Constable: Looking for fresh eggs? Get into chicken rentals
The Facebook page of Kellie Burke of Wauconda features three little words not usually seen in the same sentence: Urban Chicken Rentals.
"Bring the eggsperience home," says Burke, who admits that she's still playing around with that slogan, as well as her promise to give Urban Chicken Rentals' customers her eggspertise.
"I've had chickens for several years at home," says Burke, who lives on a plot of land near Wauconda. "I love my chickens, and I love my eggs. The chickens are superfun."
Burke's upbeat fowl mood extends to her dogs and horses and an animal-loving attitude that she's expressed since she was a little girl in a Wheeling apartment,
"My dad always said my first words were, 'I want a pony,'" says Burke. She went on to study animal sciences at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, and now runs the Legend + White Animal Health Corp. in Lincolnshire, which provides feed, other products and a variety of services to private and government agencies that deal with animals.
Burke's dogs, a schnauzer named Quigley and a giant schnauzer named Luvey Rose, get along fine with her chickens. So do her horses, Sake and Neigh/Kid. The latter's unusual name allows Burke the pleasure of telling people that she "rides Neigh/Kid through the forest preserves."
With local interest in healthy eating and organic foods, many communities have implemented zoning changes that allow residents to raise chickens.
"It's becoming more and more popular. It's not just a trend," Burke says. "People are changing their lifestyles and taking control over their food."
She launched her Urban Chicken Rentals business to make it easier for suburbanites to get the experience (and the fresh eggs) without having to make a commitment. Starting at about $110 a month, a customer can rent a specially designed, portable chicken coop, a couple of egg-laying hens, feed and other supplies.
"I have small, adorable little coops," says Burke, explaining how the tasteful wooden structures are on wheels and easy to move by hand. In her business, the chickens come before the eggs.
"Personally, I had no interest in chickens. I'm not a bird fan," says Dr. Julie Gilbertson of Riverwoods, who rented three hens last fall to appease her daughter, 11-year-old Sarah Goodman. "My daughter wants to be a zookeeper."
They shared the coop rental with neighbors who also had daughters. It didn't take long for the chickens to win over Gilbertson.
"We were pleasantly surprised at how nice chickens are," Gilbertson says. "They're cute and fun."
Burke says she hears that all the time from surprised customers who fear that the chickens will be noisy and dirty. At their loudest, hens cluck at a volume similar to human conversation, Burke says. Her microflocks don't include roosters, which are renowned for early morning crowing. As for the mess, Burke notes that it would take 10 chickens to equal the droppings of one 40-pound dog. The coops have no floors and rest on the ground, so "you can change their location and fertilize the grass," Burke says.
But at the heart of most chicken rentals are the eggs. The Barred Rock, Rhode Island Red and New Hampshire breeds Burke rents don't lay white eggs. Many are shades of brown. Hens known as Easter Eggers lay eggs with blue, green or pink shades. "Each hen, when she lays an egg, that's her color," says Burke, adding that most hens deliver an egg daily or every other day for about five years and often are productive for a decade.
"All the neighbor kids would come over and hold the chickens," Gilbertson says. "The eggs were a plus."
Just as homegrown fresh tomatoes taste better than store-bought varieties, fresh eggs from the roost taste better, Burke says.
"You can make delicious scrambled eggs without adding anything to them," she says. "There's nothing like getting fresh protein."
Feed is included in the rental, but chickens aren't picky eaters.
"Everything you'd normally throw away, instead of tossing it in your garbage, you can throw it to your hens. They're like little piranhas," Burke says. "They eat weeds, table scraps, even egg shells. And they'll be eating all the bugs, thank you."
The coops are latched at night to keep the hens safe from coyotes, foxes, neighborhood pets and birds of prey.
"As soon as the sun goes down, they go in their coop and are ready for bed," Gilbertson says.
"Chickens are super easy to take care of. I feed and water them once a day and collect eggs once a day," says Burke, who says her chickens never fail to amuse her. "Mine will come when I whistle a certain whistle. It's comical."