A guide to living local in New Hampshire

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For Rent:

Chickens, All Amenities

Story and photos by Tom Long and Stacy Milbouer / Fiddlehead Contributing Editors

If you want to see for yourself what came first – the chicken or the egg – Templeton Family Organics has a deal for you. It’s called Rent the Chicken, with the goal of “families helping families to bring one simple food source closer to their table one rental at a time.”

On a recent sunny day, owner Christine Templeton was cradling a Rhode Island Red in front of the barn at the family’s Kennedy Hill Farm in Goffstown, getting ready to launch her new venture.

“It’s a franchise arrangement which will hopefully provide a new revenue stream for the farm and help people get the backyard chickens they want,” she said.

Here’s how it works. You sign up online at rentthechicken.com. One can opt for a two egg-laying hen package ($450 for the standard, $550 for a larger-coop option) or the deluxe package ($700) with four laying hens.

For that, the chickens, feed, coop, food and water dishes, a care guide and a copy of “Fresh Eggs Daily” by Lisa Steele will be delivered free within a 50-mile radius of Goffstown. It also includes set up and pick up at the end of the season. Rentals run from April to October or May to November and each hen should produce from 8 to 14 eggs a week.

That’s pretty much everything you need to start your own little “Green Acres” in the backyard.

Templeton, her husband, Brian, and their five children know lots about chickens. They raise notoriously beautiful Buff Orpingtons (or as backyardchickens.com calls them, “the Scarlett Johansson of the chicken world”) and reliable Rhode Island Reds, as well as turkeys, bees and pastured pork on their organic farm. They also grow vegetables and operate a CSA.

They sell frozen meat and produce at their farm stand in the barn across a quiet hilltop road from the 18th-century farmhouse with a hand water pump and a couple of picnic tables in the front yard.

During the past few years, raising backyard chickens has become a popular pastime for movie stars and suburbanites wanting a super-local source of fresh eggs.

“So many people come here, and they want to start to raise chickens at home,” said Christine. “Rent the Chicken gives us a way to help out.”

In addition to operating the farm, Christine, who studied animal science at the University New Hampshire, is project manager at a high-tech company and Brian works as a blues singer. As Christine leads a couple of visitors through the barn to show the chickens they are preparing for Rent the Chicken, Brian and two of the children muck out a part of the barn with the electric blues music of Dixie Dregs and the “cheep, cheeping” of spring chickens as background music.

Behind the barn, a couple of dozen Rhode Island Reds appear to be enjoying the sun as they await their stint as chickens for hire. There is a rental coop on a trailer ready to roll. It looks like a miniature red barn and is not too much larger than a dog house on wheels. The Templetons’ neighbor Chris Hunt makes the coops to Rent-the-Chicken specifications.

“It’s a great design,” said Christine, “They have built-in roosts and laying boxes. There is a mesh bottom to dissuade predators and they are on wheels so you can move them around, and you don’t have to clean them out. We send them off with enough organic soy-based feed for six months.”

But the service doesn’t end with the arrival of the birds.

“We’ll show you how to hold them, how to feed them and anything else you need to know,” said Christine. “We’re here for all your questions. We’re really into sharing and that means our failures as well as our successes.”

According to Rent the Chicken’s online site, “Every spring thousands of chickens are sold at local farm supply stores. Often these chickens die before they are ready to start laying eggs (16-30 weeks). Children quickly realize that chicks are not as fun as the Xbox and parents find out that chickens cannot be housebroken. The costs soon become more and more and the chickens are ‘sent to the farm.’”

The Templetons’ new venture will hopefully turn that scenario into a happy ending for everyone – the chickens as well as the children.

And this June the agricultural entrepreneurs at Kennedy Hill Farm will begin a new no muss, no fuss program called Hatch the Chicken, a five-week program in which the birds are delivered as eggs and spend three weeks in an incubator before hatching. The chooks spend the remaining two weeks in a brood box and are returned to the farm before they get big and messy. Consult hatchthechicken.ca for details.