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Chickens might be relatively low maintenance pets, but that doesn’t mean they don’t make a mess. A clean and dry coop is one of the best ways of keeping a flock healthy. But as chicken math kicks in and that coop that used to be easy to keep clean suddenly takes more and more work to achieve the same results, some poultry keepers find themselves wishing there were housecleaning services for their coops.
This is where Hank Driskill comes in. This 16-year-old owner of Hank’s Homestead has created a viable business near his home in San Diego by cleaning coops and the occasional chicken sitting when owners are on vacation. (While most of his business centers on chickens, he also cares for the occasional goat, pig, and other backyard animals.) “People are really excited that a business like mine exists,” Hank says. He’s gotten serious about building and marketing his business in the last year, spending time doing outreach through his Instagram @Hanks_Homestead, and is currently working on making merchandise and a website.
It turned out to be the perfect time to grow a chicken-based business. With the beginning of the pandemic coinciding with baby chick season, so many people started raising chickens that there was a shortage of chicks. “But some people didn’t realize how hard it is to maintain the coop, and a lot of people hired me after that,” he says.
Hank fell into the business by accident. It all started when Hank was 13 and came across an advertisement on Craigslist asking for help caring for someone’s backyard flock. He’d grown up with chickens and was familiar with their care. Two more gigs came along through word of mouth, and now, three years later, he has 12 regular clients whose flocks he cleans on a route after school. “I work Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays,” Hank says before adding that he takes some one-time jobs on Wednesdays or Fridays as well. “I try to get my schoolwork done first and schedule work after that,” he says, but it’s hard to turn down paying work. He thinks his work for Hank’s Homestead takes eight to 12 hours a week.
His clients — chickens and humans alike — are clearly happy with his efforts. When he goes to a job, he takes out all the old bedding, replaces it, and brushes the cobwebs and dirt off the sides of the chicken runs and coops. Then he deep cleans and refills waterers to keep away the algae that love to grow in San Diego’s warmth. Because so many of his clients are regulars, his job gets a little easier each week. “After the first clean, it’s just maintenance. It gets faster and cleaner every time.”
Like many 16-year-olds with a job, Hank is saving the money from his business to buy a truck. But for Hank having a vehicle is less about socializing than expanding Hank’s Homestead. “I’m pretty close,” he says. He wants to get a truck so he can have room to take cleaning supplies with him or to do deliveries for clients who are out of town.
Currently, his parents have to drive him to his jobs, limiting the clients he can take on. Right now, his farthest customer is a 30-minute drive from his home, but he schedules his visits so there’s as little travel time as possible. “Sometimes people contact me that are far apart or way too far out of the way, and I have to say, ‘Sorry, I can’t.’” But once he has a vehicle, he’s hoping he’ll have enough business that he can hire a friend to take on even more jobs. “I plan to grow Hank’s Homestead as much as I can.” He charges based on the chicken coop size and the number of chickens in it. “More chickens means more mess and more of my time,” Hank says. Since he’s started, he’s also raised his rates slightly. Anyone in business needs to know what their services are worth.
The job isn’t all hard work, Hank says. It’s fun too. He gets to help animals and meet many people he would never have come in contact with. Hank also feels like his years of experience keeping chickens makes him particularly well-suited to this job since he’s able to notice when someone’s animals seem ill. (And, if the chickens ever get out and don’t want to go back inside, he has lots of tricks for getting wily fowl back into the coop.)
Even hard moments can wind up being funny in retrospect. One time Hank hired a friend to help on a hard cleaning job. “They were dusting off the coop, and I went inside to rake and heard the door close behind me. I’d locked myself inside,” Hank says with a laugh. “My friend was listening to music and couldn’t hear me, and I’m just stuck in the coop waiting for them to walk by.” It was a learning experience. “Since that happened, I always put a shovel in front of the door, so it holds it open.”
With the exploding popularity of backyard fowl, Hank’s Homestead is the kind of business that would probably do well in just about any city that allows chickens. Finding a responsible chicken sitter for vacations is a challenge for many chicken keepers — not to mention someone who can help with chores. Hank says that it’s all about building a route and getting the word out to potential customers. “I really like it because it doesn’t take time away from school. I can get good grades and work too.” He’s currently in trade school, taking construction and welding classes. Hank might work in construction but notes that his skills would be well-suited to building custom chicken coops. “I’m going to give it a try,” Hank says.
Originally published in the June/July 2021 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.