Move Over Cats and Dogs: This Is the New Smart Pet Craze Even in Big Cities

backyard chickens

Story at-a-glance -

  • In the U.S., about 4 percent of households in major cities have backyard chickens, a trend that’s increasingly popular about young, urban residents
  • People with backyard chickens prize their flocks for the fresh eggs, amusing antics, and benefits to their yard and garden
  • Chicken rental services have popped up across the U.S. that allow you to rent two to four chickens for a season
  • Rental chickens come complete with a coop, food and instructions, allowing you to experience chicken ownership without the full commitment
  • After the season, the companies will pick up the chickens for the winter, or you can choose to adopt them permanently

By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

If you like the idea of having a couple of backyard chickens but aren’t ready to make the full-on commitment of being a chicken owner, there’s a new service that may be just the ticket: rental chickens. From Pennsylvania to Illinois to Michigan, services are popping up allowing hobby chicken enthusiasts to test the waters of raising chickens before taking the full-on plunge to ownership.

Rent The Chicken, one such business based out of South Buffalo, Pennsylvania, rents out two chickens at a price of $400 for six months. This comes with a portable pen you can move around your backyard, food and instructions for raising the birds. Options for four birds and non-GMO and organic feed are also available.

There’s even a help line. Co-owner Jenn Tompkins told the Trib Live, “There is a generation gap of people living in the city … Their parents grew up in the city and suburbs; maybe grandma had chickens … People have cats and dogs; with chickens there’s an unknown there.”1 With Rent The Chicken, people can experience what it’s like to raise chickens even if they have no experience.

If the commitment proves to be too much to handle, would-be chicken owners can return the chickens at any time. Or, if they so choose, customers may adopt the chickens permanently.

I think this is a great program, as humane societies nationwide have been overrun with chickens from people who fall in love with the idea of having city chickens, but realize several months after getting chickens that they would not or could not provide forever-homes for these pets. Renting chickens gives people a chance to test the waters before making a lifetime decision.

Backyard Flocks Grow in Popularity in the US

In the U.S., about 4 percent of households in major cities have backyard flocks, a trend that’s increasingly popular about young, urban residents. Interestingly, a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) study revealed that while 29 percent of respondents aged 65 years and older were in favor of urban backyard chickens, this number rose to 61 percent among the 25 and under crowd.2

Research published in 2014, which surveyed nearly 1,500 chicken owners living in urban, suburban and rural areas, revealed that most owned fewer than 10 chickens and were relatively new at the practice, having owned chickens for less than five years.3 As for their motivations, the top reasons for keeping chickens included:

  • As food for home use (95 percent)
  • Gardening partners (63 percent)
  • Pets (57 percent)

Among those who consumed meat and/or eggs from their chickens, 86 percent believed it to be more nutritious than supermarket varieties, while most also believed the homegrown eggs were safer to consume and tasted better than store-bought products. Almost all of the respondents (95 percent) also rightfully noted that their chickens had better health and welfare than those raised on commercial farms.

Chicken Rentals Expand Nationwide

Rent The Chicken, based in Pennsylvania, rents thousands of chickens to customers nationwide. Another popular outlet, Rent-a-Chicken, does the same, and for a fee will even set up your chicken coop for you after it’s delivered. In areas with cold winters, the businesses will pick up and house the chickens during the cold months and bring them back come spring (chickens produce the most eggs when daylight hours are longest).

Depending on how many chickens you rent, you can expect anywhere from eight to 28 fresh eggs per week, which Rent The Chicken says have a healthier nutritional profile, including more beneficial omega-3 fats, than store-bought eggs.4

Kelin Petersen, who has rented chickens to care for in her Chicago backyard, told the Chicago Tribune, "To me, it's a more natural way of living … I love fresh herbs. I love fresh tomatoes. With eggs, I do believe there's a difference (in taste). It's like a fresh herb. You know when you get an herb from the store, and it's a little watered down? This is fresher.”5

Aside from the clear benefit of having a ready supply of farm-fresh eggs, many chicken renters do so because they enjoy watching the birds and appreciate the benefits they bring to home gardens, such as eating grubs and providing natural fertilizer. Many are not aware that chickens are quite intelligent and have shown the ability to problem solve, demonstrate self-control, distinguish numbers up to five, dream during sleep and possibly feel empathy.

They’re also social creatures, which is why you’ll always want at least two chickens at a time. Another benefit to renting chickens, as opposed to hatching them yourself, is you avoid the chick stage, which requires special care to keep them at the right temperature (90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit for the first couple of weeks).

Plus, when you hatch eggs, you may end up with some roosters instead of all hens, and roosters make a lot more noise, making them less suitable for urban backyards.

Salmonella, Predators and Other Backyard Flock Considerations

It’s important to be aware that chickens can spread salmonella, not just from eating contaminated eggs but also via their droppings, which can contaminate their feathers or areas of your backyard. To stay safe, you’ll want to avoid tracking chicken poop into your house and be sure to wash your hands after handling your chickens.

Another consideration is the fact that chickens make tempting prey to a variety of predators, from raccoons to coyotes. Be prepared that having chickens may attract such wildlife into your backyard and take steps to keep your chickens safely in their coop, especially in the evening. However, while chickens don’t need excessively large coops, it’s best if they have a chance to roam free each day to look for bugs to eat.

Further, this isn’t an animal that you can simply put out feed for and forget about. Chickens require daily care and attention, so if you’re not prepared for this type of commitment, it’s best to hold off on getting chickens, even from a rental. Finally, not all urban areas allow chickens, so be sure to check your local ordinances regarding backyard flocks.

If you want to learn more, my interview with Grover Stock, an organic food farmer-consultant, lecturer and program instructor at the Permaculture Skills Center, is below and it’s packed with tips on how to raise healthy chickens in your own backyard.