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Hens, a reminder of life on the farm

Four hens now onsite provide a fun outlet for residents at Chartwell Elmira retirement facility

There are four new feathery guests at the Chartwell Elmira Retirement Residence.

For the first time ever the retirement residence is participating in the ‘Rent The Chicken’ program.

‘Rent The Chicken’ is a program that provides laying hens to families with the hope of bringing a simple food source closer to their tables.

The group provides all of the supplies needed to care for the chickens, including a portable chicken coop on wheels, all of the feed and, in this case, four laying hens. In addition to supplies they also provide an orientation on hen delivery and the tools to help even first time ‘farmers’  with basic knowledge to care for the animals.

Running from May to October, the group also provides delivery and pick up.

Vicky Rau, recreation manager for Chartwell Elmira, first heard about ‘Rent The Chicken’ through an activity directors’ group email. After discussing the idea with staff and the residents, she found it would be a fantastic fit.

“I talked to the residents and got really excited because so many of them had chickens, they had hundreds and thousands of them, and had great stories about them,” she said. “This company is amazing. They bring the laying hens, the chicken coop, all of your feed – everything you would need. And they are always just a phone call away.”

Pat Maxine holding one of the four hens Chartwell Elmira Retirement Residence is taking care of as part of the program ‘Rent The Chicken’, which allows for the small-scale care of laying hens. [Ali Wilson / The Observer]
Pat Maxine holding one of the four hens Chartwell Elmira Retirement Residence is taking care of as part of the program ‘Rent The Chicken’, which allows for the small-scale care of laying hens. [Ali Wilson / The Observer]

Financially supported by the Chartwell auxiliary, the program comes in at just under $700 for the May-October season.

Given the facility’s location in town, Chartwell had to get approval from the township before moving forward with the project. After doing a thorough check of the grounds, officials gave the green light to four hens, but no rooster.

While many on staff had never had any experience with chickens, more than a few of the residents had.

“The residents are the ones who have taught us how to care for them, which is such a great learning experience for us,” she said, noting that many residents grew up with chickens or had their own farms. The program clicks in part due to their shared knowledge, past experience and general expertise.

One of the residents, Rita Brubacher, shared stories of the chickens she cared for after being married in 1965.

“We didn’t have chickens by the thousands, just had them for their eggs to eat and sell,” she said. “We used to sell them for 75 cents a dozen – that was expensive.”

“The chickens are so much fun they are comical, just great to watch.”

Eeny, Meeny, Miny and Mo, the four hens, are of the Striped-Barred Plymouth Rock, Black Star and Red Star breeds.

Vicky Rau collects eggs alongside Vera Winfield at the Chartwell Elmira Retirement Residence in Elmira. [Ali Wilson / The Observer]

They have been a wonderful addition to the Chartwell Community beyond the production of eggs, which they have consistently each laid about one a day thus far.

“They are very therapeutic when they do their clucking, and they are very humorous. They are all have their own character,” she said. “The residents just love holding them. It also encourages residents to go outside and enjoy the backyard, so it has just been excellent.”

In addition to the resident interaction, the chickens have also provided a fun activity for visiting children.

“Their grandchildren and great grandchildren come and it is so much fun because they say ‘come, come and see the chickens,’” said Rau. “Coming here is sometimes hard for children  – they aren’t sure. It’s great, they come and they love the chickens – we show them where the eggs are, and sometimes they can gather the eggs for us.”

The four happy hens live in a coop located in the back courtyard beside raised gardens that house various herbs and vegetables grown especially for them.

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