The chickens have come to roost at Tower Grove Farmers' Market each Saturday, where crowd-pleasing hens peck and preen in an A-frame coop.
Seth and Maria Jansen launched their novel business, The Easy Chicken, at four area farmers markets and community events in the summer of 2014. Last year’s successes fueled the move for the inventive chicken rental or purchase program to a season-long spot in Tower Grove Park.
It’s got to be the easiest-ever chicken experience. The Jansens deliver the coop and set it up at each residence. Every new client gets an individualized orientation session with The Easy Chicken. They will even instruct the family dog about the proper etiquette for canine and chicken interactions. But, wait, there’s more.
The Jansens guarantee the hens you receive will lay eggs or they will replace the non-laying hen with a more productive bird. The no-eggs hen goes back to the farm and is just fine.
The set-up comes with free feed throughout the season, ongoing expert advice, cheerleading and a hotline for emergencies. The Jansens have done the research. They’ve lived with backyard chickens. They exude confidence and extoll the sweet truths of life with fowls and fresh eggs.
“A lot of people come by and say ‘I’ve been thinking about this for years, but I haven’t done the research,” Maria Jansen says. “We’ve done the research. We provide instruction and on-going support, especially with the hotline, that gives people a lot of confidence to try it out. We are able to get people up and running quickly.”
For some customers, renting chickens for a season works best. “Teachers who have summers off will have chickens delivered when school ends and have them picked up in the fall when school starts.”
Let’s face it, getting up with the chickens in the middle of winter can be daunting, but the Jansens don’t judge. “Some people don’t want to take care of hens with snow, ice and the cold and that’s fine. We take the hens back to the farm,” Jansen says.
That farm is a piece of privately owned land in unincorporated St. Louis County where the Jansens keep the chickens. They travel each day from their home in Florissant to the farm to tend to the flock. The four-mile trip takes about four minutes and the time, of course, to care for the chickens.
The Easy Chicken represents a significant investment of time and money for the Jansens. “Seth quit his job to do this,” Maria Jansen says. “We wanted to be connected to a farm. We even tried to make a move to a farm in Ste. Genevieve, but that didn’t work out.” The Jansens found a business that allows them to tend farm animals, educate people about the importance of a healthy, local food system and maintain a close connection to nature.
They’ve also connected with their customers. “The two girls who have been talking to people about chickens are the daughters of one of our customers. They love their chickens and want to share. One of our Kirkwood customers will be operating a stand for us at the Kirkwood Market a few times this summer.
“When we first started raising chickens, friends who kept hens gave us advice, tips and different ideas to manage our chickens. We had no experience, no clue what we were doing and they gave us confidence. That’s what we give our customers.”
The Jansens added two new services to their business mix this season. Maria provides a sharpening service at the market for knives, garden tools and scissors. “It’s something Seth has always done,” she says. “He worked in a processing plant and sharpened knives every day. We both trained in Chicago to sharpen knives, tools and scissors. I got attached to the sharpening and our son Joseph, who will be eight in a matter of weeks, has learned to handle the money and change from sales.”
The couple also added four-week rentals of brooder boxes set up with baby chicks, feed and more so children can watch hatchlings grow. After four weeks, the Jansens place the chicks in special housing on the farm away from the older hens. “We thought we would rent to teachers for their classrooms, but the business has mainly come from families,” Jansen says.
The move to full-time self-employment renting chickens could be seen by some as a feather-brained idea, but for the Jansens, the financial gamble makes sense. The business has been gratifying in unexpected ways. They keep four pet chickens at their home. The birds have distinct personalities and quirks that have endeared them to each of their children. Raising the birds has been an education for the four active boys. The flexibility of self-employment allows the couple to spend more time with family. They’ve been able to provide help to Maria’s grandmother, who lives close by them in Florissant.
“This isn’t a business for a typical family,” Maria Jansen says. “We live very simply, but our business is growing. People are ready for us now. They see us at the market each week. We’ve grown. Already this year we’ve sold as many packages as we sold all last summer.”
Editor's Note: The Tower Grove Farmers Market will be held indoors at the City Garden Montessori School for one Saturday only, Sat., April 25. The Easy Chicken will not be at the market that day as the hens are unschooled.
The Easy Chicken, TheEasyChicken.com, 314.852.2802
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