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Freeport-area business rents hens by the pair

| Wednesday, June 11, 2014, 1:06 a.m.

When Phil and Jenn Tompkins decided they wanted a non-traditional way to bring in income, they looked at their small flock of chickens and hatched a plan.

“We knew people who wanted chickens but didn't know what you needed to do to raise them,” Jenn said. “We had chickens. It was then that Rent The Chicken was born.”

The premise behind Rent The Chicken is exactly as the name implies. You rent chickens and everything necessary to take care of the egg-producing fowl.

“We include a coop, feed dish, heated water dish, 100 pound of chicken feed and two egg-laying hens,” Phil said. “Renting is an open doorway. If they decide they don't want to do this, they can always chicken out.”

The A-frame coops were designed and built by the couple at their home in Clinton near Freeport. The small coops were built to be easily moved around a yard and to protect the hens from predators.

Customers rent the chickens from as early as June to November — a prime egg-laying season. When the winter winds start to blow, the Tompkins pick up the chickens and take care of them through the cold weather. They allow customers to adopt the birds if they happen to become attached to them during the rental period.

Rental fees are $350 for six months, and birds that die for any reason other than neglect are replaced. The couple said the pair of hens will produce from eight to 14 eggs a week.

The couple has rented out nearly 60 coops after projecting to do only about 15 in their first year of business. They believe a lot of the early success is due to the trend of people becoming more aware about what they eat and additives that can be found in commercially raised food.

“People are asking, ‘What am I eating?' ‘Is my food healthy?' They are turning to people like us,” Phil said. “My grandmother lived on a farm. My mom was on that farm until she left high school. I was raised in the city. There's a generation that missed that ‘farm to table' life. People want to get back to these roots.”

The couple said they have had inquiries for rentals from as far away as Texas, Maine, Washington and Florida. But because they personally drop off their chickens to customers, they have limited their delivery area. The farthest they have traveled has been Philadelphia, and they have one delivery planned for New Jersey.

They think the instant gratification of having chickens that lay eggs immediately has been a big selling point for their business.

“We live in a society that likes things right away,” Phil said. “If you buy peeps at a store, you have to wait six months until they start laying eggs.”

But it's more than just those freshly laid eggs that are winning customers over. The chickens themselves are causing families to flock to the Tompkins website.

“We have a chicken cam in our backyard for our website,” Phil said.

The live-camera feed, which gives potential customers a birds-eye view of the poultry, has won more than one customer over, they said. And when customers see their chickens in person?

“We brought out the chickens, and they got all excited,” Phil said about one of their deliveries. “They were shouting, ‘Wow, there's the chickens!' They were adult, and they acted like kids.”

Rent The Chicken offers five breeds of hens, all known for their egg-producing capabilities and heartiness, but some customers choose their chickens based on unusual criteria.

“Someone in Pittsburgh told us what kind they wanted — a Golden Buff and a Black Australorp. They wanted a golden one and a black one to represent the Steelers,” Jenn said.

Kathleen Edwards is a freelance reporter.

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