresh, locally produced eggs, though there are some who also fondly recall chickens kept by parents or grandparents and who miss the company of the pet birds.

Pet birds? “That’s the surprise,” Asagi says. “People buy them for eggs and realize they make wonderful pets. Some customers tell me the best part of the day is coming home and going out in the backyard with a cup of tea or a glass of wine and sitting there with the chickens. It’s therapeutic.”

If that seems a long way from the hatchery’s origins eighty years ago as a supplier of chicks, eggs and chicken meat, it’s not, really. The demise of local chicken production in Hawai‘i was closely followed by the rise of the eat-local movement. So it’s not surprising that many of Asagi’s customers who are now raising Buff Orpingtons, Barred Rocks and Ameraucanas are also planting fruit and vegetable gardens. “It works in a circle,” she says. “Chicken manure can be used to compost your garden. The extra leaves from your garden, you can throw to the chickens. They love it.” And if, in an even bigger circle, raising chickens helps today’s urbanites reclaim memories of generations past, that’s not a bad thing either.