Did you know that you can rent a chicken?
As the bird flu scare continues and consumers want food sourced closer to the kitchen table, companies like Pennsylvania-based Rent The Chicken are offering a clever alternative to buying eggs at the supermarket.
For $400, Rent The Chicken will hand-deliver two egg-laying hens, a coop, food and water dishes, and 100 pounds of chicken feed for a four-month rental period.
For the brave, there's also a deluxe rental option: $600 for four chickens and a larger coop.
If you're looking for a good deal on eggs, using hen rental companies won't put you in the green. Each individual egg collected from a rental hen will cost a pretty penny — around $1.79, to be exact. A dozen eggs comes in at just over $21.
That's a steep price to pay, even taking into account the spike in egg prices due to avian influenza.
Still, Rent The Chicken and Maryland-based Rent a Coop report growing demand from consumers.
"We attribute the growth we've seen to people wanting to know where their food sources are coming from," Rent The Chicken co-founder Jenn Tompkins told CNBC in a phone interview.
Tompkins says by the 2016 rental season, she'll have signed contracts with 20 affiliate locations, up from this year's 12.
Rent a Coop owner Tyler Phillips says he rented out 55 coops in a peak month this year. He compares that with the seven coops he rented out in the same month, three years ago.
Phillips and Tompkins agree that bird flu has little to do with their growth. Phillips said that none of his customers has asked about the disease.
For Tompkins, bird flu really isn't a concern. "Salmonella is a higher risk than bird flu for backyard flocks, and we do everything we can to address that. Our first item is to always instruct those handling the poultry to wash their hands," she said.
Kay Witmer, a Rent The Chicken affiliate based in Liverpool, Pennsylvania, says her renters are interested in a "yard to table" lifestyle but are afraid of making an upfront investment.
"Some of our customers are looking to raise chickens, but they've never done it before and they've never been around a chicken. If you don't like it, and it's not for you, you can just call us and we'll take them back."
"At first I was, ironically, too chicken to get chickens. I was like, 'What if I don't like them?'"
That's exactly what Joyce Breghenti of Kittanning, Pennsylvania, was looking for when she decided to contact Rent The Chicken.
"Long story short, I wanted healthier eggs coming from healthier chickens. But at first I was, ironically, too chicken to get chickens. I was like, 'What if I don't like them?'"
But now that she's housing two hens, Breghenti is hooked.
Not only is she adopting the two chickens she's raising, she's also getting two more from Rent The Chicken that she'll be keeping, permanently.
Besides the good company and a dozen fresh eggs a week, Breghenti says there's been one very unexpected perk to having chickens.
"They let me know if there's something in the backyard I need to worry about. Mostly they make this quiet purring sound. But when they see something in the yard that shouldn't be there, they'll squawk. Loudly. It's just like having a dog!" she said.
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