As much as urban farming makes our hearts smile, there is now undeniable evidence that amateur animal husbandry also doubles as a sad chicken displacement problem. Once the owners of trendy backyard coops figure out that their hens require more care than cats—or worse, that those hens are actually roosters—it's often back to the "farm" for the chickies, or the local animal rescue.
But that’s where Jenn Tompkins ("Homestead Jenn") and her husband Phillip ("Homestead Phillip") come in. The Tompkinses, based out of Freeport, Pennsylvania, have created a business called "Rent the Chicken" to cater to aspiring, but ignorant, chicken farmers. Instead of raising egg-laying hens from the time that they’re chicks, the Tompkinses will let you "rent" chickens until your interest fades at the end of the season.
"We have both friends and family who have both struggled with how to raise chickens and struggle with the preparation process," says Homestead Jenn. "We help to eliminate that first number of months with raising backyard chickens when we provide hens that are already egg-laying, as well as a coop, feed for the duration of the rental period, food dishes, and water dishes."
Both Jenn and her husband had experience raising chickens as kids and in their own backyard, but decided to start Rent the Chicken when Jenn’s cousin realized that the cute, fluffy chicks she got from a friend were actually roosters. And even if those chicks do turn out to be hens, it takes 16 to 24 weeks for the animals to start laying eggs.
"People think this is what they want to do to connect farm to table, and then they realize the startup is an issue, or they think the payout isn’t enough for their benefit," Jenn says. "Cat and dog rescues are now getting the random chicken dropped off at their facilities as well."
For $350, Rent the Chicken gives you two egg-laying hens (they like to have friends, Jenn explains) for the season, supplies, as well as an in-person lesson on chicken farming and maintenance, if necessary. If a chicken gets gobbled up by a predator, the Tompkinses will replace it, and also fortify the coop. If a chicken dies because of neglect, they’ll take away the other hen and impose a fee.
Since Rent the Chicken’s soft launch this past summer, the Tompkinses have seen an explosion of interest. Local media outlets have picked up the story with glee, and in the spring, Rent the Chicken plans on collaborating with Chicks in the Hood, Pittsburgh’s annual urban coop bike tour. Don’t underestimate the ‘burgh, either: People have been calling it an emerging hipster playground for years. The Times, too, is on it.