This rental clucks. Renting chickens make backyard farming easy

My mornings started with a gentle clucking as the chickens roused themselves from the dusty loft of their coop stationed in my backyard. It was bizarre, but sweet. I never saw myself as a farm-girl but here I was with four cooing chickens none of which were my own.

Technically, my chickens are on loan, rented from a company called Rent the Chicken, which has serviced the Hudson Valley since 2019 — and other areas of the US and Canada since 2013. The service takes the guesswork out of raising chickens and delivers all of The supplies you need, from the coop to the feed, for a startup fee of roughly $450. Those who fall in love with raising chickens can opt to purchase the birds and equipment, too.

Cindi Koon, who moved from Portland, Oregon to New Paltz three years ago, had always wanted chickens. Once she had a big enough yard she was ready to dive in, but also wanted a way to opt out.

“I chose to rent because I didn’t know anything about raising chickens,” Koon said. “It can be really expensive to start out, and what if I hated the whole thing? By renting, I could dip my toes in the water without as big of a commitment.”

Renting chickens, as opposed to buying them, has its advantages.

“We give them an opportunity to ‘chicken out,’ so that they don’t have to figure out what to do if it doesn’t work,” said Jenn Tomkins, who owns Rent the Chicken with her husband Phil. “If it’s not a good fit, we can pick up.”

The company can also advise if there are issues. For example, sometimes chickens brood or go on what Jenn calls a “lay-cation” when they stop laying eggs. Or they might get poultry lice and need a salt bath or be eaten by a fox — which happened to Koon.

According to Phil, most of the renters have zero experience with backyard chickens. “Some people have never even seen a live chicken until we bring it to them.”

Chicken rentals on the rise

Rent the Chicken usually rents about 45 to 55 coops a year. In 2020 during the pandemic, they rented 72 — and that 30 percent increase has continued in 2021. “We maxed out,” Phil says.

In fact, the local chicken rental industry has been booming over the last two years. A similar company in Connecticut called CT Rent a Hen loaned out all of their 180 available hens by April of this year. Last year, they were sold out by March, with a waiting list of 80 families.

While Australia has been renting chickens for years (Rent-a-Chook was the first), the market is fairly new here in the US There are now companies like Coop and Caboodle in Alabama, Lands Sake in Massachusetts, Rent a Coop in Maryland, CT Rent a Hen in Connecticut, and, of course, Rent the Chicken, which the Tomkins started after browsing online for crazy business ideas.

Most of these companies charge between $400 and $600 for two or four egg-laying hens, depending on the type of package. The hens are typically between six months to two years old. Two hens lay between 8 to 14 eggs each week, while four lay 16 to 28.

The chickens (which are usually from different breeds so renters can tell them apart) also come with a portable coop to protect them from predators, a food and water dish, chicken feed, and a guidebook.

Cindi Koon decided she wanted to keep the chickens she rented, and invested further in a hand-built coop and more chickens.

Cindi Koon

The perfect pandemic hobby

The popularity of rental chickens is a result of the pandemic, said Jenn. Many people moved to rural or suburban areas where they not only had the space to raise chickens, but they also developed an interest in where their food came from. Having chickens is an equivalent to planting a garden, she said — the eggs, like those cherry tomatoes and irregular cucumbers, satisfy our need to participate in food sourcing.

Plus, gardens and chickens are symbiotic. The droppings act as a good fertilizer and add beneficial organic matter to the soil. “Also, if there’s an area that needs to be cleared like a weedy area, then the chickens can get in there. They turn the soil; they dig and scratch. They eat the bugs,” said Jenn.

Rent the Chicken delivers hens ready to supply breakfast essentials. “We provide hens that are already laying so they don’t have to raise baby chicks and wait four to six months for one of them to lay an egg,” Jenn explained.

(If you do want to be a part of a chicken’s formative months, Rent the Chicken also provides Hatch a Chick which allows renters to watch the hatching of baby chicks and then return them. “When they start to get a little stinky and not so cute, we pick those up and take them back,” said Jenn.)

Another perk of chicken rentals? The novelty aspect. “After over a year of staying mostly close to home, it provides a fresh activity and a conversation starter,” Jenn mused. “It gives people something to talk about with their neighbors that’s not politics or the pandemic, or whatever else is happening. Maybe you’ll have empty-nesters next to a young family and there’s not a lot of commonalities, but one of those families gets chickens, and all of a sudden there’s a lot to talk about,” said Jenn.

And then there’s the less obvious factor — chickens make great pets. They can recognize human faces within the first weeks of life as well as keep track of each bird’s hierarchy within the pecking order. For an animal that has a reputation for being dumb, research suggests they’re surprisingly smart. Newborn chicks, for instance, can grasp basic mathematical concepts like ordering numbers from low to high.

Beyond their intelligence, they’re also the life of the party. “They make wonderful sounds,” said Jenn. “Not like loud, annoying sounds, but like cooing. They communicate, and they have things to say.”

“They are funny little dinosaurs,” Koon said. It turns out she loved having chickens — enough to keep them.

“That is one great thing about Rent the Chicken: If you like your chickens, you can buy them out at the end of the summer,” she said. “Or if you don’t have the time, ability, or money to build a winter-ready coop of your own, you can have them over-winter your chickens for you and get the same ones the next spring.”

Koon’s husband built a coop when they returned the rented one to Rent the Chicken, and this year they added four more chickens to their flock.

“There is nothing that I don’t enjoy. They are entertaining and I get fresh eggs daily!

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