Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mother Hen

It is one of those nearly perfect summer Saturdays – a 9 ½ by anyone’s standards. The late morning harvest is underway for the CSA distribution at Restoration Farm. There is lots of activity throughout the fields. CSA member Donna Sinetar has just finished feeding her brood of heritage hens. I hear a cacophony of clucks and flutters nearby.

“If I get business cards made, I’ll probably call them “Pampered Poultry,” Donna tells me, referring to her “girls.” “This morning I fed them eggplant and heirloom tomatoes for breakfast. They’re the best fed chickens anywhere.”

In fact, the hens’ local diet is intentional. The flock of egg layers took up residence at Restoration Farm last spring under Donna’s watchful eye. She is one of many volunteers who are contributing their skills to cultivate and transform the farm. Some hens are auburn, some are the color of honey, and others are dappled black and white. Donna’s heritage hens forage in the field and eat bugs and weed seed and the produce that might not be suitable for members. By doing so, they have become a part of the ecosystem of the farm.

The tidy red hen house is now a fixture on Williams Field where many of the vegetables are grown. Donna has nurtured the brood from the very start, when a shipment of chicks arrived at her home by mail from a hatchery on March 7. The heritage breeds include Dominiques, Partridge Rocks and Columbian Wyandottes, all breeds that are good layers. At times, the chicks took over rooms in her house, and she has chronicled the process from the start at her blog, Donna’s Chickens.

The full time job of Mother Hen is hard work and requires that Donna be at the farm every morning and evening for feedings. There have been some rough patches. One hen was lost to a predator. But on the whole, the girls seem happy and content.

A rooster was added to the mix a few weeks back. However, when he first arrived at Restoration Farm, “The Colonel,” as he is now called, managed to escape. A frantic search ensued and for a while he was roaming the farm, often popping up in the most unlikely places. His wanderlust now in check, The Colonel has set up housekeeping with the flock of hens.

There has been much speculation at Restoration Farm as to when the hens might start producing eggs. It is unlikely that the hens will produce enough eggs for the farm’s 180 members, but they could provide an ample supply for Head Growers Dan Holmes and Caroline Fanning and their family as well as farm volunteers. Donna discovered her first eggs a few weeks ago, two on the floor of the coop, and two outside under the coop. She says she sometimes hears the hens making odd, grunting sounds, as if they are trying to sort out this new stage in their development. There have been more eggs since, and today she checks the coop and emerges with a small creamy, tan egg in hand.

Despite maintaining a rigorous schedule similar to a pediatric nurse, Donna is making the most of the evening feedings at the farm. She and her husband will often meet and share a glass of chilled white wine, watching the sunset over Restoration Farm. It seems a festive way to celebrate Donna’s labor of love that she refers to as her “chicken adventure.”

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