Raising laying chickens in the backyard used to require people to make a big commitment of time and money. Now, consumers in many regions of Canada and the U.S. can start out by renting a layer kit
for six months from their local Rent The Chicken affiliate. The two-chicken kits start at $500. It includes the chickens, a coop, food and water dishes, plus feed. A four chicken version is also available for $600.

Christy Aitchison, from Toronto, Ontario, has rented the same two laying hens, Minnie and Pearl, (named after the famous country music comedian) from May to November in 2015 and 2016. She plans to rent them again, plus two more, in 2017.

Amazing creatures. “They are just amazing little creatures,” Aitchison says. “Sometimes when I go read a book in the backyard they will hop up on my chair beside me. They are incredibly smart! I was teaching them to jump through a hula hoop at the end.”

It takes a lot of dedication if you want to produce your own fresh eggs. The normal route is to start by buying baby chicks. Chickens don’t lay their first egg until they are four to six months old. So, you have to make a big commitment of time and money before you get any reward. If you find you don’t enjoy it you will have wasted a lot of money. Renting is a simple way to get to the same experience.

So convenient. “Renting is so convenient,” Aitchison says. “It’s quick and easy. Homestead Kate dropped everything off and we had an egg the same day. We easily averaged a dozen eggs a week.” Homestead Kate is Kate Belbeck, a Rent The Chicken affiliate from Moffat, Ontario.

Two hens should easily produce a dozen eggs a week.

Two hens should easily produce a dozen eggs a week.

Aitchison was also very relieved because the summer-only rental meant they didn’t need to keep them through a Toronto winter. Homestead Kate picks up the birds in late October and winters them back at the farm.

Rent The Chicken is the brainchild of Jenn and Phil Tompkins (Homestead Jenn and Phil) in Freeport, Pennsylvania. The couple were looking for a home-based business idea when they came across renting chickens as one of the possibilities listed on the Small Business Association’s website.

“My husband looked at me and said we should rent chickens,” Homestead Jenn says. “I said, why not? We have chickens and I can run power tools. So that’s how Rent The Chicken was hatched in the summer of 2013.”

The couple thought their market would be limited to trendy urbanites who wanted to try raising backyard chickens. They quickly found that there was a much broader interest. It included everyone from young college graduates to retirees who wanted a few chickens for their grandchildren. The only thing their customers have in common is a desire to know where their food comes from.

Their business grew dramatically,  so they looked for affiliated farmers to work with. They work with forty affiliates across Canada and the U.S.

“I stumbled across Rent The Chicken on the Internet and thought that it sounded interesting so I contacted them,” Homestead Kate says. “It didn’t take very much to convince me to sign on since it fit so well with what we were already doing on our farm. I really liked that Homestead Jenn and Phil handled all the front line sales calls from their office. That was really important for me because our farm and family already keep me busy. My husband thought I was absolutely
crazy. But we signed on in November 2015 and started building coops.”

Calls started coming in so fast that they had to scramble to build coops, she says. She enlisted her father, who is a carpenter, to help out. They built 35 before they ran out of time and had to put the rest of those who wanted chickens on a waiting list for 2017.

Besides building all the coops, affiliates have to source all the hens, feed, and supplies their customers need to keep chickens, Homestead Kate says. She also supplies her customers with Lisa Steele’s book, ‘Fresh Eggs Daily” as a reference guide. Hens are dropped off in late April or early May and picked up around Halloween.

Homestead Kate picks up the chickens she rents around Halloween and brings them back to their farm for the winter months.

Homestead Kate picks up the chickens she rents around Halloween and brings them back to their farm for the winter months.

“Most of our renters are families with children who live in the city,” Homestead Kate says. “They want to teach their children a little about where the food comes from and about looking after an animal every day.  For others, it was purely a trial run to see if they were interested in keeping chickens over the long term.”

While some of their customers adopt their chickens at the end of the season, most don’t, she says. They loved the experience but it was only meant to be a one-time thing. About 15 percent of their customers have, like the Aitchisons, committed to
renting their birds in 2017.

Rewarding. “Renting chickens has turned out to be more rewarding than we thought it would be,” Homestead Kate says. “It’s amazing to see how excited people are when we deliver the chickens, and we love hearing feedback. Some even start Facebook pages, blogs, and post YouTube videos about their chicken-keeping experience.”

“Renting chickens is a great way to add another stream of revenue to your farm,” Homestead Jenn says. “If you are interested in becoming an affiliate give us a call or send us an email. We can have a very frank discussion about our expectations. The best way to find us is through our website, rentthechicken.com.”

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