Local business helps suburbanites get a taste of a fowl hobby
by Peggy McEwan
The obvious answer in the age-old chicken and egg question is that the chicken came first.
At least that’s how it works with RentACoop, a new business for those who would like to peck lightly at chicken ownership. They can rent the coop and all the fixins: hens, bedding, organic food, water bottle, even access to a 24-hour chicken information hotline.
The idea behind RentACoop was to let people try backyard chickens before they invest, said Diana Samata, 24, of Bethesda. She and Tyler Phillips, 26, of Potomac, run the company and work the hotline for customers with questions or concerns.
“Initially, it was a ‘try before you buy’ thing, but it’s become an educational thing,” Samata said. “A lot of kids in the city haven’t seen a chick before, so giving them this experience for four weeks is so fun.”
Phillips said the business was his mother’s idea.
“I was building coops and selling them on Craigslist,” Phillips said. “She suggested I rent them.”
The idea turned out to be a good one.
Phillips and Samata started the business in March 2012. As of Aug. 14, they had rented out 160 coops and sold about 60.
Often, the chickens become family pets, and renters become buyers.
Laura Byer of Potomac has been a happy customer for about a year, she said.
“As pets, they are much more rewarding than I anticipated,” she said. “They are funny. We give them grapes to get them back in the cage, so when I come out, they come right to me to get the grapes.”
Byer said her daughter Lucy, 10, who has a friend with chickens, spearheaded the campaign to get the chickens in her family. Since Byer was skeptical, renting was the perfect solution.
“We started by renting, then we purchased,” she said. “The experience exceeded our expectations. [Phillips] is phenomenal. He even tried to help us acclimate our dog to the chickens, but unfortunately that did not work, so the chickens can’t be out when the dog is.”
Chickens should be allowed an hour or so of free range time every day, Samata said. Other than that, they are fine in their coop.
Phillips became somewhat of a henhouse master designer before he came up with the chicken coop the company now provides.
Designed to hold up to four hens, the coop is a completely covered split level. There’s a lower section where the chickens can peck the ground in their search for bugs and whatever else they find to eat. A ramp goes up to a space for roosting and laying eggs, with a second space below it where the hens can be on the ground in a confined space.
The bottom is all wire, so the hens always are enclosed.
“The coop design was trial and error,” he said. “I got three designs online, built each one and took the best parts from each. I was looking for safety for kids and parents, comfortable for the chickens and predator proof.”
At 6 feet long and just over 3 feet wide, the coops fit into the back of a minivan with the seats removed, for easy delivery and pickup. Coops have two wheels on the back so they can be easily moved to provide fresh pecking space for the hens.
The coops rent, fully loaded, for $185 for the first four weeks, with an extra charge of $1 per mile round-trip delivery fee. Rent is $125 per four weeks after the initial period, not including food.
A coop sells for $495.
Though she has long dreamed of having backyard chickens, Betsy Newman of Gaithersburg rented from RentACoop this month to see if her dream was realistic.
“This is a perfect opportunity to try it because the risks are minimal,” she said. “It’s affordable and you can have a trial period.”
So far, she said, she and her husband are in the honeymoon phase of chicken ownership. Her husband was concerned that the hens would be smelly, or loud and noisy.
“They are neither if you clean the coop weekly,” she said. “We’re happy; they’re happy.”
Newman said the hens are fun to watch, but the enjoyment goes beyond that.
“I believe chickens represent the sense of sustainability and connecting with the process of animals providing for us,” she said. “It’s about growing your self confidence; can I really do this? I know I can take care of indoor pets, but can I take care of them and give them a quality of life?”
And the eggs, which come after the chickens, are delicious, Byer said.