@story MARLA CANTRELL
@image MARCUS COKER
Each month in our Ignite series we’re bringing you a story about someone doing something to make their little corner of the world a little bit better. We hope this inspires new ideas right where you live.
Charity Lewis lives on an acre of land just outside Fayetteville’s city limits with her two sons and eighty other girls. Sounds like a tight fit, and it would be, if the girls Charity cares for weren’t chickens. Some of the laying hens are common breeds like the Rhode Island Reds, but they share real estate with the more exotic black and white Cuckoo Maran that lays eggs in a tree, and the Columbian Wyandotte.
The eighty ladies aren’t the only animals living on the small farm. Three pigs root in the mud in a pen in the front yard. Beside them are two bee hives. Charity rescued them when her former landlord called to tell her there was a swarm in a nearby tree. “I just took a stick and tapped it on the tree limb where they were,” Charity says, “and they fell, like one collective body, into the box that I’d brought with me.”
As a child, Charity lived in a house with no electricity near the Ouachita River. “My parents were sort of hippies,” she says. There she became an expert at search and rescue. Their neighbors had commercial chicken houses, and when the trucks came to take them away, a few would scatter. Charity’s job was to round up the renegades up and bring them home.
“They’d hide under things. I lured them out. I was the chicken herder.” She laughs. “If we hadn’t gotten them they would have been made into stew.”
While she’s speaking, the girls are starting to overtake her with their cackling. “It’s egg-laying day,” she says. “They’re trying to tell me, ‘Oh my gosh, I laid an egg! I laid an egg!’ They’re very proud.” Just then, a rooster crows, and then another. “I have four roosters here,” she says. “Honestly, the girls would prefer it if they just went away, but they’re from the first eggs we hatched, and I kept them. They don’t really fight, like some roosters do, I think because they’ve been together forever, but they do bicker.”
The birds that aren’t laying are ambling across the yard. Charity lets them out at 7:30 each morning and gathers them back up when night falls. “When it gets dark, they just stop where they are. That saying, chickens come home to roost, really does have merit.”
Before moving to her little acre of paradise, Charity lived in Fayetteville proper. But then an ordinance passed that banned backyard roosters and limited the number of hens to four. One of the complaints was the wakeup call that came from the roosters each morning. Charity disagreed. “The roosters are loud,” yes, “but no louder than a yippy dog,” she says.
The decision still troubles Charity, and a whole lot of other people. There are online sites, like Urban Chickens, Chicken Revolution, and Backyard Chickens, that coach city dwellers on the finer points of raising birds. A quick Google will turn up other sites that outline covert plans for keeping code enforcers from finding your stash. How do they do it? They send the illegal birds to a “chicken hotel,” which is usually a hideaway at a nearby neighbor’s house.
Charity, being the law-abiding citizen she is, took another route. She moved out of town two years ago, expanded her brood, and started selling eggs – right now she’s getting about four dozen a day - to a base of loyal egg subscribers. Along with the brown eggs, are blue, green and even pink ones. “Some of my customers are concerned with the life of the chickens. I tell them they can hang out with the girls any day they want. They have a natural diet, foraging bugs and leaves and grass. Eggs will last five weeks when they’re as fresh as mine. And there are studies showing eggs like these are better nutritionally.”
She’s also holding workshops for new chicken enthusiasts. “Every farmer should be a teacher,” she says. In one class, students learn how to make a chicken truck, which is a cage without a bottom that has wheels so you can roll it from one part of your yard to another. It’s the perfect solution for those who have to leave their birds during the day and want to make sure they’re happy and protected from predators, like the hawks circling in the sky above.
As Charity’s talking, a few chickens roll in the dirt, which is their version of taking a bath. The air is punctuated with clucking, and Charity spots a few wanderers in the next yard. “People are really laid back here,” she says. “It’s nice not to have to worry about neighbors.
“I’ve ordered sixty more that will be arriving soon,” she says. “Chickens are easy. Feed and water and a place to roost at night. It’s not hard. I like that my boys are growing up here. One night my youngest son was looking up – there was a waning moon – and he said, ‘Look mom, a chicken moon!’ I asked him what he meant. He thought it, the little sliver of moon, looked just like a rooster’s talon. That’s why we called it Chicken Moon Farm.”
Charity heads inside to start the process of divvying up the eggs for delivery. Bees buzz along the fence line, the pigs root in the front yard, and all across her glorious acre the girls are calling out, “Oh my gosh, I laid an egg!”
For more information, visit chickenmoonfarm.com.