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Chickens for rent: Goffstown farm offers an easier way for home chicken farmers to take wing

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 10. 2018 9:51PM
Christine Templeton holds one of her Buff Orpington chickens, one of two breeds she and her husband, Brian, will rent for 26-week terms to customers who want to try home chicken farming without having to care for the birds through the winter. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

GOFFSTOWN -- Lydia Sobocinski has wanted to raise chickens in her Windham yard since she moved from Massachusetts 15 years ago.

"I just kind of fell in love with the idea," she said last week.

But concerns over how to raise them and what to do when winter arrives kept her wishing - until she saw a Facebook post on renting chickens.

And that's no yolk.

A Goffstown farm is an affiliate of Rent The Chicken, which lines up farms to supply the birds, a coop and food. Company headquarters in Pennsylvania handles questions and concerns from the newly minted urban farmers.

Customers return the hens before winter.

"If they fall in love with their chickens, we can tag them, so they can get the exact same ones back the next year," said Christine Templeton, who owns Templeton Family Organics at Kennedy Hill Farm with her husband, Brian.

The Templetons are raising 120 egg-laying chickens on their 13-acre farm, two miles west of St. Anselm College.

They have a handful of rental commitments and said they drew a lot of interest at their booth at last weekend's New Hampshire Farm and Forest Expo.

They bought day-old hatchlings, which spent up to two weeks under heat lamps before moving to a different coop inside the family's red barn.

Brian Templeton gathers fresh eggs at his barn in Goffstown on Thursday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

For $550 a year, people can rent two chickens, a coop and buy food, all delivered within 50 miles of Goffstown.

Egg economics, however, might scramble your budget.

Two hens laying about a dozen eggs a week for 26 weeks produces about 26 dozen eggs. Divide that into the $550 fee and it costs around $21 for a dozen eggs.

Or you could spend $6 for a dozen from the Templeton farmstand or $7 in stores that carry their eggs.

"I'm not really doing it for the costs of the eggs," said Sobocinski, whose 11-year-old son, Christopher, is looking forward to the hens. "I'm doing it for the experience."

Renters can choose from two hen breeds: Buff Orpingtons are blonde and "very personable and friendly," Chris Templeton said. Rhode Island Reds are more prodigious egg layers.

"If you're going more for pets than eggs, you'll go for the Buffs," she said.

The barn-style coop, which includes chicken wire for the floor and two sides, is on wheels, making it easy to move it around - a different version of free ranging.

"It fertilizes your yard," Brian Templeton said.

A door on top provides easy access to a roosting box, where hens lay their eggs.

Customers can spend an additional $250 to buy their hen and coop outright. The Templetons, who pay a royalty fee per booking to Rent The Chicken, control a 50-mile radius territory.

People who are thinking about renting chickens should check with their local zoning office first.

Manchester, for example, limits hens to residential lots measuring at least a half-acre. Hens must be kept in coops and fenced areas at least 20 feet from property lines and are not allowed to roam free, according to Dave Albin, the city's code enforcement supervisor.

"Most of the ones we find here are not allowed here," Albin said.

He said the city's planning and community development department receives four or five chicken-related calls a month starting after Easter.

The Templeton farm also raises pigs and turkeys.

Rent The Chicken co-founder Phillip Tompkins said he and his wife were "Googling crazy business ideas" and came across a farmer renting chickens.

They supersized that idea, with more than 45 farmers serving more than 60 metropolitan areas today. He figures the company's affiliates have rented between 10,000 and 20,000 chickens since 2013.

Last year, he figures, about 10 birds were killed by other animals.

"That's usually renters who let their birds free range and go to work, and they come home and there's lot of feathers and a lot of tears," Tompkins said.

"We've designed our coops so they're predator-resistant, but not necessarily predator-proof," he said. "There's a lot of predators out there that want to have dinner, and all we want is to have breakfast."

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