Urban hens have become popular during the pandemic, but four hens in particular are a hot topic at a seniors’ residence in the hamlet of Villeneuve.
The story of Lucy, Louise, Jackie and Melvina — the names of the hens — began when Donna Sheehan, the daughter of one of the residents, received a chicken coop from her children as a retirement gift earlier this year.
“I was talking on the phone to my sister and she suggested that I donate it to West Country Hearth,” said Sheehan, who lives on a farm near the seniors’ residence in Sturgeon County. “I told her I couldn’t donate my gift.”
But the conversation stuck with Sheehan, and she started thinking about her sister’s suggestion, and how much joy having chickens at the residence would bring to the seniors, many of whom are retired farmers.
So she got on the phone and talked to the families of other residents, and they pooled money together to buy a chicken coop. They purchased four chickens from a Hutterite colony, which were then brought to the residence as an early Father’s Day present.
The families also consulted with Annette Borlé, manager of West Country Hearth (a short drive west of St. Albert), to get permission and make sure their chicken coop was compliant with local bylaws.
“We had to look up the requirements for having chickens in an urban area, and had to build onto the chicken coop to make it compliant,” said Borlé.
But there was no problem getting buy-in from the seniors.
“Lots of our residents grew up in a rural area, so they enjoy seeing the crops from their window, and the wide-open spaces,” she said. “We tend to get a lot of people who have been raised in the country. The chickens went along really nicely with that. It just brings back some memories for the residents.”
Because of the pandemic, visitors of any kind were restricted, as were many of the usual activities, so the arrival of the four hens generated a lot of interest.
That’s especially true when it comes to one of farmers’ favourite topics of conversation — production — and so how many eggs are laid each day (and who is doing the laying) is closely monitored. (Presently, one hen is on strike.)
The chicken coop is on the side in the back of the grounds, so anyone who is mobile can visit, said Sheehan.
“There’s a bench so they can sit around and watch them,” she said. “I hear it’s quite popular.”
And the names?
Those are courtesy of Oliver Brenneis, Don Campbell, Gordon Perrott (Sheehan’s father) and Evelyn Boddez, who are the chicken owners and were all farmers before they retired. It was decided to name their feathered friends after their deceased spouses: Lucy, Louise, Jackie and Melvina. (The latter being the feminized version of Mel, Boddez’s late husband.)
The chickens are tended by their families, who come to feed and water them and clean the coop. But the egg collecting is done in house, so to speak.
“There is a little door on the coop. It’s very easy — you just open the door,” said Sheehan. “They pick the eggs and I clean the coop once in a while. My dad is the main egg picker.”
Many residents cook their own breakfasts, and any eggs that aren’t needed are dispersed to family members.
But the nutritional aspects are secondary.
“It gives them something in the residence to talk about,” she said. “It’s been quite good, and every time I call my dad, he has to tell me about the chickens.”
The four gals have also brought a little fame to West Country Hearth, with their story being featured in the St. Albert Gazette and CBC Radio report.