Local franchise brings rental fowl to Vermont

There are stores and online retailers for renting almost anything these days: DVDs, tuxes, tents and even textbooks for college courses. Now, chickens have been added to that list.

Colchester resident Jillian Turner is making it possible for people in northwestern Vermont to try out taking care of chickens and collecting fresh eggs every morning without the long-term commitment of ownership by renting them instead.

Turner started working in December for Rent the Chicken, a Pennsylvania-based company that has over 60 franchises across the U.S. and Canada. She said she provides the chickens, coop, feed and other equipment to customers and Rent the Chicken owners, Phil and Jenn Tompkins, take care of customer service and web design.

Customers can choose to rent two or four chickens for the warmer months from May to October. Turner said two chickens will produce between eight and 14 eggs a week, and double that for four.

Turner said she delivers the chickens and all necessary equipment to customers up to 50 miles away for free: after that, it’s a dollar per mile. If renters fall in love with their chickens, there’s an option to buy them from the company, either with or without the coop.

Turner and her boyfriend, Sy Reaves, have already started building coops for potential customers, with a design they created themselves. The coops are small, light and mobile: she said even elderly folks or older children shouldn’t have a problem moving it around.

While the chickens don’t need a lot of space, they do need fresh grass every day, Turner said, which is why the coops are on wheels. She said customers can even let their chickens free range if they keep a close eye on them.

“Let the chickens out of their coop in the afternoon, sit down and have a glass of wine and watch them run around,” Turner suggested. “It’s actually really fun; we call it ‘chicken T.V.’”

Turner said she would recommend renting chickens to people who aren’t sure how to get started, or don’t know if it’s something they can do long term yet.

“It’s kinda neat for people who are not sure if they really want to commit, especially this time of year, it’s really hard,” she said, explaining that keeping chickens in the winter time is more difficult with snow covering the ground. “And [if] they don’t really know a whole lot about having chickens and kind of just want to ease into it, it’s a really good way to do that.”

She said it’s also convenient for people who travel south for the winter, or a fun activity for kids in the summertime.

“Jenn and Phil said a lot of kids don’t even know where eggs come from,” Turner said. “They think they just go to the grocery store, pick them out of the cooler, and that’s where they come from.”

Turner said renting chickens can also provide natural pest control for customers’ yards. She said after she contracted lyme disease from a tick bite, she decided to get chickens to help with the problem.

“The dogs would come in with ticks on them, the horses had ticks on them, we had ticks on us,” she explained. “But I haven’t found a tick in my yard since the chickens have been here, which is really amazing.”

Turner said she has two customers in line for coops already, one of whom, after 15 years, convinced her husband to make the rental a birthday present. Turner hopes to have at least five customers for her first year in business, possibly bumping that number up to 10 if everything goes well.

Turner said she also wants to start offering another service from Rent the Chicken called Hatch the Chicken, where customers can watch the hatching process from egg to chick in their very own incubator. She said families with kids, schools, daycares and even senior centers are possible customers.

Turner has 26 of her own chickens, as well as eight ducks, two rabbits, two dogs, four horses and several cats, many of which are rescues. She said she’s always loved animals and horses in particular, and actually boarded her childhood horse in the barn at her current house.

While she works full time in the radiology department at the University of Vermont Medical Center, Turner said owning chickens and now participating in Rent the Chicken has been a “fun, creative outlet.” She said it’s a joy to come home from a stressful day at work to a bunch of chickens running up to her, looking for treats.

She added the chickens are friendly towards people, and that she always treats them like pets and not livestock. All of her chickens have names, she said. When the rental period ends, she said she and members of her family will take care of the chickens over the winter months:

“They’re friends, not food!” she exclaimed.

To learn more, visit rentthechicken.com.

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