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November 04, 2013

Business Helps Suburbanites Try Out Chicken Ownership

by June Soh

As the interest in organic and locally-produced food has increased, raising chickens in the backyard has been gaining popularity among American city dwellers. But poultry farming is not right for everyone. A young entrepreneur outside Washington helps customers find out if it's a good fit for them before they invest in chicken ownership. The business seems to be poised for a bright future.

Collecting eggs is a daily pleasure for the Hurst family.

The family started to raise chickens in their suburban Maryland backyard three weeks ago.

“We have been wanting to try having backyard chickens for a couple of years now.  And really just didn’t have the time to build my own coop and look out where to buy chickens.  And then we stumbled upon Rent a Coop," said Naomi Hurst.

Rent a Coop is a chicken rental business Tyler Phillips started 18 months ago with a partner.

"It comes with a mobile coop on wheels, two egg laying hens, feed, bedding, water bowl, feeding bowl, and our 24-hour chicken hotline," he said. "You can call with any questions. The price is 185 [dollars] for four weeks."

After the four weeks, customers can extend the rental, return it or purchase the whole set-up.

“We average about 12 to 15 chicken coop rentals per month.  And since last year we’ve sold about 75 chicken coops with hens, so we’ve sold about 200 hens," said said Phillips.

Phillips designs and builds the coops, and makes them eco-friendly.

“We always try to have as many recycled materials as possible. And I want the coops to be safe for kids, number one.  I want the chickens to be comfortable and they have access to the grass while being inside the coop.  I want it to be easily movable, light weight," he said.

Phillips says his chicken and coop rental business came from his love of animals, growing up on his parents’ farm in the Washington suburbs.  

The Hursts hope their backyard farm teaches their daughter compassion and responsibility, and awareness of where food comes from.

“I don’t think we’ve ever thanked where food comes from.  But whenever we pick up the eggs we always say, 'thank you, ladies.'  That’s really something that it is hard to teach other than having an animal in your backyard that delivers food to you.  So it’s been a great learning opportunity for my daughter too," said Naomi Hurst.

Eating fresh, organic eggs every day is another benefit, Hurst says, and the chickens have become family pets.

"Their names are, what are their names? Hillary, Lady Katy and Henrietta," she said. "We have had a lot of fun with them.  The chickens have been very easy. “We are going to keep these ladies absolutely." .

Cities have different regulations for backyard livestock; some require large yards, or neighbors' agreement, others limit the number of chickens or prohibit them altogether. Phillips expects that to change as interest in small poultry flocks grows.

"I see cities around the D.C. area changing laws almost monthly and different cities will change the law to being pro-chicken. That is happening all around the United States," he said.

Phillips believes that there will be chicken rental businesses in most U.S. cities within five years.