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.”

©2011 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved


Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

Way to go Donna. I love your "pampered poultry." Restoration Farms is such a lovely place. You must really enjoy your time there T.W.

Hope you and the Farm didn't get much damage from Irene and that you have power. We'll be thinking of you and hope the "girls" are okay. I wouldn't think they would like the wind.

Deana Sidney said...

Hope all the people and animals at the farm get along well during the storm... the rain just doesn't stop. Love your hen story and the mobile hen house...we should all have a diet like that.

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

That is a story of true dedication. What a lovely addition to life at Restoration Farm.

Maris (in Good Taste) said...

Lovely story with great photos. Everyone stay safe in the storm.

Julia said...

I believe the hens starting laying eggs around 6 months -- well past the age of most fryer chickens. They will continue to lay eggs for 2 - 3 years.

I remember when my friend Brett tried to get rid of the chickens on the farm. But brought them back because they were such an important part of the eco-system -- eating up weeds and excess produce, and adding nitrogen back to the soil. And of course the added bonus of the meat and eggs.

Kalyn Denny said...

Several of my neighbors are thinking of getting chicken, but I can tell it takes a lot more dedication than I can muster up. But what a nice addition to the farm. Hope you guys are okay there.

Gloria Baker said...

Nice chicken, when I was a child my grandma had chicken and we enjoyed their eggs, were delicious!! love the pictures!! gloria

Kathy said...

I think that chickens make the perfect addition to Restoration Farm. Like that chicken house on wheels.

My next door neighbors have chickens and a rooster even though we're inside the city limits. I love hearing them even though the rooster crows at 3 am.

La Cuisine d'Helene said...

We used to raise chicken on the farm when I was young. There is nothing like fresh eggs.

tasteofbeirut said...

This lady deserved the article you devoted to her, she seems so special, with her passionate dedication to these hens and now Le colonel. Fun to read as always! Is the farm planning to add other animal creatures like rabbits or geese?

~~louise~~ said...

I to am hoping Restoration Farm and all its inhabitants weathered the storm.

This post made me miss my chickens. Oh how I use to love having them around. You remember, T.W. one was named Farnsworth:)

Thank you for spotlighting this lovely lady's dedication. I think you are really going to miss Restoration Farm when it sleeps for the winter.

Velva said...

Love, love this chicken post. I have a co-worker who raises heirloom chickens. Besides enjoying her fresh eggs each week, I enjoy her stories too.

I am going to share this post with my co-worker/friend. I will drop by to say hello to Donna.