For the birds

Kaila Allen-Posin from Allen Farm talks about raising chickens as part of a sustainable lifestyle.

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We can thank the pandemic for bringing a lot of people who wouldn’t ordinarily be farmers around to the idea of raising chickens for eggs and meat. The topic is relevant, as increasing numbers of people have become interested in raising their own animals and growing their own food.

Kaila Allen-Posin from Allen Farm in Chilmark, a continuously working family farm since 1762, will share all sorts of fascinating facts about raising laying hens and meat birds in a hybrid program at the Chilmark library on Saturday, April 16, at 11 am. Allen-Posin got involved in raising chickens when she began at Allen Farm more than a decade ago. She and her husband Nathaniel Allen-Posin run the farm together with his parents, Clarissa Allen and Mitchell Posin. 

In the beginning, the first chore she took on was going out to collect the eggs. But, she explains, “I first got interested in animals before I came to the farm. I’m a permaculture teacher, which involves designing sustainable systems, including agriculture. Once my husband and I started having kids, we got into incubating eggs, since that’s a fun thing to do with children. It’s a fun world to explore, and very accessible.”

Allen-Posin will approach the topic by helping people think broadly about how they want to interact with their chickens. The first question to ask yourself is, Why do you want to raise them? Of course, there’s the choice of whether it’s for their eggs or their meat, but also: Do you just like the sound or look of chickens on your land? Do you like that they are scratching and naturally tilling your soil? Are you going to be moving them around so they can fertilize different areas of the soil? Are you going to keep them free-range in a wide area, or keep them fenced in?

Allen-Posin will also discuss the different traits and temperaments of various breeds. Some are better egg layers, but might be more aggressive, while others may not lay as much but are really quite friendly. 

“There’s a fun activity I usually do where I have people draw a chicken in the middle and the inputs on one side, the outputs on the other, and the traits on the bottom,” she says.

Coop design is often one topic folks are most curious about, Allen-Posin says. There are many different models that you can buy online, or you can make one yourself if you’re crafty. Another question is, How many chickens do you need given the size of your family to produce enough eggs throughout the year? 

One interesting related fact is that chickens lay eggs according to the level of light they are exposed to. Allen-Posin explained, “They were once wild birds, and so they’re still connected to the rhythm of daylight. In a factory farm henhouse, there’s a light on all the time to keep them laying as much as possible, but they don’t live as long. When you have a chicken coop on your land during the winter months, after the fall equinox, their laying will start to dwindle, which means there are times you just might not have eggs.

“One of the things I find really interesting about the raising of animals is how much of a closed-loop system we can create,” Allen-Posin explains. “Those of us raising our own food are trying to be lighter on the earth, in a certain sense.” But, she points out, chicks are usually purchased through the mail from far away, and then grain is bought from somewhere off-Island as well. Unless you’re raising your own chicks and growing your own grain, a lot of what’s happening is not local. Allen-Posin will gear the discussion based on people’s interest. But she emphasizes, “Whether you have or don’t have chickens, or are thinking about it, this is going to be a good place to talk, learn, and listen, and get to see different models of raising them.”

“Raising Laying Hens and Meat Birds” with Kaila Allen-Posin of the Allen Farm will be in-person and remote at the Chilmark library on Saturday, April 16, at 11 am. Email tthorpe@clamsnet.org for the Zoom invite.