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Want a Goat Without Commitment? How About Renting One?

Gap Mountain Goats

As far back as ancient Egypt, it was possible to rent a professional mourner to cry and moan at your funeral. They put on a dramatic show so people know you'll be missed. Even now, in parts of the world, if you fork over a little extra cash, a hired mourner will even hurl themselves into your grave. Newer fads also include renting an extra family member, professional cuddlers-for-hire, or even an entourage, complete with paparazzi and an adoring crowd of cheering fans.

But in New Hampshire, rental options lean towards the bucolic: instead of a team of human landscapers, you can hire yourself a herd of goats to clear brush.

"We do have special insurance for liability in case they escaped and ran over to a neighboring property and ate something they weren't supposed to eat, a neighbor's prized roses or something of that nature," said Natalie Reed, owner of Gap Mountain Goats in Marlboro, New Hampshire. 

Natalie says there are a lot of misconceptions about goat rentals.  

Credit Gap Mountain Goats
Gap Mountain Goats clearing brush

“They feel like we're just going to show up with a handful of goats and just kind of let them run loose. And then we'll just load them up after a couple hours and take them home. That is really not how it works," she said.

When Gap Mountain Goats transports goats to a site, they set up water buckets, shelters, and temporary electric fencing. The brush clearing takes at least one week.

The perks? Goats work all day for pennies an hour (these kids aren’t regulated by child labor laws). But the goats don’t eat everything. They actually have rather picky palates.

"When we let the goats out, they'll run out and start nibbling, tasting things, and sampling diferent things. And then they will hone in on what they like best," said Natalie.

She compares it to kids at Halloween, "bringing home their Halloween candy haul, picking out the stuff they like best and kind of leaving the rest of it for later," although a goat's dream trick-or-treat bucket would be loaded poison ivy.

Sometimes, adventures in goatscaping can go awry. Listen to "Kids These Days: Unruly Goats Graze Hell in Suburban Boise."

But goats aren't the only animal rental option. 

Credit Kim Smith Miller Photography
One of the most creative animal rental options we found: wedding llamas, complete with flower crowns and ankle garters.

Put a Bird On It

"Definitely easier than a dog, anyway. You are not married to the chickens. They don't have to be babysat or anything or watched," said Christine Templeton, owner of Templeton Family Organics in Goffstown. 

"We have two breeds that we use this year: Rhode Island Reds and the Buff Orpington.The Buff Orpingtons are known as the golden retriever of the chicken world. They follow you right into the house."

Their chickens' names include Laverne, Shirley, Agnes, Goldilocks, Mrs. Cluckson, and Chickaletta, and they don't mind being held.

"My youngest, she scoops them all up. She'll have like eight of them," said Christine. "They love to be close together. They'll kind of pile up in the corner."

Credit Jacqui Helbert
A historic building at the Templeton's farm

The farm is located on the historic farmstead of Kennedy Hill Farm, founded in 1790.

"We've got piles of wood that need to be split. We've got beehives in the back and old, old apple trees and pear trees, raspberry bushes, and a little brook running through. It's beautiful," said Christine. 

Christine's husband Brian says Christine is the CEO and president, and describes himself as the chief farmhand at Templeton Family Organics. This is their first year as a Rent-the-Chicken program affiliate. The hens are rented out by families, schools, adult daycares, churches, and nursing homes.

Credit Templeton family
Chicken coop slash palace at the Templeton Family Organic Farm

"We ended up learning about rent-the-chicken last fall and I just thought, what a hoot!" said Christine. "People have lost sight of their food source. They don't touch or feel their food source anymore."

It is hard for Christine and Brian to nail down exactly how many chickens they have, but it's somewhere between 1500 and 1700 birds, or "something like that," according to Brian.

They're separated into rental chickens or meat chickens. Rental chickens provide yard-to-table eggs, around a dozen a week, but they’re more than a source of breakfast ingredients. 

"We don't really have pet chickens, but for these other people from rent-the-chicken, they are pets. A good friend of ours was our first delivery. She got four hens. These hens follow her all around now, they walk into her house sometimes," said Brian.

When you rent a flock, the girls arrive in their own pimped-out coops. 

"They are predator-proof and they’re very attractive. They look like mini-barns. They’re adorable," said Christine. The girls also come with food, water, treats, and an owner's manual. The Templetons even share their cell number with customers in case questions come up -- and they often do.

"Lots and lots of questions, all good ones," said Christine. "It's usually just like, 'my hen is doing something...rolling around in the dirt are they okay?' Yes, that’s a natural reaction. They love to dust themselves. It helps them keep parasites away."

"Everyone has been so positive about it because it just brings back memories. Or it inspires something new to do... other than a screen," sad Christine.

When fall arrives and weather turns cold, the Templetons bring the rentals back to the farm. But if someone can't bear to part with their brood, there's always the option to adopt them and give them a forever home.

Jacqui Fulton is, in her own words, "podcast and public radio’s biggest fan.” She even built a recording studio in her closet.

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