No to Chicken Rental

You might have heard about this – companies are renting laying hens to people. I’ve wanted to avoid commenting on it, but it’s in the news enough that I have to. The Boston Globe ran an article yesterday. It’s a typical fluff piece – a supposedly feel-good column, but it made my heart sink.

For a fee, the chicken rental company brings two or four pullets, housing, and feed to your home. You keep the hens for the spring through fall laying season. Then they take them back. If you get attached to your chickens, you can “adopt” them.

Recently, a woman who does chicken keeping workshops in a nearby city said enthusiastically to me let’s get chickens in every backyard! There wasn’t time to discuss this with her, but my response would have been a firm NO. Not everyone should have animals. Not everyone should have hens. If the purpose of having a backyard flock is just have a source of good eggs, then support a farmer that raises hens on pasture. Only get chickens if you actually want to have animals in your life. Get hens if you want to know the bird that lays your eggs. Chickens require care, and care requires time and observation, and that requires a connection to your flock. Not everyone has or wants that. The argument is that this rent-a-chicken program will allow people to figure it out. Maybe they’ll go on to get a larger flock. Perhaps. But I have further issues with this business.

The idea of renting a farm animal perpetuates the idea that you have no responsibility for that creature beyond the short period of time that it is productive. In the case of a chicken, that’s her first year of lay. A real farmer has crucial moral end-of-life issues to deal with. Are the unproductive stock harvested for meat? Discarded? What happens when an animal is sick? When there are predators? In the rent-a-chicken model, the hens are replaced. The customer remains removed from these dilemmas. If you rent a chicken to experience raising your own food, then you are missing out on the real picture.

Along with my qualms about the overall business, I have major issues with the housing and care of the hens once they are dropped off in the customers’ backyards. The coops are little more than boxes (this is the sort of “coop” that is supplied. The runs are small and easily accessible by predators. The food and water is exposed to the elements.

Chicken keeping isn’t as easy as so many of its proponents would like you to believe. No animal is easy – if it is, you’re likely doing something wrong. For example, a rabbit in a wire hutch in the backyard is no trouble to take care of – simply give it food and water daily – but you’re not providing what the rabbit needs to live a decent life. Same thing with chickens. Can you keep two in a small coop for a few months? Yes. Is it what those chickens need to thrive? No. Is it being a responsible animal steward? Definitely not.

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    • Hi Terry, you are definately right and many thanks for your advice on sick chickens.
      If you choose to keep chickens you should do so for all of their lives and realise this is not always easy. We have a sick chicken at the moment and I have been warm water bathing her for the last few days and keeping her in the house at night so she won’t catch a chill. Luckily it looks like she is on the mend so fingers crossed.
      I am explaining about this so that people know you have to give time, attention and love to your chickens, even when they stop laying; that is if you really want ‘pet’ chickens and not just egg machines.
      Carole in Bedfordshire,England.

  1. THANK YOU TERRY!! You just supported what I have been trying to tell my friends and family! They think when they come to my house and see my small flock that they can do this part time with the rent a chicken thing!! I said no you can not!
    Which is why I sent you a e-mail about this yesterday. I know they will listen to me now that I can show them you feel that this is a bad thing! THANK YOU

    • You are welcome. Your note to me was why I finally said something. Please share on social media, etc. I’d like to get this side of the conversation heard.

  2. ohh if they are renting the chickens and moving possibly the same hens from place to place would this not increase risk of spreading diseases?

    • Yes. And I didn’t even get into what happens when the hens are put back on the original farm. Talk about stress of integrating into a flock, and spreading disease.

    • I’m guessing the hens don’t actually move on to another “home”.

  3. I heard about this yesterday. Truly disturbing to be as well. I know what I am doing with my animals and I still have situations that completely baffle me. Some people “like” the idea of having birds or any other farm animals and then once they have them, they are stumped as to what to do with them. I am doing a Kentucky Derby “horse” theme in my library this week. I brought my saddle and other equipment to share. I talk to the kids about the WORK that is involved with an animal. Any time the kids said “I WANT A HORSE”..I say…”Do you like hard work? Do you like piles of poop and pee? Do you like to be hot, dirty, smelly, cold and wet? Working weekends, holidays, night and day? NO???? Well then, it is not for you! I turned a lot of kids away from it but I feel I have done them AND their parents and the animals a HUGE favor. I also agree with Cheryl…how is the spread of diseases dealt with?

  4. thank you for this post I saw these programs on craigslist (red flag right there) I think I even e-mailed you about it. You are so correct in everything you said, it just makes them throw away animals and we certainly do not need more of that.

  5. What a good post. I totally agree that this “idea” is a very bad idea, with no thought given to the animals at all. I have never heard of anything like this in the UK (thankfully) – not yet anyway! All animals, how large or small, are a commitment and we have to be their responsible carers and put them first. Don’t think the welfare of the chickens in this project comes first! It is so good that people like you are able to speak out about these things. Lets hope that your voice will make a difference (even if it is only to discourage people not to take part in this “rent a hen” lark. Well said Terry.

  6. May I join the rant?
    This is as troubling as the flow hive and William-Sonomas foray into chickens and bees as backyard ornaments.
    My hens aren’t a commodity. I scrape poop every morning, dust down spider webs and dirt weekly from the walls of their coop, and change two waterers every morning, after scrubbing them with a vinegar solution.
    They get regular checks for bumble foot, scales, mites, poopy butts, feather picking, firm crops, worms, respiratory problems… the list goes on. And overall, they’re healthy and happy and they never suffer with undiagnosed illnesses because CHICKENS ARE HARD WORK AND TAKE DAILY CARE.
    I’m also a beekeeper, and it’s become so apparent that colony collapse can be traced directly to commercial beekeepers and big ag, which has disrupted the natural cycle of the bees with outsider queens, mono-culture diets and corn syrup, pesticides and disrupted brood nests and forage patterns.
    My three year old hens are calm, healthy, curious and still laying almost every day, and I’m sure that’s because they forage in the woods all day, come home to a clean and safe coop at night, eat an organic diet and are handled respectfully and with care on a regular basis.
    I just despair when I see people doing things like this rent-a-chicken nonsense, in the name of being healthy and organic, when it’s just a small-scale version of commercial agriculture.
    Thanks for posting, Terry.

  7. Funny I saw this ad yesterday and thought NO,NO NO. The cage is too small and they are exposed to the elements. Besides it looked like anyone could do it and I felt sorry for the hens. Of course anyone really can’t do it. I was going to email you about it. Thank you for your post.

  8. I hadn’t heard of this new “business;” thank-you for bringing it to my attention. And I agree with your position completely!

    • I so agree with everything that has been said here. I have nothing to add as it’s all been said but I too wanted to thank you for having your say and giving this ridiculous idea attention. Schemes like this make my heart sink too.

  9. I actually saw a story some time ago on a local St Louis news station about this. It may have been two years already.
    I just googled it and it still seems to still be in operation.
    I took a look at the coop. An A-frame. The worst part is the “building” itself is metal with just a pop door. I can’t imagine hens living long in the heat and humidity of Midwest summer in that thing.

  10. I so agree with everyone’s comments, this type of thing is so wrong. I hope your article gets out there with lots of attention maybe it will stop this before it goes to far, could Animal Welfare become involved or do you not have that in USA.

  11. I hadn’t heard of this. Now that I have – I have never heard of anything so cruel or irresponsible. Well said Terry, sometimes you do just have to speak out.

  12. I have just been looking in UK and we do a hire service here for Schools. They seem to rent you 2 hens a reasonable coop and a protected run, the whole thing is watched over by the Rspca and while I still do not agree with the concept it looks passible better for the Hens. Sorry do now know how to do link but this is there website if you wanted to look.

  13. Sigh.
    Do you suppose they come complete with harness, diaper, saddle, sweaters, etc. (along with that sorry excuse for a coop)? My question, as always, is WHY ON EARTH????

  14. Thank you for the post, Terry! Hen rental is an awful idea. That coop is suitable as a chicken tractor and is not built for health or safety. I can’t imagine having returned my girls after their first year to what must be certain death because how could a company manage quarantine and re-introduction of thousands of hens? I can’t imagine the stress that the hens will go through. I got into chickens because I don’t like commercial operations and this rent-a-hen idea sounds like a commercial operation gone awry. Two of my three girls are still laying like their first year and they are three years old. When they decide to be old ladies, I’ll let them enjoy their dotage. <3

  15. All I can say is “G-a-a-a-a-H!” I had not heard of this on the West coast and it is a HORRIBLE idea!! thank you for speaking out!

  16. Thank you for talking about this. I am telling my friends about it and posting on Facebook.

  17. I saw this and sent it to my husband, as a joke. He came back and said for $150/month, maybe we should build some! He was joking. But the thing really stuck in my mind. It’s just a super bad idea, for all the reasons already expressed. And in the end, as always happens, it’s the animals/birds who take it in the neck. And that’s the part I REALLY hate.

  18. Haven’t heard about this here in our corner of the Pacific Northwest. Sounds terrible.

  19. This whole scenario sounds like a very disposable approach to living creatures. Breaks my heart. I knew a couple once, whom I met at a neighbor’s back yard barbecue who were very proud of their “clever plan” to get a dog from a shelter for the warmer months and when the snow falls and “it’s too cold to walk them”, they returned the dog to the shelter. They were on their fourth season and fourth dog…

    I wanted to shoot them.

  20. It sounds like factory farming on a very small scale.

  21. Absolutely no!!!! Thank you for speaking out. Such disregard for living creatures we have……

  22. Renting any animal is so disgusting! Anyone who would do so is not an animal person but a self serving individual who has no regard for anyone but themselves. They would not treat a chicken well and I hope this is stopped! I love my 4 dogs (all rescues) and 8 chickens like family. That is what these creatures deserve! Go Terry!

  23. First of all I want to start by saying I love your website. I came here to look at your chicken webcam, adoreable!
    I realize that I’m not going to be very popular here but I wanted to speak up as someone who has rented hens for the past two years. I am neither irresponsible, nor do I consider these hens to be disposable. My husband and I have wanted to raise hens for years but due to our living situation we were unable to (we live in Michigan nine months of the year but have to relocate for the winter).
    The hens we rent are not pullets but beautiful, healthy, mature hearatige bread hens that this family business has put their blood sweat and tears into. They are very meticulous about who they rent to and they are a tremendous resource for questions. I must have called this woman half a dozen times the first week as I learned how to properly care for the girls. She made sure we knew what we were doing. Our hens have a huge area to free range, a very nice coop to protect them from predators, and a good healthy diet. They are banded so we can bring them back when we have to move in the winter, then we pick them back up in the spring. We plan on continuing this cycle until they pass. As they owner gets the girls back she places them in a separate coop to observe their Heath status before reintegrating them. She has a great concern for the overal health of her flock.
    I realize there are some unscrupulous people out there but please don’t assume the worst of everyone. Without a resource like her people like me would not be able to raise hens.

    • Thank you for commenting. I can understand, with your schedule, why a seasonal flock works for you. I don’t believe that any of the companies doing this rental business are trying to scam the owners or do wrong by the chickens – but I still believe that the premise is wrong. There remain issues with husbandry. I can tell you, from experience, that healthy looking hens can carry disease, and so observing the chickens before putting them in with her larger flock is a huge risk. The bigger picture still bothers me, and even the best-case scenario is not something that I would recommend.

  24. Kudos to you, Terry, for finally getting it out there and said! Chickens are NOT as easy to raise as everyone would have you believe. It takes a lot of diligence and care and a typical “renter” is not going to look at it that way. It is a great pleasure and I truly love the chickens I have, but it is not easy to take care of them. A lot goes into their care and though its worth it, it is definitely not for the light of heart for sure.

    Love your blogs and refer to them often! Thanks so much!!

  25. I do appreciate your concerns for the welfare of animals, and I know this is coming from a good place, but I don’t believe this is a well-rounded thought on the practice of renting chickens. I was googling (that’s a word, right?) chickens and other farm animals to add to my farmette (I have four horses), and I decided to research chicken keeping. I have been wanting to add to my farm for a while, but couldn’t decide on what animal to look into. I stumbled upon, a local chicken renting business. This is NOT to be confused with rent a chicken or some nationally based companies- this Rent A Coop business is local, and is the way I decided to go. I know the work necessary to keep animals happy and healthy, and by “renting” (I went into the rental knowing I would purchase after the month), I was able to get a ready made coop (large, spacious coop for my four hens Trudy, Betty, Peggy and Joan) with an attached run that is predator proof, mobile (tractor) and easy to clean. For a first time chicken keeper, I couldn’t have been happier. The people that run the business are trying to promote good chicken keeping. Isn’t responsible renting (these two business people care for their chickens, promote supervised free ranging and if someone isn’t able to care for these chickens, they can return them to people who do know how to care for them) the way to promote chicken welfare? Not all renting business are bad- but I do understand why a nationally based rental program would not be ideal- but those small, local renters helped me ease into the world of chicken keeping, and I am forever grateful!

    • Emily, I stand by what I’ve said about animal rental. I have no problems with businesses that help set people up with animals, but renting is not that. I checked out the link on your comments. I don’t like the coop that is described. Chickens should not be on wire. They need to scratch and to dirt bathe. Chickens need windows, and height in a coop. At best, that is a temporary coop adequate for the summer in some areas. I’m sure that the owners of the company are lovely and well-meaning, but it’s not a business that I can support.

  26. Thanks, Terry, for a consistent and humane stance on this.
    Even if the rental coops were perfectly designed, even if the renters adore the birds and follow best practices, the underlying problem here is the lack of consistency and that chickens are being treated as a commodity for the convenience of their keepers and the profit of the rental agent.
    My birds have always had the run of my 1/5-acre yard, and year after year they go to the same spots for dust baths, roost in the same tree, and hide from the sun under two boxwoods. Chickens are creatures of habit, indeed all sentient creatures are, and being relocated from home is scary and stressful, and being integrated into a flock of strange birds even once is something I would never put my girls through. It’s months of disruption to the old pecking order and dealing with a whole new pecking order, at the very least.
    My girls know me and they’re secure in a routine that never changes. Animals deserve that consistency.