Monday, December 12, 2011

Oprah Henfree

Pat Foreman visited California on a book tour for her City Chicks. She was lecturing on permaculture and using chickens to enable local food. At one of her first stops at Fairview Gardens in Goleta, she met the resident flock. One chicken, a Buff Orpington, walked up to Pat, and ate from her hand. The hen was willing to be picked up and enjoyed the human company. She was dubbed the West Coast Oprah HenFree, since Pat was not able to bring her East Coast Oprah Henfrey on the plane from Virginia. Pat asked the flock owners to borrow the hen and become a co-presenter at the workshops on the remainder of her tour across the state. They agreed and a travel saga began.

Later the next evening, at the upscale Santa Barbara Public Library, Ms. HenFree was sitting on Pat’s arm during the workshop introductions. The hen was curious about the podium and decided to step onto it and proceeded to the top. Pat offered her the microphone and she clucked into it with a lot to say. She was an instant hit with the crowd.

This hen with star quality reminded Pat of the therapy hens she has in her own flock at home in Virginia. They include a Buff Chantecler, the same golden color but a different breed an Americana and a commercial hybrid hen.

Oprah traveled in a special carrier that had lots of window space so she could enjoy the magnificent California views. She spent the next month touring California and charming audiences. She spread the message that hens are charming, clean, entertaining beings that have multiple skill sets. One of their skill sets is as bio-mass recyclers. Chickens can help divert kitchen, yard, leaf and garden residuals from the trash collection—and transform that “waste” into compost, topsoil and eggs. Yes, chickens, working as clucking civil service workers can even save BIG TIME taxpayer dollars.

The hen kept Pat company as they traveled over 2,800 miles up and down the state and she participated in over 50 workshops, news and radio interviews and book signings.

As Oprah and Pat traveled, Pat saw that Oprah had a different message after her stay in Los Angeles. The Occupy Wall Street movement was making news and Oprah HenFree realized she could be the voice for the 99 percent of hens who are caged in miserable conditions for commercial meat and egg production. Chickens can “Occupy Back Yards and Enable Local Agriculture” has become be her rallying clarion cluck. It just might become the “Cluck Heard Around the World”.

As Pat’s tour concluded back at Fairview Gardens, Pat felt reluctant to re-introduce Oprah to the flock where she might fade into oblivion as just another hen. She asked whether I’d be willing to add Oprah to my small flock of four backyard hens. I was delighted.

From her new home in Cambria, Oprah will continue to serve her caged sisters.

The Orpington is an English breed developed at the end of the 19th century. The original birds were black, but the buff color was very popular at the time. It was introduced in the mid-19th century and breeders eagerly bred it into many breeds to satisfy poultry fanciers’ demand. The Standard of Perfection specifies eight pounds for an Orpington hen, but Oprah weighs less than that. She is probably a pullet, a hen less than a year old.

She laid only a single egg during her California tour, but chickens typically stop laying during the short days of winter. Her feathers are in beautiful condition, so she must have molted before meeting Pat. Chickens stop laying during their annual molt. I expect she’ll start laying again after the Winter Solstice, as she settles in with her new flock.

My White Dorking hen was standing on top of Oprah’s cage when I opened the coop this morning, intensely curious about this development. Oprah has already indicated her preference for black oil sunflower seeds.

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