Many years ago a tenant came to The Ranch with a rather substantial menagerie…a small black chicken, a semi feral cat, four dogs, a couple of fish and who knows what else….This particular tenant and her menagerie lived happily amongst the gardens with her animals for many many years, returning once while her new home was renovated. Her first departure required a negotiated plan for the small black chicken and the large semi feral cat. The cat is a whole chapter unto himself. It was readily agreed that neither the cat nor Herself the Chicken, would relocated well. Both of these creatures remained at The Ranch and roam wide and far in our gardens, a 16’x16’ yard and additional coop.
The chicken proved to be a very “alpha girl”, she has managed on her own for many years…nesting where she felt safe, continuing to lay eggs for years. She is still with us and still holds forth on her own terms. And occasionally favors us with an egg.
It’s amazing what damage one small black alpha chicken can do to a vegetable garden…whole rows of designer lettuce, radicchio, parsley, etc. …decimated by one tiny bird. Thus, Angkor-Wa-Tel was built…it has a swoopy roof, thus the name…The chickens are now, except for Herself, happily corralled, and safely isolated from the forenschloss lettuces. They are fat and happy housed in their new digs.
The assimilation of Herself into the ecology of The Ranch has inspired a lot of interest in chickens. The egg enterprise has grown to include Angkor-Wa-Tel …our chicken yard and a flock of some 1-24 birds. nature causes some fluctuations. The care of the chickens rests mainly with two very responsible tenants who coordinate their care/feeding and cleaning and the rather complicated dispersal of eggs…a very idiosyncratic system. They put in hours taking care of the birds and are happily selling a few to cover their costs of feed and care products. No fortunes are going to made on this but the eggs are wonderful and much appreciated. Those who cannot afford the time to care for the birds are happy to pay for the eggs.
These two tenants and their partners have also been responsible for the preparation of a couple of young male chickens for the bbq…We respectfully choose not to have roosters in our flock as they are very noisy, early in the morning. I was impressed that both the initiative and the follow thru fell to these folks who did what needed to be done and understood that while we really like these barnyard birds, occasionally we have to dispose of one.
On a recent visit to Berkeley Bowl West (the holy temple of food), I suggested to one Antonio who works there, that I would like to trade lettuce trimming for a dozen eggs. Our eggs are very, very good and they are much appreciated by Antonio. The produce trimmings are abundant; chickens are in high production at Angkor-Wa-Tel. What a deal!
Since the gardens first started at The Ranch, I have had a worm farm. Back in 1999, I ordered my worms from a company in Minnesota. When the package arrived, via UPS, the driver brought the package in to make the delivery…as he walked toward my office, I watched as he looked at the package. There were dead and live worms, some wiggling, some not, stuck under the tape holding the package closed. He gingerly handed me the package…it was moment. He has been our delivery guy for two decades now and we still have a laugh about some of the deliveries here.
But, the worms are abundant and have made a huge difference in the quality of our growing beds. AND, they are now a fabulous fuel source for our egg production. The chickens are real happy about the mess of worms that occasionally come their way.
Weeding, watering and grazing are other “systems” which while are definitely unique to The Ranch. However, in truth, the Chicken System works the best, largely because of the commitment of the folks who care for the birds. Every year we try to do it differently, better but every year our “systems” change. Actually, over the years, many folks who rent living or work space at The Ranch, who knew nothing about growing their own produce have come to know and enjoy the growing process. As people learn more about growing and cooking the produce, their attention is more focused on the growing beds and the watering and weeding seems to get done.
It has always amazed me how much three or four people can get done in an hour or two. Over and over again I am impressed with how easily the gardens are maintained…but, our garden enjoys the attentions of many, many people…some just invest a moment or two, a half an hour here or there.