So You Wanna Rent a Chicken?
Kate Fraser has always cared about bees, but she wanted to be more than just a beekeeper. Her concern for the pollinators encompasses challenges from diseases, from other insects like mites, wasps and beetles, and from human influences such as pesticides and single-crop agriculture that result in toxicity and poor nutrition. She also knows that native wild bees struggle to survive in cities with expanses of pavement and buildings, forcing bees to gardens and parks where they might be considered threatening or unwanted insects by an uneducated public.
“I conceived the idea of offering bee hive hosting to people in the city as a way to do this. When I looked online I was thrilled to find a company doing it successfully in Vancouver, and one in Seattle as well. And I realized that there were a lot of other people on Vancouver Island who also wanted to support bees, but weren’t interested in actually becoming beekeepers,” said Fraser.
She researched building bee hives and learning the latest techniques for bee maintenance and nurturing as well as protecting them. As the business developed, Kate became a bee fanatic, obsessed with the idea of talking to everyone she knew about her plan for bees.
“People would ask me how to support native bees in their area, what to plant for bee gardens, and what they could do to help. This idea grew naturally and soon I was creating a brand new business: Bees Please,” Fraser said.
Bees Please provides deliveries to folks who have a space in their yard, with or without a garden, for at least two hives and possibly four. Kate provides the bees and does all the work — the maintenance and honey gathering. Homeowners simply provide the property and pay a reasonable fee to enjoy observing the bees do their thing, receiving in exchange fresh honey – as well as the social satisfaction and goodwill of knowing they were directly contributing to the pollination of trees and gardens in the neighborhood.
While Kate was figuring out the logistics of the business, she discovered another urban farming-related enterprise – Rent the Chicken, based in Pennsylvania, established in 2013, now with 17 locations in the U.S. and seven in Canada – and decided to become an affiliate.
“I knew that renting bees and renting chickens would complement each other perfectly,” she says. “Having a few laying hens in a small coop is a growing phenomenon for city people in some areas, but raising chickens from scratch requires quite a bit of planning and forethought. I know people who’ve researched it and wondered whether it was worth it to build their own coop or buy a kit, and what about predators?”
Kate decided to offer the two rental opportunities separately as well as together. Since the optimum laying season for chickens is May to October and the birds need to be at least four months old before they begin to lay, she takes orders in advance to raise a sufficient number of chicks that are determined guaranteed layers, also a variety of breeds that lay different colored eggs (including blue!). For several months she’s been building coops and hives with her husband Mike’s assistance, and she’s ready to launch both rental opportunities in Spring 2016.
Chicken renters lease a portable coop, either two or four hens (each lays 4 to 7 eggs per week), enough standard feed to last the season (or upgrade to organic feed), food & water dishes, and a care guide, as well as support from Kate if required. The basic two-hen package is $425, while four hens are $600. At the end of October, Kate & Mike pick everything up and return it to the farm, although if you’ve become attached to your hens and want to keep them as pets, adoption is an option, they can live up to 10 years.
Bee renters can opt for either two or four hives – two for $300, four for $500 – for an entire year, and Kate visits regularly and does all the work. For those who might balk at the price, Kate notes that “the rental fee doesn’t even cover the cost of a family of bees. And bees require a lot more attention than chickens. Quality of service is our top priority, and proper bee hive maintenance is labor-intensive. And we replace the bees in each hive in the Spring.”
In the cold of Canadian winter when plants are dormant, the bees’ job is to take care of the queen by feeding her honey and keeping the hive warm by fluttering their wings; the beekeeper’s job is to make sure the hives have enough honey to feed all the bees in order to make it through the winter.
Folks wanting to rent hives would be wise to talk to their neighbors first, to prepare them and explain that honey bees are not at all aggressive, and normally quite safe. Most reluctant neighbors are eventually won over when they observe the pollinators come into their own yard, and especially if they receive a gift of honey from the hive. Meanwhile, the chickens eat kitchen scraps and fertilize the garden & lawn as they nibble weeds and insects. It’s all great education for children, and Kate’s already talking to schools about providing information to teach bee and chicken awareness to youngsters. “Backyard chickens enable parents to teach children where their food comes from, it’s really neat to be able to go into the backyard and get your own eggs.”
Kate’s ‘ultimate package’ offers four hives and four hens for $1000. She knows she’s struck a chord with people since she already has enough orders for hives to the end of 2017 and a waiting list for 2018. Daily-fresh eggs and honey from the source — it’s a taste of farming without having to invest much or commit to it on a large scale, while enjoying healthy local food and helping foster a sustainable, sharing economy as well as boosting the local bee population to increase essential pollination.