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For the Uncommitted Chicken Lover: Rent The Chicken

Business in Hastings offers chicken rental for those who want to experience fresh eggs but not the long-term commitment to raising chickens

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Want farm-fresh eggs but not a long-term commitment to raising a flock from chicks? Rent The Chicken could be your answer.

Lisa Stevenson of Hastings can set you up with a coop, four to six laying hens, equipment and enough feed for six months, all for $450 to $600.

Lisa Stevenson retired from Bristol-Myers Squibb to open Rent The Chicken in Hastings. Her husband, Steve, asked “who is going to rent chickens?” At only a few years into the business, the Stevensons rent nearly 100 chickens per season.

Within days, your breakfast egg will be mere minutes from nest to table.

Stevenson is the local affiliate for Rent The Chicken, a business founded by Phil and Jenn Tompkins of Freeport, Pennsylvania.

Stevenson delivers rental packages within a 50-mile drive of Hastings, which includes most places in Central New York, including Syracuse. While traveling to their renters’ homes, the hens actually ride in the coop, which is secured on a flatbed trailer.

“They don’t seem to mind,” Stevenson said. “They don’t have an issue with being transported. They can sit in the roost to get out of the wind.”

Intended for curious but perhaps not completely committed backyard chicken raisers, Rent The Chicken allows renters to “chicken out” and return everything before the six months’ rental is up.

Or, for an additional fee, they can keep it all and “adopt” the chickens and their equipment. Renters also receive unlimited contact with experienced “chicken friends” who can talk them through any health issues.

Renters with yards as small as 10 by 15 feet can offer adequate space for the portable coops and attached chicken yards; however, obtaining permission with the local zoning board is up to the renters, not Stevenson.

Portability allows renters to move the coop and chicken yard frequently so the birds can gobble up pesky insects — they like grubs, mosquitoes and other insects — and spread out their manure so it doesn’t pile up and cause odor problems as readily.

Some potential renters wonder about noise; however, hens’ clucks are pretty quiet. It’s roosters whose “cock-a-doodle-doo” would rouse the neighborhood. Since renters take on only mature hens, they won’t have any unwanted roosters from a flock of chicks.

Rent The Chicken affiliates replace for free any birds killed by predators; however, since most coops are placed in backyards and since the birds don’t roam outside their chicken yard and coop, they’re pretty safe.

To help ensure healthy rental chickens, Rent The Chicken has affiliates raise their own birds or source them from National Poultry Improvement Plan-certified hatcheries. The industry association promotes bird health and proper breeding and handling. Rent The Chicken affiliates can re-rent birds that aren’t adopted, as long as they’re still laying.

Retirement Business

Stevenson got into the business over three years ago because she and her husband Steve wanted a retirement business. She recalled hearing about chicken rental and eventually reached out to the Tompkins, founders of Rent The Chicken.

Steve approved of his wife’s crazy-sounding venture, as long as he didn’t have to build any coops. He had to build and deliver 19 coops in a little more than a month of launching the business. The couple promotes the business through appearances at events like Celebrate Commemorate Memorial Day in Waterloo, Central New York Home & Garden show and word-of-mouth.

Families with young children comprise Rent The Chicken’s target market, though some grandparents want birds for their grandkids. Occasionally, an older couple or teen is the customer.

Lisa Stevenson recalled one teen who received chicken rental for her birthday.

“We could hear her screaming, ‘My chickens are here!’” she said.

Figuring out how to get coops and birds delivered has proven the biggest challenge, since renters must be home for a delivery. Stevenson’s background as a SUNY Delaware vet technician graduate helped her readily take on the animal care aspects of the business. She had also kept ducks and geese before.

Meetings and webinars hosted by Rent The Chicken have also helped the Stevensons get up to speed in the chicken rental business. In just a few weeks, they’ve turned a profit, which is impressive, considering they had to purchase all the materials for coop construction. Rent The Chicken provides plans for coops.

“We have to have one of each of the three sizes of coops available,” Stevenson said. “We got a little behind and were building as we needed them. We had three orders in one day, at one point. I think we’re doing pretty good.”

So why do people want to rent chickens? For some, they fancy dabbling in agriculture on a scale they can manage. Others like the farm-to-table aspect. Still, more want to teach their children responsibility and how at least one of their foods is sourced.

“We’re having so much fun doing it,” Stevenson said. “My husband didn’t want anything to do with it, but he’s now building coops like crazy. He didn’t understand the ‘why’ but now he gets it.”

Featured image: Lisa Stevenson feeding her “Rent The Chicken” chickens in March. Photographed by Chuck Wainwright.