Rent The Chicken provides backyard birds for eggs, down-home fun

Phil and Jenn Tompkins hold recently hatched baby chicks. The Hatch The Chicken program is popular among schools, families and churches.
(By Meghan Rodgers)Phil and Jenn Tompkins hold recently hatched baby chicks. The Hatch The Chicken program is popular among schools, families and churches. (By Meghan Rodgers)

If you’ve ever thought about raising hens, but chickened out, Jenn and Phil Tompkins have an eggsellent solution.

The Armstrong County, Pennsylvania couple incubated their company, Rent The Chicken, to be a low-risk introduction to backyard bird farming. The business model is all about giving the general public an opportunity to get closer to one source of food, while taking the hard work and commitment out of raising birds.

The concept is simple. For the $400 standard rental package, Rent The Chicken supplies a portable coop, food and water dishes, all the food you’ll need, two egg-laying hens, and some other fun odds and ends. Add $200 and get four chickens for your backyard brood.

A hen sits in one of the Amish crafted chicken coops Rent The Chicken owners Phil and Jenn Tompkins recently designed. (By Meghan Rodgers)

A hen sits in one of the Amish crafted chicken coops Rent The Chicken owners Phil and Jenn Tompkins recently designed. (By Meghan Rodgers)

Rent The Chicken will take care of set-up and delivery as well as walking you through the basic information you’ll need to know to care for and enjoy your chickens, and their eggs, all summer long. The portable coop has a wire bottom and wheels which allow customers to move the coop around, allowing birds to feed naturally on grass and insects.

Rentals usually last from spring until October or November. When the weather gets cold, Jenn and Phil return for their birds. If your family wants to continue care for the chickens indefinitely, the whole set-up, including birds, is available for adoption.

And if something goes afoul before, during or after the rental or purchase period, Rent The Chicken offers a phone number to call with any chicken questions or emergencies.

“Everyone has a friend that has a dog that they can ask when they have a question,” said Homestead Phil (his moniker of choice). “But not everyone has a friend who has chickens. We become that chicken friend. We give any advice and answer any questions you may have.”

While raising chickens isn’t eggactly as common as owning dogs, it is becoming more popular. People are becoming more aware of the origins of their food and there is concern, particularly among millennials, that their food comes from local sources.

And what is more local than your own backyard?

“People are wanting to get back to the source of where their food comes from, said Homestead Phil. “They want to know that their chickens aren’t eating hormones and antibiotics and medicated feed. They want to provide their family with eggs that taste great but are healthy, too.”

Chickens are often just the beginning to a brand new understanding of what Homestead Jenn calls “yard to table.”

“Once people realize how easy we make backyard chickens and how fresh the eggs are, it gives them a new perspective on local food choices and local food sources,” said Homestead Jenn. “It’s always fun when we show up at the house to pick the birds up and there’s a little raised garden bed or maybe a tomato plant growing on the front porch that wasn’t there when we dropped the birds off.”

If egg-laying hens will ruffle too many feathers in your household, perhaps hatching a chick is more your flight of fancy. Chicken hatching is popular with families, elementary schools, nursing or senior centers and churches. A Hatch The Chicken rental comes with an incubator, eggs and all the supplies needed to see the infant feathered fowls take their first crack into the world.
And if you prefer “quack” instead of “cluck,” ask about the newest option, Hatch The Duck.

The Hatch The Chicken program is popular among schools, families and churches. (By Meghan Rodgers)

The Hatch The Chicken program is popular among schools, families and churches.
(By Meghan Rodgers)

“There is really a generation gap today,” said Homestead Phil. “My mom was raised on a farm, but moved to the city as soon as she could. I wasn’t raised around animals at all until my 30s when I got my first chicken.”

Rent The Chicken offers a way to bring the country life and a local food source to families, individuals or groups who might not otherwise be able to own birds, but are still looking for that rural, country connection.

Homestead Phil and Homestead Jenn say they choose breeds of chicken that are tame and relaxed.

“I just love their personalities,” said Todd Shipley, three-time chicken renter with wife, Christy, both of the Greater Pittsburgh area. “The eggs are phenomenal. They have these really deep orange yolks.”

“But we tell people ‘the eggs are just an added bonus.’ The birds become like our pets for the summer. They’re really a lot of fun.”

Rentals aren’t limited to home state Pennsylvania. Rent The Chicken now includes 45 partners and homesteaders all over the country, from Tennessee to Tucson, California and even into Canada. Rentals, held with a $50 deposit, are now being taken for the 2018 season.

Meghan Rodgers is the Everybody Craves editor. Reach her at (412) 380-8506 or mrodgers@535mediallc.com. See other stories, videos, blogs, recipes and more at everybodycraves.com.