Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

June 9, 2013

Customers cluck for Rent-A-Chicken business

TRAVERSE CITY — It's not out of the ordinary to rent things such as textbooks, power tools and designer dresses.

But a chicken?

Leslie Suitor's Rent-A-Chicken business out of Leelanau County makes it possible.

Suitor and her husband, Mark, loan hens from spring until the warm weather fades, as late as Thanksgiving. They drop off two hens, a coop and feeding materials for $250. First-time chicken owners are welcome: The Suitors set up the coop and answer questions on chicken raising 101.

"They’re so easy to keep I don’t understand why everybody wouldn’t have chickens," Suitor said. "You get the payoff every day they lay eggs. It’s like a Christmas present every day."

Suitor clucked over the business idea after Traverse City officials in 2009 amended an ordinance to allow citizens to keep up to four chickens, but no roosters, per parcel. Rent-A-Chicken took flight in 2010.

Rent-A-Chicken was the first of its kind in the country, Suitor said. Similar businesses have hatched in Alabama, Maryland and Massachusetts.

A recent interview with a Chicago radio station piqued listeners' interest. Requests to deliver chickens to Illinois have Suitor considering recruiting out-of-state farmers to be satellites for the business. Locally, Rent-A-Chicken rents to 12-15 people a year.

"We’re not going to be huge because I don’t want it to be like a factory, like a production. We only have so much room to keep them comfortable and have a good life," she said.

She wanted to give chicken keeper wannabes a solid starting point because raising chicks is a delicate operation. Suitor's always on call to answer renters' emergency questions, such as how to break a broody hen.

"A lot of people don't know the first thing about chickens," said Suitor, who grew up around the birds.

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