I’m thinking a lot about chickens these days. Something about oncoming Spring in Sonoma makes me get a little more serious about my final vision for Two Terrier Vineyards. I guess it’s that the hard work of winemaking is far enough behind me that I suddenly feel braver (or more foolish) about contemplating yet more farm chores. And I’ve always kind of liked chickens. Not that I’ve had much experience with them, other than from the meat counter. But, to misquote Isak Dineson, “a chicken is something that gets hold of you.”
I think I have a vague rationalization brewing about fresh eggs. But let’s be honest, these chickens will probably end up as pets. Oh, I’ll happily take all the eggs they can give me. But I’m not going to tie myself in knots and stress them out adjusting “false daylight” in their chicken coops to force them into winter laying. You’re surprised I know about that trick?
And our research has led us to exactly the chicken we want, the Dominique or Dominicker. That would be the proud beauty whose picture leads this post. The Dominique is the oldest American breed of chicken, one that is seriously endangered as it is not, nor has ever been, a favorite of Frank Perdue and his battery farming ilk. Why? Because the Dominique is that old style of bird your great grandmother probably kept. Since your great grandmother had her hands filled with chores, she preferred a chicken that could find its own food, fend off its own predators, take care of itself and provide her with meat and eggs. In technical terms, the result was a dual purpose bird — but one Frank Perdue would find too slow to pack on weight and not inclined to pump out eggs at the accelerated rate he prefers. In less technical terms, you get a big, beautiful, bodacious lady who can hold her own in any situation. Is it any wonder I’m already toying with the idea of an Oprah and a Queen Latifah when I get around to naming my flock?
That would be the flock that I don’t yet have. There is a load of work to do before I get it. And unless I find a particularly eager 4-Her who wants to work for merit badges, my flock may have to wait until I live in Sonoma full-time instead of being a part-time and harvest-time commuting farmer.
But that doesn’t keep me from planning. I go to my favorite Sonoma winery, Benziger Family Winery, and somehow never get to the tasting room. I’m stopped in my tracks by their gorgeous chicken house and pen.
Yes, my chickens are going to have a veritable chicken palace. But they won’t be homebodies. No, my chickens are going to run free during the day through the vineyards. They’ll work beside me eating pesky bugs. (I mean they’ll eat the bugs, I’ll work the vineyards.) They’ll tag team me in the garden between plantings cleaning out pests and turning over the soil. They’ll be so big and sassy no Red Tailed Hawk — or terrier, for that matter — will mess with them. I see a rooster named Foghorn Leghorn in my future. Two Terrier Vineyards will be a veritable Chicken Utopia where man, terrier and chickens are friends.
Anyone with experience with chickens, don’t disabuse me of my notions. Before the hard work of chicken raising reveals itself, I’d like to experience this Dreamtime. So I’ll quote Oscar Wilde, who is eminently quotable but, more appropriately, probably had as little experience with chickens as I have:
“People who count their chickens before they are hatched, act very wisely, because chickens run about so absurdly that it is impossible to count them accurately.”
Thanks, Oscar, I’ll probably name a chicken after you.