Life

Rent the Chicken. You Can. Really.

You can rent a bike, a car and a house. Now Tucsonans can rent a chicken.

People who want to see where their food comes from will have the opportunity to eat fresh-laid eggs, without the long-term commitment such an endeavor would normally require.

“Our day-to-day lives are so busy, and we’re always in such a hurry,” said Greg Pacholczyk, who just opened a new branch of Rent the Chicken in Marana, 45 minutes north of Tucson. “We just want people to stop and pay attention to where they get their food. We have no illusions that it’ll start a revolution, but maybe it’ll raise awareness.”

Rent the Chicken delivers egg-laying hens to customers along with everything needed to take care of them: a coop, a food dish, a water dish and enough food for six months. The company wants people to know where their food comes from and bring people closer to their food sources, a concept called “yard to table.” It’s a trend that is growing nationwide.

Chicken rental companies give people the opportunity to test-run chicken raising and see if it is right for them. Renters pay $400 for two hens and a coop, or $600 for four chickens and a deluxe coop. They return the poultry and the gear after six months.

Last year, Tucson officials began updating the city’s urban agriculture code to be more accommodating to trends like this. Many cities have adopted stricter policies regulating backyard chickens or banned them altogether because of complaints from neighbors.

Greg Pacholczyk, owner of a new branch of Rent the Chicken in Maranta, enjoys raising his own chickens and feeling self-sufficient.Paula Ospina/NYT Institute

Founded in Pennsylvania, the company has affiliate locations across the country and in Canada. Just off the freeway, the Pacholczyks’ house, site of the newest branch, sits on a large plot of land, surrounded by the desert for miles in every direction. Three bright red chicken coops stand out from the browns and greens of the desert. Ms. Pacholczyk decorated the wooden coops with portraits of chickens, giant sunflowers and little cactuses. About 60 chickens live there, waiting to be rented out to the first interested family.

Beside the large red coops are four smaller, 6-feet-by-3½-feet coops that are rented out. Mr. Pacholczyk spends 10 to 12 hours welding them in the shade of a covered area near the house. He uses metal because some of the area’s predators, like bobcats and wolves, could break through wood.

“People are concerned about the smell,” Mr. Pacholczyk said. “But you can move the coop and clean up the droppings before there is too much buildup.”

One of the misconceptions about chickens is that they are loud, said Jenn Tompkins, who owns the company. Roosters are loud, and they are not for rent. Hens usually get very loud only around the time they are laying an egg.

“It’s called the egg song,” she said. Two chickens can lay about a dozen eggs every week.

There are no preservatives or antibiotics used, so you can taste the difference in the eggs, Ms. Tompkins said. Farm-fresh eggs are firmer and won’t run across the skillet. They have a bolder yellow yoke that makes cooked or baked food fluffier.

Ms. Tompkins said business had been going well, allowing the expansion into other states. Though she thought it would see interest only from hipsters, it has had a variety of customers, including retired single women, families with young children and empty-nesters.

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Fake eggs are marked with an X and placed inside the coops to give hens an idea of where to lay their eggs.Paula Ospina/NYT Institute

“It’s more than a business,” said Mr. Pacholczyk, who has raised chickens for about nine years. “It’s fun. It’s what we enjoy. It’s not about making money or being rich. It’s about sharing our passion.”

The company also allows for returns to be made if things go poorly or adoptions if things go well.

Ms. Tompkins said she expected about half of the rented chickens to be adopted ultimately. People get very attached.

“Some of the most popular names we had last year were Anna and Elsa,” she said, names of the main characters in “Frozen.” “We’ve also had some chickens named Laverne and Shirley.”

Raising chickens is not terribly complicated, Mr. Pacholczyk said, and for him, it is very rewarding.

“There’s something primal in human nature to raise food, to be self-sufficient and rely on yourself for your own well-being,” he said.