Want a chicken? Why not kick its tires first

Cheryl Wozny fills the nesting boxes with straw while Angela Balgobin and her children, Annabelle and Nathaniel, look on. | Mary MacArthur photo

Alberta company rents laying hens for the summer to those interested in backyard chickens but would like a trial run first

RED DEER — Scared of a commitment to chickens?

In Alberta, you can now rent a chicken and see if you’re ready for full-time chicken ownership.

Angela Balgobin and her family are renting chickens for the summer to see if they want chickens full-time.

“It was as easy as ordering a pizza,” said Balgobin.

She placed an order and two weeks later her four chickens, portable coop and feed were delivered to her acreage on the outskirts of Red Deer.

“I think it’s a good idea. We worried, ‘what if we don’t like them.’ There is no point in converting a garden shed into a chicken coop if we’re not going to want chickens past the summer.”

If the family likes the chickens, they will convert their shed and adopt the hens. If they decide the hens aren’t for them, in October, the hens will be returned back to Cheryl and Ossie Wozny and their Rent the Chicken franchise in Red Deer County.

Historically, only about 30 percent of the hens are returned in the fall after the summer rental. The majority of renters adopt their hens.

Balgobin said renting chickens was partly to show her children that eggs come from chickens, not the grocery store, and partly to acknowledge food security, especially during a pandemic. Earlier in the winter, their local Costco was sold out of eggs.

“With the pandemic we wanted to look at where your food comes from.”

Annabelle Balgobin checks out the chickens hiding on the second floor of the chicken coop. | Mary MacArthur photo

Four chickens aren’t going to provide enough eggs to supply all the eggs the family normally uses each week, but it will give everyone a greater understanding of where their food comes from and food security, she said.

Cheryl Wozny gets calls each day from people like Balgobin who want their children to learn a bit more about food.

“They want to show their kids where their food comes from and that it doesn’t come from Safeway.”

Having access to a 1-800 chicken helpline gives the renters comfort that their chicken-raising questions can be answered.

Balgobin admits she knows nothing about chickens. Her questions include: will the dog and the chickens get along, will the chickens smell, what happens with the poop, can they eat potato peels and do they need a bath?

The chickens are about 21 weeks and have just started laying eggs when they are delivered to each home. Delivered to the Balgobin family are two ISA Brown and two White Lohmann hens.

Families can choose two or four hens, or a seven week hatch rental with eggs and incubators.

Cheryl Wozny holds an ISA Brown hen before putting it into the coop. | Mary MacArthur photo

Earlier in the day, Wozny dropped off four incubators and 28 eggs in Calgary for families who want to watch the hatching process, but didn’t want to keep the chickens. After five weeks the young chicks are returned to Wozny.

Depending on a two or four chicken rental package, or the hatching package, prices range from $565 to $765.

Rent the Chicken was founded in 2013 in Pennsylvania to encourage families to be one step closer to raising their own food. In March, the Wozny family acquired the Alberta franchise and the couple has spent hours delivering chickens and hatching eggs to dozens of homes between Edmonton and High River.

The chickens are a bit nervous and perch on a roost inside their new coop. | Mary MacArthur photo

“We are renting them as fast as we can make the coops. We’re getting calls every day for these,” said Cheryl.

The chickens come with a replacement warranty. If they die from unknown causes, as chickens sometimes do, they are replaced for free. Chickens killed by family pets or other predators are not under warranty.

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