The chickens have come home to roost at the governor’s mansion.
Nine hens donated by a local woman came to live on the governor’s lawn in June, according to Harry Lewis, the mansion’s horticulturist. The chickens’ coop was first filled with leaves. From their scratching and pecking the chickens provided Lewis and his crew with two compost loads that they applied to azaleas. Feed donated by ADM and plant waste from the mansion gardens sustain the chickens.
Now the coop is filled with straw left over from the Illinois State Fair. The straw has been completely shredded by the scratching actions of the hens. The straw along with a vinyl cover will work during the winter months to help keep the chickens warm and protected from the elements. Springfield ordinances allow residents to raise chickens in the city limits. This is part of a national trend bringing rural practices back to residential neighborhoods and allowing residents to be more self-sufficient.
To keep noise down, “Roosters are discouraged,” Lewis said.
The brood is an all-female revue. There are four breeds – Rhode Island Reds, White Brahmas, Australorps and Ameraucana, which lays green or blue eggs as opposed to the other breeds’ brown eggs.
Mansion guests are often awarded a breakfast of fresh eggs right off the front lawn. Together the hens lay six to eight eggs a day. Lewis said the mansion’s commercial kitchen also uses the eggs for developing recipes and a variety of dishes.
Visitors to the mansion can read all about the project on what Lewis called, “The Wall of Poultry.” Besides the fertilizer benefits, the chickens also provide visitors with a view of domestic breeds in need of preservation. The flock offers an example of backyard poultry that offers fresh eggs for a family. Lewis has learned so much about the chickens that he is offering a course in raising a backyard flock this winter at LLCC. He has become quite fond of his “girls” and shares information about the hens with visiting schoolchildren.
“I will get one out and let them pet it,” he said adding that the chickens usually like attention. The hens raised a ruckus after the Fourth of July when the fireworks upset them and they refused to lay for two days.
The chicken coop, an EZ Fit, was provided by Meyer’s Feed and P. Allen Smith who established the Heritage Poultry Conservancy. The conservancy is dedicated to the preservation and support of all threatened breeds and strains of domestic poultry.