Don’t call these young entrepreneurs chicken

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  • Courtesy photos The Karsten family had their Rent the Chicken booth at the recent Family Day in the Park at Coeur d’Alene City Park. From left are Erick and his daughters Marlee, 11, and Macy, 13.

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    The Karsten family operates the only Rent the Chicken business in North Idaho. Front row from left are sisters Marlee, 11, and Macy, 13. In the back are parents Erick and Jan.

  • Courtesy photos The Karsten family had their Rent the Chicken booth at the recent Family Day in the Park at Coeur d’Alene City Park. From left are Erick and his daughters Marlee, 11, and Macy, 13.

  • 1

    The Karsten family operates the only Rent the Chicken business in North Idaho. Front row from left are sisters Marlee, 11, and Macy, 13. In the back are parents Erick and Jan.

By BRIAN WALKER

NIBJ Writer

These girls are just scratching the surface of their business potential.

Macy Korsten, 13, and her sister Marlee, 11, had been selling fresh eggs to friends and family for spending money.

But to ensure they weren't laying an egg on profit, they upped their game by becoming the only Rent the Chicken operation in North Idaho and eastern Washington — with guidance from their parents, Erick and Jan, of course.

"The reason I like having chickens is that you get to have a bunch of feathered friends in your backyard," Macy said. "I enjoy Rent the Chicken because I get to share that experience with other families."

The girls recently had their business on display at a booth at Coeur d’Alene’s Family Day in the Park.

"I love being part of Rent the Chicken because I love seeing the kids’ reactions and I love raising chickens," Marlee said. "I am glad it makes people happy."

The business venture supports the girls' "Car and College Fund."

"Selling eggs is not always profitable," Jan said. "You have to be careful with costs, so the best way to make money is to do it as a business and that's where Rent the Chicken came in. It was the cutest idea."

Rent the Chicken was started near Pittsburgh by Phillip and Jenn Tompkins in 2013. Since then, it has partnered with more than 45 farmers and homesteaders, including the Korsten family and their Kip and Ei (chicken and egg in Dutch, which is Erick's heritage) Farm 4 miles from the state line in Otis Orchards, Wash.

"We own the North Idaho market," Jan said. "No other Rent the Chicken affiliates can be allowed within a 50-mile radius."

The operation offers a rental service of backyard hens that gives families farm-fresh eggs daily.

Standard-sized coops, which are 25 inches wide and 4.5 feet long, come with two chickens for six months for $450.

Deluxe-sized coops (25 inches wide, 8 feet long) with two chickens are $550 and deluxe coops with four chickens are $650.

The rentals include a waterer, feeder, meal worms (dried treats worth clucking about), food for six months and a book on how to take care of chickens.

"We want to make sure (the chickens) are happy," Jan said. "When they're happy they lay eggs."

Jan said the cost covers everything that's needed to run a small-scale chicken operation.

Customers also have access to a web chat and phone line operated by Rent the Chicken headquarters in case they have questions.

"They really know what they are doing and it gives you support all the time," Jan said.

If customers decide that having chickens around is for the birds, the Korstens will come pick up the coops and clucks but customers will not get their money back. Conversely, if folks fall in love with the experience and want to keep the birds and coops at the end of the rental period for good, they can pay $250 for the standard package or $350 for the deluxe.

"Most of the time, people keep the birds," Jan said.

Rentals run from spring to fall because chickens typically lay fewer eggs during the winter.

"When the days are shorter, they slow down," Jan said. "We'll bring the birds back to the farm and properly winter them."

Rent the Chicken complements the family farm, which has about 60 chickens. The coops are made at Jan's father's place in Sagle. The non-GMO (genetically-modified organism), non-corn, not-soy feed is purchased in Sandpoint.

"Our coops are predator resistant because they're completely encased in wire," Jan said, adding that they can be moved on wheels.

Jan said the startup cost — an optional $400 fee for marketing — along with 10 percent of sales to the headquarters made it reasonably priced to start up the business.

"For as much support as we get, it's fantastic," Jan said.

It's an operation that's as much about the farm-to-table experience as it is the food.

"The kids will say that chickens are the only pet that will poop your breakfast," Jan said with a laugh. "It's also good fertilizer for your lawn."

The girls have jumped into the venture with both feet. During the first two months of the business, which started in April, six coops were rented out.

"Our goal is to rent 10 coops this year, which is pretty ambitious, but we're feeling really great about it," Jan said. "At the Family Day in the Park, people, including some who had never touched a chicken before, just flocked to them."

The experience is teaching the girls the value of budgeting to make a profit.

"They're learning how many coops they need to rent to make a profit," Jan said. "They've learned that just because you start a business doesn't necessarily mean you'll make money."

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