Food & DrinkThe Locavore

Elder Tree Farm Lets You Try Backyard Chickens Before You Buy

Since Athens-Clarke County’s backyard chicken ordinance passed in May, several Athens residents have been intrigued—but a bit hesitant—about buying and caring for chickens at home. That’s why Elder Tree Farm in Jackson County began offering chicken rentals. They’ve been booked ever since.

“We saw the ordinance was approved and knew people were interested but afraid to jump in and get birds,” says Matt Farfour, who runs Elder Tree Farm with his wife, Jenna Jambeck. “Why not let people borrow ours?”

For $160, people can rent two hens, a coop, watering container, feeder and 40-pound bag of feed for a month. Farfour and Jambeck drive the chickens to their new home and help establish the coop. When they’re not booked up and have more hens, they offer up to two extra hens for $20 per hen and will extend rental periods for $130 per month.

“Many of the people who have rented from us are interested in buying their own chickens now, so we’re helping them build their own setups,” Farfour says. “Some even want to buy ours, which wasn’t our original goal, but children have fallen in love with the chickens and want to keep them.”

ACC commissioners struggled to pass the ordinance for years, but it finally ended in an 8-1 vote on May 5, with a few caveats. It prohibits roosters and crowing chickens, places a limit of six chickens on each parcel of land, requires birds to stay on the owner’s property and calls for coops to be at least 20 feet from neighboring residences and 10–50 feet from property lines depending on lot size. In addition, the county manager’s office must provide information to the public about how to properly raise chickens and must create a report for the commission this time next year about how the ordinance is working.

So far, the majority of Elder Tree Farm’s renters are Athens residents, and Farfour hasn’t heard of any conflicts with neighbors. Since the couple designed the program after the ordinance was passed, they limited the coop size and hen number to meet regulations. Farfour and Jambeck made the predator-proof wire mesh coops by hand with recycled pallet wood and reclaimed outdoor paint. The coops are 7.5 feet long, 3 feet wide and 3 feet tall, with wheels and rope handles that are pushed like a wheelbarrow.

“Part of why we established Elder Tree Farm was for education,” Farfour says. “Our main goal here is to let people experience the birds and decide if they like them.”

Janah Crunk, a senior University of Georgia veterinary student, heard about the new ordinance after it passed and discussed the idea with her husband Josh. They ultimately decided not to buy chickens, because they’re moving in August, but once she heard about the Elder Tree Farm program, she filled out the application in early June and requested them “ASAP.”

“When I thought about having fresh eggs for a few weeks, it was too good of an opportunity to pass up,” she says. “They are way easier to care for than I thought.”

The Crunks kept the two hens in the coop for a week to allow them to acclimate to the new environment before letting them into the yard with their two dogs. Since then, the couple have enjoyed feeding them fruit, eating fresh eggs and learning the chickens’ personalities.

“When I talk about them at school, the concept of renting is still foreign,” Janah Crunk says. “Why rent when you can buy a chicken? Well, it’s great for a trial run.”

Kasey Stopp, an Athens veterinarian who lives on a seven-acre farm on Barnett Shoals Road, heard about the rental program through the Athens Montessori School parent listserv. After buying the farm with husband Will Tudoroff, she read books about owning chickens but was hesitant due to time and money. They started the rental program on June 8, and the hens began laying eggs on the second day.

“We’re going to buy our own chickens after this, for sure,” she says. “This has convinced us that we can do this and that we enjoy it.”

Stopp’s seven-year-old, Max, enjoys collecting eggs and watching the hens peck around in the grass. Now that they’ve become more familiar with the area, the chickens run across the yard when the family pulls into the driveway, and in the mornings, they wait in the garage for feed.

“If you’ve ever seen large chicken farms and those cages, you expect them not to do anything, so we were surprised by how social they are,” she says. “They’re not climbing in our laps, but they want to be near us and know what we’re doing.”