April 11, 2013 at 9:04 AM ET
Chicken owners often take to urban farming blogs with this lament: Where to house the ladies when they leave town?
Bill Bezuk, owner of Eugene Backyard Farmer in Eugene, Ore., used to offer a chicken sitting service, but biking around town before and after work proved onerous, so he came up with another idea: a luxury chicken hotel.
Bezuk named it The Nest, and for now there are two suites next to Bezuk’s urban farming supply store: The Blue Andalusian and the Gold Campine. (The former is named for a rare breed with black or mottled feathers; the latter is a haughty show chicken with a perky chest.)
The basic service – fresh food, water and a safe place to sleep – costs $2 per chicken per night. For a dollar more, Bezuk offers “deluxe accommodations” – organic food, fresh vegetable scraps and turndown service.
Yes, really. Turndown service.
When the store closes, which is around bedtime for chickens, Bezuk or one of his four employees will lure the hens into the enclosed area with meal worms.
The chicken hotel opened in February, and May is already booked – another indicator that the urban chicken phenomenon grows as city councils across the country vote to approve urban livestock. Bezuk said he plans to add two more split-level chicken suites, each of which houses six to eight chickens.
Bezuk believes that he has the first chicken-boarding business in the U.S. – there are a handful in the U.K., where chicken ownership has also ballooned in the last five years, a response to the growth of the organic and local foods movements.
There’s Fowlty Towers in Cowden, a village in south east England, and The Chicken Hotel in Cornwall, which boasts spa treatments, including emery-board pedicures to “round the tips.”
“Rooster nails are especially a problem for the backs of their lady-friends,” The Chicken Hotel explains on its website.
(But no boys allowed at The Nest in Eugene. "City regulations prohibit roos, and we want to be consistent with ordinances," Bezuk said.)
Anna Goeser, who runs Easy Acres Chicken Sitting in Los Angeles, said she hasn’t heard of any other chicken boarding business – possibly because of the risk of spreading avian-borne illnesses. She doesn’t even know of other chicken sitters in L.A.
Goeser started her chicken sitting service three years ago with just a handful of business cards – she says it’s grown into a successful venture. Last week, she was taking care of five flocks – for $25 a day, or $40 if the family lives more than 10 miles away.
At each home, she wears shoe covers and gloves to reduce the risk of spreading infection.
“I have a tub and I have bleach and a lot of flip flops that I end up disposing of,” Goeser said. “I’m not a hazmat girl, but I get intense about it.”
Back in Eugene, a mid-sized city known for its quirk and free-spirited politics, Bezuk says that keeping a clean chicken hotel is crucial. Thoroughly cleaning the coops prevents the spread of mites and avian illnesses, although he believes there's little chance of that given that the chickens who stay at The Nest don’t mingle with other livestock.
Even so, after the chickens leave, he and his employees go into the suites with a shovel and bucket to scoop up the bird poop. They sprinkle diatomaceous earth – an organic compound used in toxic liquid spills -- in the nesting boxes to absorb parasites that may be lurking.
“The challenge with The Nest is the challenge with any hotel – avoiding overbooking and making sure that the chickens check out on time,” Bezuk said. “Cleaning the room between guests is clearly important.”