weird commerce

Weird Commerce: Feeling Clucky? Try Chicken Renting

Feeling like the “farm-to-table” restaurant concept is erring on becoming overused? Here’s another menu option: When it comes to getting fresh eggs, it doesn’t get much better than having chickens in the backyard.

Chicken renting is quickly becoming a growing trend across the United States and Canada. All you need is a backyard — doesn’t really matter the size — and a deposit. Oh, and a little commitment. And you’re well on your way to having a hearty egg breakfast, which is basically “farm to table,” even skipping the farmer’s market.

“We are really helping people to have a food source that is closer to their table, which is a big deal of our rental program,” said Jenn Tompkins, who cofounded Rent The Chicken with her husband back in 2013. “We’ve definitely grown in a short period of time.”

Rent The Chicken supplies egg-laying hens for as little as $400 for a six-month lease. All you need to do to get started is head to the site or call, fork over a small deposit and a portable chicken coop — either the standard two-hen option or the deluxe of four chickens — will arrive at your door with other supplies shortly thereafter. Don’t worry, you’re not totally on your own: You’ll also get a phone number to call for any chicken-related questions or advice.

Tompkins said kicking off the business did have some feather-ruffling surprises that later confirmed that there is indeed a market for this quirky endeavor.

“In the beginning, we couldn’t give one away. Tried like crazy at the very beginning to just have some of our friends and family take a chicken coop with two chickens. At no cost. We just wanted to see if it would work before we invested too much time, money and effort,” said Tompkins. “Finally, my mom’s friend said, ‘Fine, I’ll take a couple of chickens.’ And then, wouldn’t you know? Like a year later, she had more than 30 chickens. She started with our two rental chickens!”

From there, business has been just clucky. But Rent The Chicken has competition, even with a similar business name: Rent-A-Chicken. There’s also City Chick, which offers three hens for $65 per month. Then, there’s Rent a Coop’s options that start at $220 for the first month and Rentachook’s chicken deals beginning at $450.

While Rent The Chicken can’t guarantee that the hen will lay eggs, the estimate per hen is four to seven eggs per week in that six-month period. The business aims to deliver hens that are already laying eggs so it shortens the waiting time for the renter.

Who are these cluckin’ chicken renters? They’re you and me, they’re anyone, according to Tompkins. They’re really no one particular group.

“It’s actually very interesting. We have retired single women who rent from us. Then, we have young couples with — and without — children. We have retired couples. We have empty-nesters,” said Tompkins. “We have all different types of family units that rent from us.”

Tompkins said the idea to “hatch” the business started almost four years ago when she was leaving her contract position at a research study program and her husband was stepping out from his IT consulting gig. Perusing the Small Business Association website, they stumbled on a list of crazy business ideas. Lo and behold: chicken renting.

The couple had a couple of chickens at the time, and Tompkins admitted she is pretty handy with a power tool.

“So, I said, ‘You know what? I could build some coops and lease chickens. We just need to pay for the property taxes,’” said Tompkins, who added that it’s always been a bootstrapped operation. “Now, we don’t just have our location but more than 40 farmers around the United States and Canada — farmers and homesteaders — who offer our Rent The Chicken service as an extension of their farm.”

As for how many chickens and coops to date, Tompkins said it’s hard to say, but it’s in the thousands. “We have more than 60 rentals out in the greater Pittsburgh area and more than 45 locations in the United States and Canada.”

Of course, if you live in an apartment, this chicken renting isn’t going to fly. However, Tompkins said that, if you have any type of yard at all, you’re basically halfway there.

“We are very trusting in that. But we know, from our experience, that when someone makes the investment with our service that they are going to take very good care of our chickens.”

If you, at any time, decide that this chicken deal is too much or it’s no longer something that you’re interested in, Tompkins said you’ve “chickened out,” but they’ll pick up the chickens and the coop, no questions asked.

As for what’s next for Rent The Chicken? It’s considered options like rabbits, ducks and even goats.

“I don’t know if you know anything about goats, but they certainly eat whatever they want and that can be a pain,” Tompkins said, laughing. “So, there’s that. So, we’ll see.”

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