Imagine a hen chomping on French fries after going through a drive through. This is the luxury one lucky hen, Ginger, 16, enjoys now and then, thanks to the chicken sitter at her Retirement Home for Hens, located in Ridgefield at the Allen Creek Farm. Ginger isn’t the only pampered poultry in this haven for hens. There are also rock star roosters with names like Oreo, Scream-sickle and Kiwi.

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Chris Vincent (left) holds Mini-Mare while Tonya Meyer enjoys little Jane on her lap (right). Jane loves peanut butter toast. All the hens experience love from their chicken foster parents. Photo credit: Jackie Genis

“We are hoping to find homes for these guys,” says Chris Vincent, who co-owns Allen Creek Farm with his partner Tonya Meyer, while pointing out roosters Oreo and Kiwi. “These are the big boys, and we are in their bachelor pad.”

“Normally, a flock can only hold one rooster—maybe two—if it’s a big flock,” says Meyer, mother hen to about 110 chickens, a handful of roosters and a few roosters-to-be. Her passion for chickens started in 2003 with one baby. She adopted two more that year. “Roosters are the Fourth of July of chickens,” she adds. “They are flashy.”

The roosters Vincent cheerily introduces are asserting their cleverness in a covered outdoor coop connected to a large 40-foot by 60-foot covered run that also connects to an outdoor uncovered run and covered coop where there are, without revealing names, a few bully chickens. Meyer does not find bullying funny and encourages good behavior. There is also a connected tennis court with additional protected coops for the duo’s special needs chickens.

Take Monte, for example. She is a mix-breed female hen that began living at the retirement hen house in 2014 after a woman from southeast Portland reached out to Meyer and Vincent to find her a home. Monte was roaming wild and had become feral. This is not good for chickens since they need connection. “They are more social than we are,” explains Meyer. “They will form a flock with whatever is available.”

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Meet Cocoa. This Sussex hen is blind in one eye. She joined the Chicken Retirement Home family after her original owners lost their house and had to move to California. Photo credit: Jackie Genis

Monte needed a flock. She is getting up in age, has foot issues, and does not get around well, which is why she resides with the special needs group in a warm and protected coop at night. Monte’s close circle now includes Priscilla, a cochin breed with frizzle, a feather condition. “She is on the support team,” shares Meyer. Another little hen, Franc-wa, a silkie breed, is living with a bad leg. Franc-wa nestles with Justice, another hen living with blindness that is actively protecting and mothering her.

Never a dull moment amid an active pecking order, chicken football takes place with abandon among a large majority of hens in the main coop. “They found something edible and tasty,” shares Meyer and Vincent. “Maybe a froggie, a bit of eggshell, or sometimes a worm,” adds Meyer. “And then they chase it. They are very food oriented and will eat anything.”

The chickens have not had any chestnuts yet. But they do eat well, have no stress, and get as much food, interaction and outdoor exposure as they want.

Jay Colgan, the couple’s chicken sitter, friend, and vital helping hand on the farm since 2019, buys 500 pounds of chicken feed monthly at Union Mills Feed south of Oregon City. The retired flock even has healthcare.

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Memorialized as stained glass, Scrappy, a beloved chicken in the flock, had a passion for garlic mashed potatoes. Chris once tried giving the diva a boiled potato. A tantrum ensued until the spud was graced with butter and garlic. Photo credit: Jackie Genis

“We like to joke that my official title is Chicken Tender,” shares Colgan. “Believe it or not, I had never seen a chicken up close before I came here and assumed Tonya had maybe a dozen chickens. I still remember standing utterly gobsmacked and trying not to show it that first day when I entered the yard and, an absolute army of chickens came charging across the yard at the sound of Tonya’s voice. Now they come running when they hear my voice too, and it always fills me with wonder.”

As cool as chickens are, they are not exempt from human hen pecking. Judgment can occur for the breeds. Meyer and Vincent have at least 20 varieties, including gold star, americana, and buff orpington.  “There are a lot of stereotypes online because of the many different breeds and, maybe 60% is accurate,” explains Vincent. A lot of how they will act and interact depends on how they are raised.”

For example, leghorn’s can be stereotyped as flighty and antisocial. “Ours have always been friendly,” says Meyer, “because they interact with us and are not frightened of us.”

Meyer and Vincent get a lot of chickens from people needing to find homes for them. There are many reasons for this, including moving. “I’m always trying to help people come up with solutions to keep their chicken,” shares Meyer.

Baby chicks need an outdoor coop by eight weeks. Chickens are social and need a flock to thrive. It is important to do the research and good planning prior to owning chickens. These hens just finished a good round of chicken football in this large covered run. Photo credit: Jackie Genis

“We are a resource for people, and we do re-home the chickens if someone is looking,” explains Vincent. “But we vet them to ensure they are truly looking for a companion.”

That’s right. These chickens are not to be consumed. That is an entirely different thing, according to Meyer and Vincent. Chickens people eat are typically grown commercially for that purpose. Not the loved chickens in the Retirement Home for Hens. These are feathered friends, companions, even pets, and they must be treated compassionately and with care. One can certainly see why after meeting this charming flock.

To learn more, ask questions, or find out how to start a flock properly, visit The Chicken People Facebook page where you can message Meyer. You can also call 503.673.6181.

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