Everyone loves a summer chicken. But come February, when you’re schlepping food and water across the snowy yard, getting your PJs wet, cursing your kids who promised to help, and not getting any eggs for your trouble, the romance of the backyard chicken may start to wane.
Enter Rent-a-Chicken. Leslie Suitor started the company in Traverse City, Michigan as a way to spare you from cold weather trauma. “We get hellacious winters up here,” she said. “Who wants to slog through snowdrifts to get to your coop?”
Suitor’s operation is part of a mini-wave of chicken rentals, companies that soften the risk in chicken-rearing. Australia has been renting chickens for years (Rent-a-Chook was the first), but the trend is just catching on here. Companies like Coop and Caboodle in Alabama, Lands Sake in Massachusetts, and Rent a Coop in Maryland offer some variation on the model.
“For your first chicken, you don’t want anything flighty, flaky, or mean.”
For many customers, it’s a test run. Becky Kalajian, a stay-at-home mom in Traverse City, loved the idea of raising chickens. At least in theory. “I’m a total foodie, and I really wanted to use my own eggs,” she said. “But actually owning chickens? Terrifying.”
Kalajian rented two of Suitor’s chickens and became a “total chicken nerd” within months. She now owns two coops, spends hours on chicken forums and just bought an order of chicks.
The standard rental is two hens and a moveable coop, but prices and timeframes vary. At Lands Sake, $100 buys you two weeks. Rent a Coop is $160 per month. And Rent-a-Chicken charges $250 for a whole season (roughly between “when the forsythias start to bloom” and sometime after Labor Day).
Rent a Coop founder Tyler Phillips is a recent business school graduate. Phillips’ hens come with all-organic feed; cute coops hand-painted by his girlfriend Diana; and Golden Comet hens, a breed that keeps laying through the cold months. Soon, Phillips will stock the top five breeds from the Backyard Chickens forum. “I get requests from people all the time, like ‘Get me the kind with the feather sticking right out of its head’ or ‘I want blue and green eggs,'” he said. “Golden Comets are great, but you have to give people what they want.”
(For ideas on what chicken you want, check out Modern Farmer’s handy guide.)
At first, Suitor only rented out Buff Orpingtons and Black Australorps. “I chose gentle, docile heritage breeds that take confinement well,” she said. “For your first chicken, you don’t want anything flighty, flaky, or mean.” Responding to customer demand, Suitor is now renting out Ameraucanas; they lay blue eggs.
Fresh eggs are the obvious draw, but some renters also learn what good pets chickens can be. Laura Byer of Potomac, MD, said her rented chickens were hilarious. “They follow you around, and come running if you have grapes,” she said. “They all have these funny little personalities!”