Henny Penny, My First Feathered Love

My love of poultry began in a rather unconventional way. I was a young boy in McMinnville, Tennessee on a trip to town with my grandmother when I spied a brown Leghorn hen running loose on Main Street. On this particular day I was fixated on getting back at my sister for her recent goat acquisition so this chicken seemed like an answered prayer. I asked around about the owner of the bird and was told that she was mine to have if I could catch her. With some fancy foot work and a lot of flying feathers I managed to corral her. Half way home I had named her Henny Penny and forgotten all about my sister’s goat. There would be many feathered friends after Henny, but I credit her with sparking an enthusiasm for poultry that persists today.

My interest has grown to include the preservation of heritage birds, many of which are experiencing alarming declines in breeding flocks throughout the country. Heritage breeds are officially described as original breeds and strains of domestic fowl that were developed and/or recognized in the late 19th or 20th centuries, and they are defined by a specific set of criteria as determined by the American Poultry Association.

1. APA Standard Breed
2. Long Productive Outdoor Life Span
3. Naturally Mating
4. Slow Growth Rate

At the farm we focus on maintaining the genetics of a handful of heritage breeds.

Slate Turkeys as pictured here as well as Black Turkeys

Sebastopol Geese

Buff Orpingtons

Barred Pylmouth Rocks

While you might not have room for a flock of chickens in your backyard there are ways you can help with the preservation of heritage breeds. The first thing I suggest is learning more about the subject. Here are some websites to check out:
Heritage Poultry Conservancy
American Bantam Association
American Livestock Breeds Conservancy
American Poultry Association
International Waterfowl Breeders Association

Fall is the season for poultry and livestock shows. Get your toes wet by visiting a few. They are great places to learn about breeds, buy birds and meet other poultry enthusiasts. Check with your local state fair, I’d be willing to bet they have one going on. This year America’s National Crossroads of America Poultry Club show is October 28th – 30th in Indianapolis.

Know someone who has or wants chickens but doesn’t “like” Chicken Chat on Facebook? By liking Purina Poultry and Chicken Chat on Facebook, you qualify to enter the Purina® Rule the Roost Sweepstakes and for the chance to win a new coop from Horizon Structures, free Layena® Plus Omega-3 for a year from Purina and 10 hens and 2 roosters from the Garden Home Retreat! Enter today! No purchase necessary. Sweepstakes ends Sept. 18. Click on the sweepstakes tab for complete rules.

36 Responses to Henny Penny, My First Feathered Love

  1. Allen, your Henny Penny story is so well told and vivid. It’s so inspiring to see the work that you do to promote heritage breeds. Our chicken flock has given us great pleasure over the years – never mind the richly yellow-yolked eggs! This is our first year raising turkeys, and it’s a thrill to see in your photo what our Blue Slates will eventually look like (currently, they’re adolescent). We are also raising Narragansetts, as they originated in nearby Rhode Island, and we have one, lone Bourbon Red – she is a beauty. But probably not nearly as pretty as Henny Penny was! Thank you for all you do!

    • Opal Larson says:

      When I was very young, I had a love for all things critter, except snakes. We were very poor money wise, but my Dad could point out interesting little things, how the ants worked, Horn Toads, since I thought they were ‘toads’ I wasn’t a bit afraid. I carryed one or two around with me, puttig them in by bibber pocket. When I was older we worked on a egg farm, and I tryed to make pets out of all the chickens. Not too successfully. Later on we had a place of our own, and again we got chickens, white ones that came in the mail. There was a small one that the others seamed to pick on, I would feed her bits of bread, worms and assorted bugs. I really grew to love this chicken. Latter in life I became the possesser of a chick that had come to loose a leg,[ my fault] and I devoted the rest of my life to making it up to this special little girl. She lived on the porch in the summer, and my Dad wasn’t agenst letting her sleep on the side of the wood box in the cold winter. I can really relate to your Henny Penny, we named our one leged hen “Peggy” Not very origional, but it fit. Thank you for your artical. Yours, Opal Larson, Prineville, OR.

  2. Allen,

    What a wonderful story. It is so interesting to hear how other people have caught the “bug” for whatever it is that we love.

    My story is just about the same for pigs. After having a near fatal roll over in a Hummer back in 2003 I was told I would be in a wheelchair or dead in less than a year because of a split in my spinal cord. I got lucky and scar tissue formed and stabilized it so I am still walking. The cool thing is that because of the wrecks I have to get MRI’s and other tests every few months for the rest of my life the Dr’s have found three different cancer/tumors – including two brain tumors. All of them would have killed me in a as little as a few weeks. So the wreck that everyone thinks ruined my life has actually saved it 3 times!

    We also raise Heritage animals and are members of the same organizations you mentioned. Our focus has been on Large Black and Red Wattle hogs, St Croix sheep, and assorted poultry. Since we know how easy it would have been for us to end up living under a bridge without great insurance, having saved financially, and the support of family and friends. We are trying to help out those that are not as fortunate as we are and our mission is to help save the breeds and also to help supply meat and vegetables to local food banks.

    Unfortunately this year was going to be our first year with gardens and the Texas drought has killed that plan along with everything we tried to plant. We had hoped to raise enough that we could sell some, give some away and then feed culls to the critters. I look at what you are doing and hope that someday our gardens look half as good. Right now I just hope to get something’s growing and able to harvest them.

    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    Gregg Wetterman

  3. LaVonne Griffin says:

    Allen, I love your story about Henny Penny. I also love chickens since I was a small child growing up on a West Texas farm. I still have them. I had to build a chicken house and it now contains 7 brown and 4 blacks. So I get blue and brown eggs every day.

  4. Barbara E. White says:

    Great story! My first hen (about 4 years ago) was a beautiful English Game Bird – and I named her Henny Penny. Even though the Game chickens are not as friendly as all the other chickens, she was my pet. I now have about 40 chickens who are all related to her. I really enjoy everything you put on facebook!

  5. SandyH says:

    I have had a small flock of chickens for years but moved to a new area 11 years ago and this city does not permit ANY chickens, I still miss my flock and especially the fresh eggs. I wonder how hard it would be to get the city “fathers” to change the city code to allow at least a small flock of ( 6-12 hens only )??

    • Cheryl says:

      Sandy, here’s my thoughts on your dilemma. I think possibly a lot of people think that where there’s chickens there’s also going to be a loud crowing rooster. Maybe you should let them know that its not necessary to have a rooster when all you’re after are the eggs.

      I’d write them a nice email and include an authoritative link on the subject. Maybe even three links. Good luck to you.

    • Mike Mecke says:

      Sandy, you received some very good advice already. An additional tack might be to provide City Council/Zoning with copies of other city’s regs. I was raised in major city – San Antonio, TX and they still allow up to five (5) birds, no nuisance sounds or smells. Now retired to Kerrville, TX and they allow chickens too, but have some pretty tough (too tough) distance factors from neighbors. So check some nearby towns of same or bigger sizes and look into their Codes and find under: livestock, poultry, pets, etc. and copy a few good samples for your town. Make it easy for them to understand and to write their code. Correct on no roosters needed, if on tight neighborhood lots. Good luck, Mike

  6. Grams says:

    Your story reminded me of my high school senior year. My school had a Thanksgiving Assembly in the school auditorium. The program was geared around what we should be thankful for in our lives.
    At the end of the program, we were told to look under our seats and the person with an ‘X’ would win a prize. My seat had the ‘X’.
    I strolled up onto the stage to receive my prize. A person from back stage came out and handed me the largest white ‘live’ hen I had ever seen. You have to realize, I grew up in the City of Atlanta, GA and my only knowledge of chickens were at the grocery store. lol
    I carried my beautiful white hen home, named her Sally and she lived to a ripe old age in my back yard. Sally was loved by all!

  7. Stephanie McB says:

    I can relate to SandyH. I, too, had a small flock that I loved, with a big, beautiful, jet black Henny Penny of my own. When I moved into the city I had to give her up, along with the other pretty Banties I had at the time. A sad time for me, and I rue the day I lost my little army of bug catchers!

  8. Carol says:

    Great stories from all! My son and his family have four Barred Plymouth Rock hens in their subdivision back yard. It’s working out well. The children love gathering eggs, feeding and interacting with the chickens. They’re fabulous recyclers! No food or weed waste, and they eat pesky bugs.

  9. Tammy says:

    I have lived in McMinnville all of my life and love hearing your thoughts/stories/memories about our town. Thanks for sharing :-)

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