Friday, January 7, 2011

Going to the Birds

How does a person get here?  Namely this city bred woman who now rises daily at dawn and rushes home at dusk as often as possible to attend to a multitude of ornithological beings?  Though I have had to privilege to oversee a flock of Rhode Island Reds when my partner and I resided briefly in New Zealand a few years back, it all came about to ease a commute.  (I also used to help with the penguin flock at the San Francisco Zoo, but that's another story...)

My romantic partner is a winemaker by trade and his commute from our floating home in Portland was exhausting.  When a friend offered to rent us the extra farm house on his vineyard estate that would effectively cut his commute in half we jumped at it.  I thought I would come and go between the country house and the city house as I work and study in town, but with all the space I kind of jumped in full bore with my "visions of farm animals dancing in my head".  As I work part-time with a wonderful plant nursery that supports urban homesteading and was the first to sell chicks to backyard flock keepers in Portland proper, I realized that I didn't have to just admire the chicks, I could start raising my own.  A couple of years before we lived on the farm, I had organized a "Pullet Days" with a valley farmer to sell 'started' pullets (birds that are ready to be outside) at the nursery.  It was a huge hit and gave me the idea that with our country spread, I could do the same.
Newly hatched Seramas & White Faced Black Spanish

Pistils Nursery receives almost one hundred different breeds/varieties of chickens during their chick season and I wanted as much first hand experience with as many breeds as possible since most of the birds we sold I only had exposure to during the first days/weeks of their lives.  Though I did have the benefit of knowing a half a dozen adult birds as there has always been a mixed breed flock of bantams and the occasional standard breed living there.  My focus for raising started pullets was on breeds I fancy, especially rare breeds, with a few more common companionable breeds thrown in.  Silkies are hard for me to resist; and most folks love Ameraucanas.  Some breeds I acquired were so rare I had to hatch them from fertile eggs I purchased from far flung farms.  I think it is of vital importance to take up the mantle of preserving rare breeds. They in existence due to the manipulations of  us humans to achieve a variety of agricultural goals from egg production to disease resistance.  I feel strongly that it is the responsibility of our species to honour the efforts of others   in creating these creatures-- as well as respect for the creatures themselves- to provide a varied genetic resource.  Heritage and rare breeds are infinitely interesting historically, and often staggeringly beautiful.

Elgin the Belgian & Gideon - Blue Mille Fleur OEG

Juanita - Blue Splash Andalusian + Amelia - Welsummer

We have names too....
As Thomas, my partner, says, "Chickens are the gateway poultry".  With this in mind, I think it's a natural progression to raise other poultry species.  Ducks for eggs and amusement.  Geese for hopefully deterring errant dogs.  Guinea Fowl for developing as free ranging, pest removing flocks for vineyard properties.  Though admittedly, all the birds are amusing on the whole.  They also aid in developing non-attachment to treasured plants, over arching ambitions, as well as sometimes to the feathered ones themselves.

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