Cowtown might become known as Chicken Town if Beverly Thomas keeps working at her current pace. Her Weatherford-based business, 2 Buck Cluck, is gaining in popularity after a slow start, and most of her new customers live in Fort Worth’s most desirable neighborhoods.
The chicken rental biz is booming.
Thomas installs coops and rents out adult chickens that are ready to lay eggs. She also provides food and water dishes and enough chicken feed and bedding to last for 90 days. At the end of that period, customers can continue renting the chickens or else purchase them and the coops outright. Or, if owning chickens wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, they simply call Thomas to come fetch the chickens and the coop –– no harm, no fowl.
“They’ve been doing this up north for a couple of years, and I thought, well, gee, nobody down here is doing it,” Thomas said.
Chicken rental businesses have been popping up around the country, from Michigan to Maryland. Thomas is betting on the continued trend of families seeking more nutritional and natural foods.
She has been raising chickens and selling eggs for years and also grows vegetables and fruits at her 35-acre Cold Springs Farm. She sells the produce and eggs through community-supported agriculture memberships — customers share in the upfront costs of growing the food, then reap the benefits through weekly deliveries of fresh and organic produce at harvest times.
Thomas, 60, worked in the agricultural chemistry industry in the 1970s and ’80s researching pesticides and propagating plants before establishing an organic garden center in Memphis in the 1980s.
“Today’s pesticides all have their roots in organic pesticides, which were used for hundreds of years,” she said. “I found [organic remedies] much more interesting and for the most part, quite a bit more safe for myself as well as the environment, and so I steadily moved toward organic practices.”
Originally from Mississippi, Thomas moved to Weatherford in the early 1990s for a fresh start after a death in the family. She focused on organic farming, with its emphasis on natural fertilizers, organic pesticides, and soil management. Renting hens seemed like a fun offshoot and fell in line with the cultural movement toward organic foods.
Consumers spent more than $35 billion on organic foods last year, according to a recent survey from the Organic Trade Association. Organic food sales have increased by at least 10 percent a year since 2010, the survey showed.
Thomas simplifies the process of raising hens, making it seem like a breeze to collect farm-fresh eggs every day. A Weatherford man makes chicken-coop kits that are easy for Thomas to load into her pickup truck. She assembles them with little more than a handful of screws and a power drill. The rental chickens travel in small boxes. Give them a few days to become accustomed to their new surroundings, and they’ll each be laying an egg a day in no time, she said.
“It’s hard to buy a laying chicken,” Thomas said. “Most people raise them from chicks. You lose about 50 percent of the chicks. If they live, you have a minimum of five months before they start laying. It’s a long-term proposition. Or you can just rent them and have eggs the next week.”
More and more urban dwellers want their eggs dropped daily and organically by goofy little critters that cluck and strut around in the yard while pecking at insects, grass, pebbles, and whatever else they can squeeze down their gullets. Thomas recently brought coops and birds to two houses in the Monticello neighborhood, and she’s installing coops at three more this week. She’s also got orders from a homeowner who lives near Texas Christian University and another in Southlake.
Old-growth trees and lush landscaping make established neighborhoods a great place for chickens. They like shade, roosts, and vegetation in which to scratch for bugs and hide from predators.
On a recent afternoon, Thomas assembled a multi-level coop made from solid wood and wire, built to last, about six feet long and four feet tall. “Monticello is a great location for rental chickens,” she said. “It has such a park feel, a farm feel right in the middle of town.”
Suzanne, the homeowner, asked to be identified only by her first name, perhaps to foil chicken thieves. She appreciated that the coop looked nice and didn’t take up much room in the yard. Her daughter just wanted to see the hens.
“It’s chicken time!” said Lola, who’s eager to become Fort Worth’s newest poultry renter.
Her mom stumbled across 2 Buck Cluck on the internet.
“Lola and I were talking about how we’d love to have chickens for the eggs and the experience,” Suzanne said. “Every time I did research on it there was so much involved with getting the baby chicks and building the coops. Beverly comes out and looks at the space and makes sure the chickens are going to be fine and that they’re not going to get hurt or eaten.”
Fort Worth residents have complained to the city in the past about neighbors who raise chickens, but most of the problems stem from the noise made by roosters crowing. Thomas doesn’t rent out roosters. Hens typically cluck quietly.
Lola had already picked out names for her two new pets — Camilla and Hermione. She’ll be responsible for feeding and watering them each day and for letting them out to range in the backyard. The chickens return to their coops without prodding just before dark, Thomas said.
Lola waited with hands clasped in front of her face as Thomas opened a box and pulled out Hermione, a crested Polish chicken with a distinctive mop of feathers. Hermione, named after a Harry Potter character, appeared unfazed by all the attention. Thomas showed Lola how to hold the animal by its feet while keeping it snuggled against her chest.
“Do you like that?” Thomas asked.
“Yes, I do,” Lola said “I love their little feathers.”
Thomas likes to pair up hens with different personalities, so for the second hen she chose an araucana, a wilder breed that lays blue eggs. Camilla squirmed and squawked when Thomas pulled her out of the box.
That intimidated Lola at first, but soon she was cradling the bird like a baby, and Camilla was looking ready for a nap. Thomas put a fake egg in the coop so the hens would know to lay eggs there.
“How many eggs will we get every day?” Lola said.
“You’ll get two because you have two chickens,” Thomas said.
Thomas put the hens in the coop, where Hermione promptly pooped.
“Welcome to the ’hood,” Suzanne said.
Thomas showed her how to slide a board from the coop to periodically clean away the soiled bedding. She told Suzanne that the poop makes good fertilizer for flowerbeds.
Connie Dees lives nearby; she too rents chickens from Thomas. After about six weeks of hen-wrangling, Dees is still enthusiastic.
“My neighbors are all just fascinated,” she said. “The hens are quiet. If they were noisy it might be an issue, but we haven’t had any negative feedback.
“It’s been a lot of fun. They are highly entertaining,” she said. They have a lot of personality. My new relaxation is that I have a lawn chair out back, and I go read a book and talk to the chickens and get out of my crazy work mode.”
Predators can be a problem — mostly raccoons, possums, and hawks. However, a sturdy coop will protect the chickens while they’re locked up, and coons and possums only come out at night after the chickens are tucked away.
“We’ve seen falcons around here,” Dees said. “I feed birds in the backyard. I was a little worried.”
She lets her hens roam freely during the day, although they run to the coop if they sense danger. So far neither has come to any harm. Thomas replaces chickens that die or get killed as long as no negligence was involved.
“They put themselves to bed,” Dees said. “About 7:30 they’re already on their roost, and I shut the cage. They’re incredibly low maintenance.”
She has noticed fewer insects around her house this summer. And she’s enjoyed the eggs and the companionship.
“I’m fascinated by the personalities of the chickens,” Dees said. “My big ginger chicken is bossy and pushy and dominant. My little rock star [crested] chicken is more curious. If I’m doing something new, she’s right up there, going ‘Hey, what are you doing? What’s happening?’ ”
Dees and Suzanne both appreciated Thomas’ attention to detail.
“She is delightful to work with,” Suzanne said. “She’s easy to talk to, and she explains everything and makes it easy and fun.”