Our Small Business Snapshot series features photos that represent, in just one image, what the small businesses we feature are all about. Jill Bong, general manager of Chicken Armor, a business founded in 2012 that designs and sells poultry saddles to protect chicken from molting and mating injuries, explains how this image represents her business.
Chicken saddles are little-known protective poultry devices that are worn by chickens to help to protect their backs against mating or molting injuries. Chicken saddles themselves are not new — patents date as far back as the 1930s. Here, our chickens pictured here are wearing Chicken Armor, a reinvented poultry saddle made from light but tough, waterproof material. Unlike other saddles, they need little to no washing. And, as an additional level of protection, we offer the option of adding predator eye deterrents to confuse potential predators.
My husband and I are accidental homesteaders. We both wanted to have chickens, so after we purchased our home, we bought our first flock of chickens — over 40! At that time, we were interested in starting a small egg business. Forty chickens turned to more than 80, but our egg business eventually proved to be unprofitable.
Chicken Armor came about unexpectedly, after a beloved hen died from her mating injuries. Unable to sew them using traditional saddle designs and unable to afford to purchase such a large number of saddles for our flock, we had to come up with our own alternative. I wanted the saddles to be water-proof so that they did not need to be laundered. After much brainstorming, we settled on using vinyl material instead of standard fabrics like cotton or fleece. We tested a number of materials and various prototype designs and settled on a very simple design that stayed on the chicken well. Then, we used our flock to put the design on trial for an additional year before deciding that we might have a marketable product in a micro-niche. Sales started trickling in when we started selling Chicken Armor on online auction sites.
Hoping to improve sales, I wrote and pitched a story about our invention to a backyard poultry magazine which increased our sales by leaps and bounds after the story ran. Since then, we have sold more than 35,000 saddles to all 50 states and around the world from Canada to Australia.
Our market is very niche. Many of our customers are not technologically savvy and live in very rural areas without much infrastructure. Our biggest challenge is trying to gain visibility and brand awareness on a shoestring budget. We're very happy to remain a small mom and pop business. We continue to answer all emails personally and believe it or not, still address almost all our shipments by hand.