SHORELINE — When the morning is quiet and still, Scott Markovich goes out to his backyard to feed his flock of hens. The minute he opens the back door of the coop he is greeted by his five “ladies,” all excited, cackling and ready to start their day.
“They start talking as soon as I get out there,” says the Guilford resident, laughing. “Oh, yes. They’re usually quiet in the morning…but as soon as they hear me or see me, oh ya, they start going.”
Chicken farming for the Markovich family started two years ago with three hens that came from Killingworth’s CT Rent A Hen. From April to October 2016, they raised these chickens, enjoying their companionship and the bonus of having fresh eggs every morning.
“It was really a great opportunity for us to see if we liked it and if we really wanted to do it, before having to invest a lot of money in a coop and everything else you need to do to take care of the chickens,” Markovich says.
After a month they started thinking of a permanent coop and expanding their family to include chickens. So, this past spring, John Farrugia built a coop on the Markovich property and five, 8-week-old hens moved in.
This is exactly the client that flock to Farrugia and Marisa Fabrizi’s business. Started four years ago, this unique enterprise offers hen rentals, in groups of three, to people who want to experience chicken farming.
“People get happiness out of it, there’s egg production, there’s a teaching value, there’s companionship,” says Farrugia, a former teacher.
In addition to the hens, rentals include delivery, set up and removal of a portable chicken coop, food and bedding, water and feeding containers, plus instructions on how to keep the chickens safe, happy and thriving. This also includes unlimited support.
The baby chicks come from licensed breeders from all over the country, including Iowa and Indiana. They start laying at about six months and live to a maximum of 7 years old.
“Every year we’ll have a third of our renters who will say, ‘We love these birds, they’re part of our family, we want to purchase them and we’re going to buy a coop,’ ” he says.
The farm is located on 6 acres and has about 200 hens, including Leghorns and a mix of Rhode Island Reds and New Hampshire Reds. In addition to six large coops, the business has 50 triangular coops, handmade by Farrugia, ready for delivery to area homes. Currently, there are about 40 hens onsite, with the rest roosting on property around the state.
While Farrugia is the birds’ primary caregiver, Fabrizi assists with the chickens, as well as working on the website, social media and bookkeeping. As a Connecticut licensed poultry dealer, the business must comply with state law of handling birds.
For egg lovers, this investment can yield about four to six dozen eggs a month. While hens will lay all year round, they do slow down with extreme heat, in the fall when they shed their summer feathers and grow in their winter feathers, and in the extreme winter cold.
Meadow Mills Assisted Living & Memory has been renting hens for the past two years. State law prohibits them from serving the eggs on premises, so while the employees enjoy the fresh eggs, the clients appreciate the hens.
“Many of our residents are of an age where many of them grew up on farms or grew up with chickens, at some point in their lives,” says Bill Cahalan, executive director of the Hamden facility. “It stimulates memory and been a good addition.”
The facility sits on about 6 acres and the hens have free range in the secured backyard.
“Not only do they watch them roam around the property,” he says, referring to the enjoyment the fowl provide for the clients. “The colors of the hens are very unique and it just brings out more stimulation and then when the residents are sitting outside the hens will come up to them and they’ll walk around them. It’s helping to stimulate their senses.”
Farrugia cautions that when allowing chickens to free range it is imperative that renters are with them at all times to deter predators – such as hawks and foxes. This year alone, 15 hens have been killed. Since the flocks need to be in groups of three, renters must pay for a replacement.
“It’s really hard to go and attend to a hen that’s been attacked,” Farrugia says. “It’s really difficult.”
From children to older adults, people form a bond with these animals.
“A couple weeks after having them we all fell in love with these chickens,” recalls Markovich. “I think that most people think they’re just simply birds, but they all have personalities, they learn your habits, they learn the routine of when you come outside, your shake the bag of treats, they come running.”
Farrugia, like Markovich, sees this in his morning routine.
“I come down in the morning, between six and seven, and feed them,” he says. “When I’m coming down the hill they see me, so they start to talk, they start to call out because they know I’m coming to greet them and feed them.
“It’s just really a nice grounding,” he adds. “It’s a connection to other living things and it’s a happy connection.”
For the Markovich family, there is so much joy of having the hens free range on their property and bond with them, with the added benefit of supplying them with farm fresh eggs.
“When those eggs come out, they are clean as a whistle,” Markovich says. “Sometimes if you get to the coop at the right time, they’re warm, so you know they’re very fresh. The quality of the eggs is so different from what you get in a grocery story. The color of the yolk, the fluffiness of the egg, the way they taste. Plus, we know what they’re eating because we’re the ones feeding them.”
“I’m really glad we took the leap,” he adds. “We just enjoy it so much, it’s so much fun, and, again, the best part about it is we get some really great eggs in the process.”