How did the chicken cross the province? It took a car with Harry Stoddart.
We understand that isn’t a great joke (although, let’s be honest, the original is also lacking). Harry Stoddart is an ex-industrial farmer turned champion for sustainable and humanely raised food. He declares, “Bringing people closer to their food is always a positive, from my perspective.” You could always visit the Stoddart Farm and frolic with happy animals. Or, you could rent one of his chickens.
Now that Blockbuster has gone under, we have to find new things to rent in the city. In the current age of enlightened conscious eating, we want to have our eggs and eat them too. Jenn Tompkins, aka, “Homestead” Jenn of Rent The Chicken joined our conversation with her Canadian affiliate Harry. Toronto readers, tread cautiously. You may have a coop in your backyard in no time.
As far as we knew, we weren’t allowed to own chickens in Toronto!
Harry: There is still a bylaw prohibiting most chickens and livestock within most town limits. That’s not to say there are not thousands of chickens within the city of Toronto, discreetly tucked here and there.
Jenn: There are a lot of outlaw chicken renegades!
You guys are the renegades! How do we make sure we don’t get in trouble?
Jenn: We recommend people talk to their neighbours. The only way someone gets in trouble is if someone has reported them. There aren’t officers around looking for chickens. If people talk to their neighbour, we recommend that they talk to them about noise, odours and the attraction of other unwanted animals.
Our coops are portable, which helps to decrease the odours, because there is not a pile-up of droppings over time. As far as noise is concerned, roosters make a whole lot of racket, but hens do not. They may cause noise if they are laying an egg or they feel threatened.
We would probably make noise too if we were laying an egg.
Jenn: The noise of hens is very limited. Some people find it therapeutic. As far as the attraction of unwanted animals, we recommend that our renters keep the bulk of the feed in a container with a lid. That keeps the unwanted critters at bay.
How did you get on board, Harry?
Harry: There is so much interest in chickens in suburbia, yet people wonder “What do we do during the winter months?” or “What do we do if it’s not for us?” We are seeing some chickens at the local humane societies. I had this idea percolating and I found Jenn. We are giving someone a chance to try out low-risk chicken ownership. If they decide it is not for them, the hen is returned to the farm. There is web support and phone support seven days a week.
We wonder too, what do we do in the cold winter months?
Jenn: It is not a good idea to have the chickens in the winter. You can rent them multiple years in a row and then we house them for the colder months.
Are the part-time owners finding it easier or more difficult than they expected?
Jenn: We make it pretty darn easy! We provide the coop, the feed, instructions, a book about raising backyard chickens and full support. An eighth of an acre is more than enough. The coops are a good size for the hens and for the renters.
Can chickens be happy in a coop?
Harry: The coop is enough space for them to get a full wing spread stretch. They can chew on the grass and get their beaks into some dirt. If no one is around, you can open up one side and the chickens can range around the yard. We don’t recommend leaving them out unsupervised. Kind of like small children. That’s when things happen to chickens.
So if we can handle children part-time, we can handle chickens.
Harry: You can also go through experience of hatching chicks. We will pick them up when they are about two weeks old. From the tenth day, you can see the embryo developing in the egg. It comes with a beautiful book that explains the process at a level that children can interact with. The miracle of chicks hatching is something that still gets me even though I am a few years past my childhood.
And it is possible to meet those chicks again when they become our future chicken housemates.
Harry: There is one caution about owning chickens: once you have had an egg fresh from a chicken, you are spoiled forever going back to grocery store eggs. The fresh egg has a more viscous white. It doesn’t run all over a frying pan. Everything just holds together. With the chicken’s access to greens and grass and bugs, the yolks will be a richer, deep yellow to orange and eggier in flavour. You definitely know that you are eating an egg.
We spoke to Harry and Jenn on a statutory holiday. They both joked, “chickens don’t really know about stat holidays.” Talk about tough bosses.