The gardening season ends with a cackle at my house. After the beds and borders are cleared, the tomato cages are stacked, and the garden tools cleaned and put away, it’s time to let the chickens run free. During the rest of the year, the 35 hens and 4 roosters live in an old-fashioned chicken house with a large wire run that allows them access to the outdoors. This keeps them from scratching up baby plants or devouring our vegetables (as well as protecting them from being eaten themselves). But, in late Fall, I open the door and set the birds free. They scatter like children at recess. Running here, scratching there, they dine on slow-moving insects, rotting apples in the orchard, and weed seeds at the yard’s edge—magically transforming the remnants of our yard and garden into rich, flavorful eggs. Plus, they brighten the now-drab garden: Buff Orpingtons, multi-colored Araucanas, Silver-laced Wyandottes, Australorps, Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks, and Speckled Sussex are just a few of the colorful breeds in our feathered clean-up crew.
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