You can rent a boat or a car, but a chicken? Yes indeed

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During our lives, most of us have at one time or another rented a car, or an apartment, or even a pair of skis.

But a chicken?

Not likely.

Eric Strother from Sebastopol wants to change that.

Strother, who works as an archaeologist by day, started Rent Backyard Hens in January to show others his penchant for bird life.

“I’m a geek when it comes to chickens,” he said. “I love the whole vibe of them. They’re just funny. I’d love to share them with people who don’t have that experience.

But going wild with chickens is a commitment — time, money, care — so Strother followed a model that’s thriving in other parts of the country: renting chickens.

Strother said he heard an article on NPR about the appearance of chicken rental businesses on the East Coast.

“People were really digging,” he said. “I googled to see if anyone was doing anything here on the west coast and didn’t see anything.”

Strother said he did “a little market research” and started building portable chicken coops.

He now has 15 Golden Comet hens which he raised from a young age and now rents two at a time.

Customers can rent a handcrafted portable chicken coop that looks half barn, half tractor; two laying hens; a watering device and enough food and bedding to last the entire rental period.

Strother leases in nine Bay Area counties for periods between one and three months.

In Sonoma County, hens (not roosters) are allowed in most areas except Rohnert Park, he said.

And he’s ready to help customers make sure they live in a place where it’s okay to have backyard chickens. It also helps them understand what rules are in place for how much and where they can be accommodated.

Things like homeowners association terms can affect who can keep backyard chickens.

He also kindly suggests checking in with neighbors to take their temperature on the idea.

That said, chickens are considered by some to be a neighbour’s bond. They seem to easily attract love and conversation from children at a time when many people could use a shot of both.

If you love the chicken life, Strother encourages customers to raise their own chicks and create a more permanent chicken coop.

And for those for whom the relationship is not all they dreamed of? It’s good too. They can just turn the hens and the cage over – no harm, no poultry.

“Some people want that experience,” Strother said. “Some people want the experience of pet chicken company, some people want to try it out to see if they want their own chickens.”

And some people, in this age of skyrocketing grocery prices, are interested in a few fresh eggs every morning.

“Once you’ve had eggs from your own chicken, it’s really hard to go back to shopping in the store,” Strother said. “They taste different, they’re healthier.”

But potential tenants should also consider things like predators, yard maintenance, and even something like bird flu, which is wreaking havoc on chickens in some places.

But overall, rearing backyard chickens is growing in popularity.

Chicken ownership has taken off during the pandemic, according to AARPP, which reported on the trend.

The pandemic has made many people rethink where they live and how they live. More people were at home, more people were cooking and baking, and more people were looking for company during isolation from other aspects of ‘normal’ life.

Chickens tick all the boxes, Strother said.

“They make great pets,” he said. “They have funny little personalities, they remember you. They are hilarious.

Also, have you ever seen a chicken coop? It’s a mood lifter for sure.

But like some pets, they need a little TLC. It turns out that chickens take the concept of free range very seriously.

“They’re opportunists,” Strother said. “Tomatoes, strawberries, they will go after blueberries. If you want a blank area, keep the chickens away from them.

Glenn Ouye lives in Bennett Valley and has never owned chickens. He was curious, so he got into Strother’s Rent Backyard Hens.

But he also had what he called “ulterior motives”: the weeds.

Turns out Ouye had a patch he couldn’t seem to tame, so he thought chickens might do the trick.

They did it.

“They loved weeds. It was awesome,” Ouye said.

But Ouye has come to be fully entertained by his new little garden workhorses.

“They are very curious,” he said. “They come running towards you. We sat outside and talked to them.

“They want to be where you are,” he said. “If you’re outside in a chair, they kind of want to be right around you. It’s pretty cool, really.

Ouye’s two Chihuahuas got along quite well with them. One didn’t give them the time of day and the other was afraid of them. The dynamics made for good site companions.

Strother said the chickens do well with pets, but he suggested monitoring the relationship.

Ouye’s only criticism of her new friends was sometimes their personal hygiene.

“They poop where they eat. They poop wherever they want,” he said.

But it was easy enough to sweep away, he said.

Strother’s hens have their wings clipped so they don’t fly into a neighbor’s yard. But they can appear on furniture or low fences and posts.

Most of the time they are eating, walking and hanging out.

Strother gives customers his cell phone number, in case they have any trouble with the hens. This does not happen.

Instead, he receives texts with photos and videos of the hens doing crazy things.

“They’re hilarious,” he said

Yep agree. When he returned his two hens to Rent Backyard Hens after the rental period ended, he did not immediately consider buying his own.

But he can. He still thinks about it. This is exactly what Strother wanted.

“It’s fun,” Ouye said. “It’s a really good experience and you’re not committed forever.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @benefield.

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