By Brenda Flanagan
Meet Freckles, Speckles, Tailee and Butter — four sweet little Sussex red hens — scratching out a living in the backyard of a ranch home on a quiet suburban street. They’re working girls, rented for the summer by Rose Liedtka who adores them.
“Chickens are wonderful. They’re very, very fun,” she said. “So these ones my husband chose so we’d be able to pet them. If you go up to them, they will squat down and lay their feathers back so you get to pet them.”
Rose wanted chickens for fresh eggs, but it’s a peck of trouble: you need to build a coop and buy dishes and feed and baby chicks. Then she heard about Rent The Chicken. For $600 they delivered a deluxe, four-chicken set-up, and Rose went from zero to chicken in one fell swoop.
“And I said, well this way if it doesn’t work out, I can always give them back,” she said.
“It’s a turnkey operation,” said Phillip Tompkins.
Tompkins and his wife, Jenn, run Pennsylvania-based Rent The Chicken. It’s one of a flock of new businesses catering to consumers who increasingly demand healthy, locally-sourced food and eggs from humanely-raised hens.
“And it’s just great to have at least one single food source that’s close to the table. Not everybody’s has a big farm or garden,” Jenn said.
“It can also be used for education for the children. There’s a lot of families out there who want to teach their kids where their food really comes from,” Phillip said.
The Tompkins — who Skyped with a recently-hatched chick — also offer lots of chicken-savvy advice for poultry newbies who might be commitment-phobes.
“Everything’s very easy. All you have to do is feed them, make sure they have water and collect the eggs,” Phillip said.
“The rental package comes with full support from us, so our renters have chicken friends for life,” said Jenn.
You don’t need a big yard — the $350 two-chicken coop stands three and a half feet by five. It’s on wheels, so you can roll it to a fresh spot every week. Hens normally lay an egg a day and they make very little noise as opposed to roosters.
Rent The Chicken started small — just two years ago. Now it boasts four affiliates — including one in Toronto — and one in Mount Holly, N.J. From about a dozen coop-and-hen rentals, the business here has quintupled.
“I’ve decided I’m already going to buy them,” said Liedtka. “I’m gonna adopt these chickens, definitely, because they all have names and they’re family.”
So what happens if you decide you’re just not chicken folks and you want to chicken out? That’s OK. Rent The Chicken will come and pick up the coops and the hens and everything will be square. You will not get a refund.