Is Chicken Rental a Trend or Viable Business?
Businesses offer to rent a coop - and the chickens to go with it!
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Chicken rental programs allow you to “try before you buy.” Is it just a trend? Or a brilliant way to avoid neglected and abandoned hens?
If the past year of lockdowns and supply chain interruptions has done nothing else, people are more aware of their food sources. As a result, interest in backyard chickens has exploded.
But keeping chickens is not always easy or carefree. What if you’ve never kept poultry before? What if you’re unsure what to do or how to care for them? Fear not. You can always rent a few hens and try them out before committing yourself.
Why Chicken Rental?
Why would anyone rent chickens instead of just owning them outright?
In our increasingly urbanized lifestyle, most people don’t get to see things coming to life. Skills such as poultry management, standard just a few generations ago, are becoming scarcer. Keeping chickens, even by renting, is a start to recapturing some of those skills. Poultry teaches children the beginning of livestock responsibility. And hatching chicks is amazingly educational for children and adults alike.
While everyone has the best of intentions, acquiring chickens doesn’t always go as planned. Sometimes baby chicks are purchased spur-of-the-moment as educational experiences or school projects and become burdensome after children lose interest. Other times, backyard poultry becomes difficult due to predators or even the crimp they put on travel plans. Sometimes neighbors complain, or homeowners’ associations object. Sometimes people must move to a new home and can’t bring chickens with them. And, of course, some people learn keeping chickens isn’t for them.
In short, renting helps keep a lot of chickens out of shelters.
Chicken rentals are also ideal for business settings, such as daycares, schools, and even retirement homes … any place where people will benefit from poultry’s educational or emotional advantages, but where a permanent flock is difficult or impossible.
Whatever the circumstances, renting a few birds may be a viable option for short-term enjoyment. And if the experience turns out to be positive, then renters can become owners.
Chicken rental companies offer a full-service package. They provide for both the physical needs (coops, feeders, etc.) of the hens and support services for the humans. These companies are happy to answer all questions associated with poultry. Some offer tutorial videos as well as informative literature.
Rentals usually last for five or six months — longer in warmer climates, shorter in cooler climates. In northern areas, rentals are delivered in April or May. In southern regions, rentals can start at any time.
Rentals usually fall into one of two camps: renting mature laying hens and renting eggs for hatching.
For hen rentals, a typical package usually includes hens (two to five) between the ages of six months and two years, a movable coop, bedding material, feed, a feeder, a waterer, and an instructional handbook (which often includes egg recipes). Rental distributors will deliver everything within a local delivery radius.
For obvious reasons, gentler breeds are used for rental services. Golden Comets are among the more popular choices, along with Buff Orpingtons, Silkies, Black Australorps, and Barred Plymouth Rocks. Rental breeds can be region-specific — birds with longer combs do best in hotter climates, and those with shorter combs are better for northern climates. Breeds that lay five to seven eggs per week are preferred, along with less flighty breeds, so families can spoil them.
For families that fall in love with their birds and want to purchase them after the rental period is up, sellers usually apply half of the rental fee toward the purchase price. Typical rentals run spring through fall, long enough to determine if a family wants to keep their hens or “chicken out.”
For those who want to experience the fun of hatching chicks, hatching services provide fertile eggs, an incubator, a candling light, a brooder, bedding, a heat plate, a chick feeder and a waterer, chick food, and an instructional handbook. Some even provide a couple of baby chicks as well. The rental period is four weeks, which stretches about two weeks after the chicks hatch. After the rental period is over, many rental agencies partner with regional farms that accept the chicks.
Coops and birds are often provided and distributed by affiliate farmers who build the coops and make sure each family is set up. Rental services often sell stand-alone supplies such as coops, feeders, etc. They also do stand-alone adoptions for families already set up to handle chickens and would like a few extra hens.
Who Rents Chickens?
According to Phillip with Rent the Chicken (www.rentthechicken.com), 95% of chicken rentals are families in urban settings (such as townhouses with small plots of land).
About half of baby chick incubation and hatching is “business to business” (daycare, schools, senior care facilities, libraries, homeschools), and the other half are families.
For many people who spent months in isolation during the coronavirus shutdowns, renting chickens became a mixture of family bonding and socially distanced backyard entertainment — with a bonus of fresh eggs and a little avian companionship to boot.
Backyard hens encourage both adults and children into spending more time outdoors, whether it’s to cuddle the birds, sit on a lawn chair enjoying the chickens’ activities, or chase poultry back into their coop.
While rental companies paint chicken rentals as a worry-free option, not everyone approves of chicken rentals. Concerns range from negligence to backyard predation. Hens may suffer if confined to the small coops provided. Additionally, renting chickens shields people from the true cost, commitment, and long-term responsibility of keeping poultry. While these might not be sufficient reasons against rentals, they certainly are issues worth thinking about.
Dipping Toes in the Chicken Rental Water
If chicken rental services seem extreme, think again. Rental services are an option for people who want to dip their toes in the livestock water without permanently committing themselves. Rentals provide customers with something chicken owners have known forever: Chickens are fun, soothing, interesting, educational, and beneficial. They kindle an interest in home-grown food sources as well as animal behavior. Renting provides the opportunity to try keeping chickens without the stress of a long-term commitment.
Originally published in the December 2021/January 2022 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.