Kids Up North: Rent-a-Chicken in Traverse City Makes Urban Farming Child’s Play

MyNorth: How exactly does one get into the business of renting chickens?

Leslie Suitor (Mother Hen):  Well, for us, it happened like a snowball.  We live in the country and already had chickens.  When the Traverse City ordinance changed last year (allowing up to four hens per city parcel), friends started asking us a ton of questions about how to raise them.  There was a lot of interest, but people were leery too, especially about how to care for baby chicks.  We did have some friends take the plunge—and they spent a lot of money to do so—and it got me thinking.  What if we made chickens available that weren’t babies? That would eliminate a lot of the costs.  And that led to wondering if we should just rent chickens, let people check them out for the summer and see where it goes.  Before I knew it, we had a basement full of baby chicks all winter long. 

MyNorth: You’re kidding, right?

Leslie Suitor: (laughing) Nope.  We got them outside as soon as we could of course, but that’s the thing about baby chicks.  They have to be kept warm and under lights and free from drafts.  There is quite a bit more work that goes into raising a chick, which is one reason people get intimidated.  We cut out that part of the process.  Our chicks are now free range, full grown, happy hens.

MyNorth: So give us the rundown of how this all works.

Leslie Suitor: In a nutshell, you call me up and rent two chickens.  For $250, we bring you everything you need for the summer—a 4×8 coop with an attached run that can be moved around in your yard, food, a feeder, roost, nesting box and two Buff Orpington chickens—and then we return to get everything in the fall.  If you want, you can buy your hens and keep them at your house.  We also will tag them for the winter so that you can get your chickens back the next summer, if you just want to rent again. 

MyNorth:  These days, everybody wants in on the urban farming buzz.  Why is this movement so cool?

Leslie Suitor: Families are our number one customers.  Having chickens is very much a whole family experience.  I have four kids, and my 6-and-a-half year old just announced that from now on, it is his job to gather eggs in the morning.  We can come right inside and cook them. How great is that?  Children can learn about where food comes from and also, how to care for animals that provide us with food.  There are lessons in local eating and leaving minimal carbon footprints and cooking and just having fun. 

MyNorth: How hard is it to take care of two chickens compared to say, a dog or a cat?

Leslie Suitor: I tell people chickens are about as easy as goldfish. Really.  All you have to do is check their water and food (and you usually only have to refill their food once a week).  The hens we chose are a heritage breed—which means they are rare and so we are helping preserve them—and are known for their docile nature.  They are excellent with children and have fun personalities too.  That being said, chickens can easily live 10-14 years. You can’t buy chickens, decide they aren’t for you, and just drop them off at the local humane society.  We provide people the chance to get their feet wet in chicken farming without a big commitment.

MyNorth:  How many eggs will you get in a week?

Leslie Suitor:  Families can expect to gather about a dozen eggs a week.  The lid has really been blown off with this idea and we are getting orders left and right for rentals. Our hens are flying the coop—or into new coops—as fast as our builder can build them.  It’s fantastic.

MyNorth: Eggxactly.  Couldn’t resist.

Interested in renting chickens to call your own (at least through November)?  Call Leslie at 231-463-6670. Find Rent a Chicken on Facebook.

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