Rent-a-chicken business hatches 'laying guarantee' for backyard farmers

Rent-a-chicken business hatches 'laying guarantee' for backyard farmers

Backyard farmers can now enjoy fresh eggs thanks to a rent-a chicken business hatched by an Alberta mother and daughter — who even offer a "laying guarantee" to swap birds if a hen stops producing eggs.

Megan Wylie runs The Urban Chicks with her mom, out of her parent's Millarville farm, about an hour southwest of Calgary.

"We drop off everything you need to take care of them for the summer," Wylie told the Calgary Eyeopener Monday.

"You get two chickens to start with, a coop, organic feed, grit and oyster shells, the feed dishes and some cleaning supplies."

A standard package starts at $450, while each additional chicken costs $75.

Calgary bylaws do not permit backyard chickens, but Wylie says customers come from neighbouring municipalities, including Turner Valley, Black Diamond, High River, Okotoks and Red Deer.  

Warm weather rentals

The business idea hatched a few years ago, after Wylie's cousin saw similar rental businesses in Toronto.

"She came home and knew that we have chickens and said, 'You guys should start doing this here, everyone would love it,'" Wylie says.

Customers keep the chickens for the spring and summer, and Wylie picks them back up in October.

Hens lay eggs less frequently in the winter, Wylie says, and aren't as fun to take care of in the cold.

"You have to heat the coop, you have to make sure their water is not frozen, feed them in the cold. Cleaning up their poop is not fun when it's all frozen to the ground and you have to chip it out of there," she says.

"So that's a convenience we offer for our customers, that they don't have to do all that, we'll do that for them."

Customers also receive a care manual and a "laying guarantee," which means if a hen stops laying eggs The Urban Chicks will pick it up and drop off a new one.

They like 'little puzzles and games and things to peck at'

Repeat customers who get attached to their chickens can request the same birds the next year. 

"We leg band them so we know who's who," Wylie says.

Customers discover chickens are "quite the pet," says Wylie.

"They're actually fairly trainable. They like the same sort of enrichment activities that you would buy for a pet bird from the bird store, little puzzles and games and things to peck at."

Interest in the rent-a-chicken business has been strong, with about 20 customers signing up last year.

"We're actually limited to renting out about 20 coops a year ourselves, just because if we get too many chickens they lose that farm-style life," Wylie says.

"We can provide a good life for them where they can roam freely, peck for bugs in the garden, and all that kind of stuff." 

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With files from the Calgary Eyeopener