While there may not yet be a chicken in every yard, raising chickens in our suburban and urban spaces is a lot more common these days. Whether it's the allure of ultrafresh eggs or the spirit of going ultralocal, coops are springing up in unexpected locations. A USDA study of four U.S. cities found that fewer than one percent of households had chickens, but nearly four percent of households without chickens planned to have them within five years. My family and I were eager to join this flock.

Photo by Meredith

Although keeping a couple of backyard hens is now legal in my city, I worried not only about caring for them in winter, but also about my neighbors not loving the idea.

The solution: Rent-A-Chicken, one of several such companies across the country. In spring, their farmers deliver laying hens, a coop, food, and supplies. Then they cart them all back away in late fall. True, I paid $350 for two hens for six months, and there are cheaper ways to get organic eggs. But this way you get to try urban (or suburban) farming while reassuring neighbors that the animals are just visiting.

Our visitors were two hens—a Buff Orpington named Henrietta and an Easter Egger named Peep, who arrived via pickup truck with Julie, our Rent-A-Chicken farmer. She set up the coop and gave us the care lowdown: Supply daily food and water. Keep the nesting boxes full of clean straw. Every day or so, move the coop (wheels are built in) to fresh grass and then rake up droppings. And call anytime with questions.

Henrietta and Peep soon made themselves at home, sampling the local bugs. They were pleasant company as they cooed and strutted around their coop, and I found their unhurried rhythms deeply relaxing. We liked feeding them kitchen scraps. My flower beds loved the manure, and the neighbors were enthusiastic. Opening the nesting box to find the day's haul (usually one delicious egg per hen) never lost its thrill.

Sure, there were downsides. The chickens dug some holes in the lawn, and although they didn't attract vermin, they did attract flies, which we kept in check with fly traps. Small inconveniences. In the fall, I was very wistful to see them go. But happily these girls can come back next spring! For more information, visit rent-a-chicken.net. —JenKingLindley

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