When things are particularly hectic around the office, it’s always a comfort to steal away and momentarily unwind. Paying a visit to our chicken coop usually offers the perfect welcome distraction. Our birds have become pretty well conditioned to feeding time, and will rush over to greet visitors with a clucking chorus of anticipation. Who can’t help but smile at this enthusiastic bunch that is so easily pleased? We’ve certainly found spending time with our chickens to be therapeutic, which is why a local news story about other therapy chickens caught our attention. We learned about Farm to Fork, an agricultural day program for adults with developmental disabilities in Marysville, California. Raising chickens and other small farm animals gives the program’s clients an opportunity to socialize and learn responsibility. However, a determined thief had repeatedly ransacked the group’s coop. Fortunately, the thief has been apprehended, so let’s hope the program’s days of missing animals are over – we would be equally distressed if our own chickens were carted away.
Our brood has grown to more than 30 hens, mostly a mix of Rhode Island Reds and Buff Orpingtons, with a few Leghorns and Wyandottes thrown in. They have the full run of a large coop shaded by a canopy of grape vines and hops. We also built them a two-level hen house with latching flaps at the back that allow us to easily check the nests for eggs. And these girls eat well. We supplement their feed with overflow from our garden and orchard, and mix in a little oyster shell for extra calcium if their eggsshells start to thin. But there’s nothing like the sound of a rattling can of dried mealworms to make the bunch come running. Our chickens keep us well stocked in eggs (so many that we’ve started pickling them), and are a continual attraction for visitors and our out-of-town staff – we suspect they may even play a role as a recruiting tool. With so many benefits, a walk to collect some eggs or toss some feed never fails as a great way to start the morning.