Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Free the Chickens


I see progression on my walk. Fields being planted, livestock relocated, trees felled, streams melting, buds, buildings going up. One day on my walk I noticed a new platform on wheels. The next walk it was enclosed in plastic--Conestoga wagon style. I thought the farmers were going to sell plants for Easter. Then I saw boxes and shelves inside the sheltered space. HMM? A moving vegetable stand? I did not expect what I saw next on my walk: dancing chickens. That is what they looked like, running in and out of the covering, clawing the fields for food, talking to one another. Had the farmer been out that day, I would have rushed over and started talking to him. I had read about these gypsy chickens and the health of field eco-systems from reading The Omnivore's Dilemma last summer. One of my top recommended reads, it detailed how farms used to be more savvy in using animals and plants as self-contained eco-systems. The chickens eat the bugs that feast on the cow patties. They leave droppings which leave the pasture in better order so the cows can have better grazing land. One farmer profiled in the book, had a moving chicken coop so he could rotate it over the pasture and make his farm a healthier organism. I have a lot of farms nearby. Family farms, not big agri-business. I have seen crop rotation, animal raised along-side crops to better enhance the fertilization/feed cycles. I have even seen rotting citrus fruit dotting fields as a way to get acid into the soil. The Pennsylvania German population which make up a good percentage of the farming community has had a better than average reputation as being good stewards of the land since they came to the county in the early 1700's.
I was thrilled to see the practice of roaming chickens as described on my walk. And I was sad when I went for a walk one day and they were gone. The farmer and his family own a lot of land, but I thought I could see most of it on my walk. Where did the chickens go? Did he sell them? I got my answer today while running errands. In a nearby field, stuck between houses, I saw my chickens frolicking once more. I vowed to visit them after running errands. (They were a lot more energetic than the orthodontic assistants I surprised on their lunch hour. Going in for a new container for my son's retainer, I found them all napping in the chairs.) I was happy to get back to the chickens. Surprise. The farmers, father and son, were with them. I talked to the son. They have about 250 chickens. They are happy critters, who don't exactly want to stay in their pasture. He is working on that. They just started laying eggs. Ten yesterday. They will be sold at a premium at the produce stand a mile from house. It opens in late May. I can't wait! I wanted to ask more questions--What kind are they? Will you be selling meat? I got a bit shy. So did he. I wanted to take more pictures. I will eventually--now that I know where to find them.

1 comment:

J and J Acres said...

When we got chickens, it was more for pleasure than anything, but now that we have them, they've cut back on the bugs around our place (including the ones that get in the garden!) and we use their droppings as fertilizer for our garden. They really are handy little creatures!