Yard Birds For Rent

Very few of us have ever met salespeople like Phil and Jenn Tompkins. In fact, I would submit the couple have missed their calling. At a minimum they should be selling cars, or vacuum cleaners, or maybe run for Congress, all much more glamorous than their startup Rent The Chicken.

Lest you get the wrong impression, I’m a huge fan of the Tompkins, Freeport, PA, though I have never met them. In 2013 the couple decided they needed to be creative to bolster the income of their family farm and they have the grit and determination to succeed. For anyone struggling in today’s farm economy those are admirable traits.

Today the Tompkins’ franchise – Rent The Chicken – has more than 50 affiliates across 23 states and three Canadian provinces, offering the materials, feed and chickens to city folk who want fresh eggs and maybe a little joy and animal companionship.

Rent The Chicken contracts are for April-October or May-November, and include a chicken-keeping book, bag of Chubby Mealworms, 100 pounds of feed, a chicken coop, water bowl, feed dish, and two chickens. Standard rental price for the season? $450. But there’s also the standard upgrade package for $550, and the Deluxe package (4 hens) for $650.

(Maybe you think those prices are outrageous, but, seriously, would you deliver chickens and set-up a coop in somebody’s backyard for less than $500?)

Let’s see, 180 days, two chickens, that’s about 30 dozen eggs – $15 to $20 a dozen. Of course, those are organic, cage-free eggs, the same kind Walmart sells for $4.98 a dozen.

I know, you can’t get the “joy” of raising your own eggs if you go with the Walmart variety. You also won’t have disgruntled neighbors complaining about new smells or nighttime visitors such as fox if you opt for the Walmart eggs, either.

No, backyard chicken projects are not for me. I made my last trip the henhouse to gather eggs more than 40 years ago and I don’t intend to start again. But I think it’s important we recognize the message from the success of Rent The Chicken. A lot of our customers want a connection to at least some of their food.

Sure, I think it’s crazy that people will pay hundreds of dollars for two yard birds and crate, but no more so than the line of people I see waiting outside of Starbucks to pay $5 for a cup of black water, heavy cream and caramel syrup.

The message beef producers should take from those two successful businesses is that they are giving their customers what they want. Many beef producers are already doing just that, with improved genetics and better animal health programs. The quest for quality and consumer satisfaction, however, is ongoing. Increasingly, beef consumers say they want more transparency on animal welfare, environmental stewardship and sustainability. It’s in our industry’s long-term best interest to respond to those trends and continue to offer a safe, wholesome and delicious product.