Rent a chicken: Youthful venture gives people a trial run at hen-rearing
February 19, 2014
Walking through the Fowler Family Farm, chickens can be heard everywhere.
"We have some here. We have some over there, some in the yard," said Macey Fowler, 10, who can't say for certain just how many chickens there are.
Macey, a fifth-grade student at Clear Creek School, will be 11 in April. She and her sisters, Morgan, 7, and Molly, 9, are launching a new backyard chicken rental business called Backyard Hens.
The Fowler girls deliver two to four laying hens, depending on the customers' wishes.
“You get to learn a little bit more about chickens… They eat anything that’s in the way.”
They'll set up the equipment, including a moveable coop and lay box, a feeder and water dispenser, a bag of non-GMO feed and a how-to guide to help care for the birds.
It's everything needed for folks who want to give chicken-raising a try but are not quite ready to make a total commitment.
"If they have considered it and they want to, but they're not sure," said Macey.
So far, the girls have two customers lined up for spring delivery in May. A booth at the Sustainable Food and Farm Conference and a donation for the service for a church fundraiser were well received.
"I think it's actually brilliant," said customer Kim Moore.
Moore's family recently moved from Penn Valley to a forested property in Nevada City. Rather than invest in a chicken setup, Moore's family wanted to give poultry a trial run in the new location to make sure they weren't attractive bait for unwanted wildlife like bears and bobcats.
As a mother of five children, Moore raised chickens for fresh eggs before and says she wants her children to know where their food comes from.
The idea for Backyard Hens came up at the dinner table, when the girls' dad, Brad Fowler, mentioned an article he had read in the magazine "Stockman Grass Farmer."
"I thought it was a neat idea, and I didn't want to start another enterprise," said Brad Fowler, who already has his hands full with his vegetation management business, The Goat Works.
His wife, Alana, runs Fowler Family Farm and meat CSA, specializing in grass-fed beef, pasture-raised pork and non-GMO chickens and eggs.
Backyard chicken-related businesses are cropping up across the country and considered a growing category now estimated at $3.5 billion that includes companies offering products or services without transferring ownership, according to an article published last October in the New York Times.
Locally, the popularity of chickens is evident, with ordinances passed in Grass Valley and Nevada City and the start-up of Creative Coops by handyman/carpenter Mark Hall.
Creative Coops' Facebook page has generated 757 likes.
To get their business off the ground, a family friend donated lumber for the first five coops the Fowler girls rent. During the three-month rental period, befuddled customers can email the girls with questions.
The girls' mom helped set up the Backyard Hens website. Word-of-mouth and fliers are also helping to advertise.
On the farm, the girls are familiar with the ethic of work. They regularly help their parents feed and move animals; they gather eggs. Involved with 4-H, they also raise heifers, goats, pigs and bunnies they will sell at the county fair.
Projects like these require money for feed and pasture rental. In the Fowler household, animals are not hobbies.
"We don't carry them on anything. Everything has to be self-supporting," said Brad Fowler.
Backyard Hens will provide the girls with money for their other animal ventures while supplying cash for things they want to do, like riding lessons.
Young Morgan thinks the backyard chicken business is fun, so far.
"You get to learn a little bit more about chickens … They eat anything that's in the way," she said, giggling.
Macey likes the idea of introducing a method of food production to people who might otherwise be apprehensive about the idea of raising animals.
For many, raising chickens is a start to a more self-sufficient lifestyle. Besides fresh eggs, having chickens around can add fertility to garden soil.
Farming is a way of life for Macey, who remembers when the family's first chickens arrived when she was just 3 or 4.
Even though there are sad days when animals get sick and she can't help them, Macey sees herself in agricultural for years to come. When she grows up, she wants be a veterinarian.
Macey, Morgan and Molly are taking deposits now for spring delivery.
Email them at: firstname.lastname@example.org to receive an order form.
"It's mostly been driven by them. I hope they succeed in it," said Brad Fowler.
Learn more at: http://www.backyardhens.biz/.
Contact freelance writer Laura Brown at email@example.com or 530-913-3067.
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