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Home is where the hens lay

Look before you leap into backyard chickens
By Mike Youds
July 14, 2016 4:05 A.M.

If you’re looking to buy a coop for backyard hens, don’t be chicken-hearted — go big or go home.

That timely advice comes courtesy of a Cherry Creek business ideally positioned to cater to a renaissance in rearing hens at home now that the practice is permitted in Kamloops. 

City council voted in June to allow urban hens through animal control bylaw amendments that stipulate in precise detail the number of hens, size of yards, required setbacks and so on.

Coop kits can be purchased from local retailers such as Peavey Mart in Valleyview, but the smallest units don’t meet size requirements set out in the new regulations.

“Unless you’re going to have the minimum two hens, those kits are too small,” said Ron McGivern. “The really large ones are getting close to big enough.”

In order to adapt the kits for City rules, he recommends purchasing a dog run kit and combining the two (minus the dogs, of course). 

With his wife Marie, McGivern operates Rent the Chicken, a hen rental service, part of a chain of affiliates springing up all over North America. 

When they started the business last year, the McGiverns had no way of knowing that the City would finally take the plunge on an issue that had been kicked around in Kamloops for more than a decade. 

Needless to say, they’re happy City council saw the light.

“It was wonderful,” McGivern said. “We’ve had several queries from people looking to buy hens. Unfortunately, we don’t have any for sale.”

He figure city residents are still wrapping their heads around the new rules.

“This is our first year of operation and because of the restrictive requirements, we’ve only had one customer who was a bit under the radar.”

Faculty chair of the TRU sociology and anthropology departments, McGivern and his wife have operated a small hobby farm for some years, raising lamb and chickens. Marie suggested diversifying into egg production, but the profit margins for small producers leave much to be desired. Ron was surfing the web when he spotted Rent the Chicken.

“What I like best is how the business model begins with the local. Everything is delivered local, purchased local and made local.”

The value of the business model stems from a widespread trend in the market, a renewed interest in fresh, local and homegrown food. It also has a built-in consumer incentive, since many people are hesitant to go whole-stock into backyard hens. 

Renting hens represents half the cost and one-tenth the time, McGivern said. They offer an all-inclusive package, $525 for two egg-ready hens plus a chicken tractor (mobile coop) and feed.

Urban hens are a project people will not want to entertain lightly.

“To purchase a coop and hens is a substantial investment of not only money but time,” McGivern said.

The other catch at this point is that hens for sale are in short supply in the area. It’s only a matter of time before suppliers respond to the new demand, though.

“People weren’t raising hens to sell; there was no market. There is a bit of one now.”

Of course, he sees all kinds of pluses to renting instead. For one, there’s an escape hatch for hen renters who decide it’s more than they bargained for — they can simply return the hens to Cherry Creek.

Chances are, though, people will get attached to their birds.

“Our hens have no idea what good lives they’ll have when they’re rented. They are just as much pets as a cat or dog.”

Here's some background information from the City on urban hens.

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