LASCASSAS, Tenn. (WKRN) — With the ease of rolling down the aisle at a grocery store plopping food from the checklist into the buggy or better yet, scrolling down the page of a website and clicking items to add to a cart for delivery or pickup, the knowledge of where that food comes from has been lost by many.
Phil and Jenn Tompkins have been closing that knowledge gap one chicken coop at a time while at the same time bringing an essential food source closer to the table.
“As adults, sometimes at night we sit there, and we do this on our phones right when we know we shouldn’t be on our phones,” said Phil as he made a scrolling motion with his finger.
A night like that in 2013 led he and his wife, Jenn, to eventually establishing Rent The Chicken on their homestead outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“I googled crazy business ideas,” he said.
Phil said he ran across a website for a business outside Birmingham, Alabama, that was renting out chickens.
“I said, ‘Hey Hun, what do you think? We’ve got some chickens; do you want to rent them out?’”
The first year of business was a soft launch, and in 2014, they rented out 54 coops with two chickens.
“Oh, chickens everywhere!” Phil said. “We’ve evolved; we’ve changed; we’ve grown. Now we rent out two or four egg-laying hens.”
Another expansion began with a sparked interest from a neighbor’s teenage nephew.
“He was visiting his aunt,” Phil remembered. “He walked by our homestead and saw some chicken coops out there and talked to my wife a little bit.”
They received a phone call a little later from him asking how he could get involved.
Phil and Jenn agreed to offer sales and support for him to start his own Rent The Chicken in New Jersey.
“People were calling from all over the region wanting chickens, so we already knew there was a demand there,” said Phil. “He became our first affiliate.”
Now, almost 10 years later, Phil said their business has expanded into 24 states, Washington D.C. and even areas of Canada.
“Every year we’ve grown,” Phil said. They added an affiliate in Los Angeles in the last three months.
Another Google search brought Rent The Chicken to Middle Tennessee.
“I literally googled, ‘Crazy ways to make money on your farm,’” said RayLee Holladay.
She and her husband, Bubba, live on a farm in Lascassas. While Bubba takes care of the cows, she was looking for a way to also make money on the farm.
Rent The Chicken was the first idea to show up on her search.
“I said, ‘This has got to be a joke.’ So, I clicked on it and read a bit of information, made a phone call and signed up that day,” she said.
Six years have passed, and RayLee said she has never looked back.
“It’s so rewarding when you deliver coops, and there’s people screaming and kids crying, ‘We finally got chickens!’” she said.
Rent The Chicken offers two unique experiences for its customers – renting egg-laying hens and hatching half-a dozen chicks.
“I wish I could get the word about a little bit more, because there’s a huge interest in the city,” RayLee said. Most of her customers are from Nashville, Murfreesboro, Brentwood and Franklin.
The rental period lasts about six months from around May to October each year.
“Every time you open the egg box, it’s fun. There’s an egg in there; it’s just egg-citing,” she joked.
On average, renters collect eight to 14 eggs per week with two chickens and double that for four chickens.
When the weather gets colder, customers can choose to return the chickens or adopt them.
“It’s only a rental, so if you chicken out at anytime, we’ll pick him up. No questions asked,” she said.
Typically, families with children end up adopting the chickens, RayLee said. But many customers ask for the same chickens to be brought back over and over.
“Chickens are personal. They recognize you and love you back. They will come to you when you have their treats. They’ll let you pet them. They sound like a cat,” she explained.
The second experience Rent The Chicken offers includes hatching chicks, which provides a totally different emotional experience, according to RayLee.
“When you literally, physically get to watch those eggs start cracking open, and you see life, you have seen something be born. If you’ve never done it, you need to do it,” she encouraged. “It’ll be an experience like no other.”
The hatch program lasts about five weeks. The package includes a small incubator, seven fertile eggs and everything needed for after the hatched chicks.
“It’s great for teaching kids a little responsibility,” she said. “And this is a trial. It’s not like getting a puppy for Christmas.”
The hatch programs ends about two weeks after the hatching.
“That’s when they get a little stinky, a little funky and you’re like, ‘Well, we’re ready for these girls to go on,’” RayLee said that’s when they come back to pick them up.
Schools, daycares and senior living facilities can also sign up for Rent The Chicken.
RayLee said she will never forget visiting a local facility when one lady talking to her and asking her questions. Later, the director told her that woman had not spoken in three months.
“My demonstration, or my chicken, or whatever brought back enough memory and enough whatever it was that she needed to feel comfortable enough to have a conversation with me,” she said with tears in her eyes.
Applications are open for the 2023 season, RayLee has limited supply “so things fill up fast.”
If you’re interested in learning more about Rent The Chicken, how to sign-up or become an affiliate, then click on this link.