On a recent morning at Schumacher Farm Park, Bob Bennin could be seen near the hen house he refurbished last year, surrounded by chickens at his feet pecking at insects and grass.
It’s the second year the county farm park has housed chickens, but this year is a little different. This year, as the eight hens roam outside, a rooster struts beside them keeping watch.
Bennin of Waunakee explains that the rooster protects his hens, and they tend to keep close by, knowing he’s their guardian.
The chickens are in keeping with Schumacher Farm Park’s mission to exhibit 1930s-era farm life here. The family farm donated by Marcella Schumacher Pendall also has an heirloom garden and farmhouse still with a woodstove.
And so the chickens are same the breeds kept by the Schumacher family nearly a century ago – Black and White Barred Plymouth Rock, Americauna and Rhode Island Reds, Bennin said. The Black and White Barred Plymouth Rock is recorded in Schumacher Pendall’s memoir “Papa, Mama and Me.”
Bennin said he learned a lot about keeping chickens at the park last year, so much so, he felt comfortable adding a rooster to the mix. But that decision had nothing to do with the egg production.
“Hens lay eggs regardless of whether there is a rooster or not,” Bennin said. “In fact, a hen has a certain amount of eggs in her body.”
Bennin added that the Schumacher Farm Park Friends group thought it would be fun to have fertile eggs.
“If one of the hens becomes broody and decides to sit on an egg – if that happens, we would gather all the eggs from the other hens and lay them under that one hen,” Bennin said.
He added that the “broody” hen does all the work, sparing the need for an incubator.
Volunteers or “chicken wranglers” take care of the birds and henhouse. Bennin said they provide water, make sure the chickens are fed, and let them out to stretch their legs. They also clean up the hen house a little.
The chickens love to leave the roost.
“They can’t wait to get out here for a smorgasbord of insects,” Bennin said.
Free range chickens also tend to lay eggs with a deeper orange yolk that some people appreciate.
While the chickens roam outside, the wranglers keep careful watch.
“Foxes are very quick,” he said, adding that a friend lost five chickens within 30 seconds.
The volunteers – individuals and families – also get to gather the fresh eggs and take them home. The eight hens produce between five and seven eggs per day, all different shades of brown, khaki and pale green and blue.
“It’s such a fun thing for families with young children that are not growing up on a farm,” Bennin said.
The chicken are just summer guests here. They belong to Paul Hellenbrand of Lodi, who in the past brought his chickens to Schumacher Farm’s September Heritage Day. After this year’s Heritage Day, Hellenbrand will bring them home to Lodi, where they will be cared for over the winter.
On May 18, the public can come out and meet the chickens during a day of public events at Schumacher Farm. It begins at 12:30 p.m. with a tour of the historic house, followed by a hymn sing at 2 p.m., then a walk through the prairie and a chance to meet the chickens at 3 p.m.
The Schumacher Farm Park grounds are open for hiking, and the henhouse has a window on the north side for viewing the birds.
For more information on Schumacher Farm Park, visit schumacherfarmpark.org.