‘Why am I not getting paid for this?’: Calgary woman starts chicken rental company

CALGARY — Gardeners looking for a pesticide-free way to eliminate garden pests like slugs, cabbage moths, and potato beetles have a new option after a southern Alberta woman started  what she believes is the province’s first “rent-a-chicken” business aimed at urban gardeners.

 “They’ve got very keen eyesight, and they’re very, very good foragers. They’re all very communal animals. They will they’ll go after what each other has and they make a little warble when they’ve found something,” said Arielle Muriel Pagart, owner of Hooligan Hens.

“One of the biggest advantages of these guys foraging for slugs and bugs  in a garden is they can scoot around  plants the gardener can’t get at.

“Especially like a raspberry bush, where often the whole thing is a hedge. So it’s very, very difficult for us to get in there and pick slugs. It is not a problem for the chickens.”

Muriel Pagart founded Hooligan Hens this summer. She’d been using the birds for her own pest control and bragging about her success in several online gardening groups when it became clear there was a market for avian bug control.

“After the 10th person that said, ‘Hey, you know, you should bring your chickens my way, I’d even pay you for that,'” said Muriel Pagart.

“I was like, why am I not getting paid for this?”

Anila Lee Yuen was among the first to welcome the birds to her yard.  Following a wet spring in Calgary she faced a growing slug problem in her garden.  Watching the chickens rummaging through her yard puts a smile on her face.

“You can absolutely see the hens finding the slugs and eating them,” said Lee Yuen.

“It’s actually quite disgusting to watch, but it’s also satisfying because you know that they’re keeping the slug population under control.”

Lee Yuen’s yard is an explosion of flowers, herbs and vegetables, all of which she strives to keep chemical free.

“It’s just so much easier to not put chemicals in there to begin with, so I know that when I’m giving that food to my family, and to my friends, my neighbours that it’s safe to consume,” said Lee Yuen.

“For a few years now we’ve had goats coming into our city parks and natural areas to eat the weeds and keep them under control. So to me, this is just a natural extension of that.”

Hooligan Hens only rents out the chickens to work in yards that have been chemical free for at least two months.

“That’s kind of the only crowd we can cater to because these chickens, their eggs get eaten, especially by my own children,” said Muriel Pagart.

“It’s very important to them to be encouraging and including and supporting the organic and the free-range network. And so, we really can’t cater to people that are spraying pesticides in their yard.”

Hooligan Hens charges $35 per hour for the first visit from the birds, and $25 for subsequent trips. Depending on the yard, between five and seven chickens are set free to chow down on pests.

Almost immediately after founding Hooligan Hens, Muriel Pagart says her business went “clucking nuts.”

“I’ve had people contacting me from Vancouver, from Edmonton, from Lethbridge,” she said.

“I’ve have more clients than I personally can do. I will definitely be hiring somebody in the new season because we already have people booking into spring of next year.” 

Not everyone paying to bring the chickens to their homes is doing it with pest control at top of mind.

“I would have to say probably a third of my clientele are people that are renting them just for the chicken experience,” said Muriel Pagart.

“I love when people tell me that they’ve had friends or family come and they socially distance in their yard and they can get the chicken experience. I think is great. I mean, everybody needs a pick-me-up this year.”

Muriel Pagat believes all Calgary homeowners should be allowed to raise chickens in their own yards, something that is currently against the rules in Calgary.  The City of Calgary is currently conducting a review of its Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw, and is seeking online submissions. https://engage.calgary.ca/petbylaw

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