Hendrix Magazine

Which came first?

For Hendrix seniors Lydia Nash and Jayce Hafner, the answer to the age-old question is simple. The chickens came first … about a dozen hens from a commercial hatchery in Iowa, to be precise.

They – the chickens – are Rhode Island Reds ("a hearty, all-American breed"), Barred Plymouth Rocks (another strong, American "Puritanical" breed), and a Chilean breed called "Easter Eggers" for their ability to lay pink, green, and light blue eggs.

The chickens are the subject of Fowl Play: The Hendrix Chicken Project, an Odyssey project designed by Nash, a mathematical economics major from Fremont, Calif., and Hafner, an international relations and sustainable communities major from Edinburg, Va.

They – Nash and Hafner – anticipate an approximate weekly yield of 70 eggs, demonstrating the viability of small-scale, self-sufficient agricultural production. They also plan to donate a share of eggs to a food bank in the local community.

The project comes at a time when a number of families in rural, suburban and urban areas are initiating back yard chicken projects of their own, Hafner said.

"The chicken movement is taking off across the U.S. as well as the U.K., and will likely continue to expand," she said. "While I was studying abroad in the Findhorn eco-village in Scotland last semester, watching that particular community rally around the initiation of their own chicken project was especially inspiring, and I expect that we will see similar results here at Hendrix."

"While a few other schools such as Pomona and Earlham have initiated similar small-scale chicken operations, Hendrix is a pioneer institution in this movement," she said. "It’s incredibly exciting that the administration supported us in being a leader in chicken/livestock raising."

The timing of the project has been serendipitous for student interest in food and sustainability.

"Student interest in food is growing … People were really eager for it," said Nash, who was president of the Hendrix Student Senate during her senior year. Prior to the chicken project, Nash studied organic gardening in Ireland. She spent the past summer as an intern for former U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln observing up close the workings of the Senate Agricultural Committee.

"Students have really claimed it for their own," agreed Hafner, adding that students work in shifts and keep logs and journals on the chickens. The birds are tame enough to be taken for walks on campus, even bike rides.

An e-mail list for the project goes to about 80 students, 25 of whom actively care for the chickens, she said.

The birds live in a small portable pen that is easily transported around the yard behind Physical Plant, which the administration agreed to supply for the project. Chicken manure is also used to fertilize a community garden, yet another student Odyssey project.

One unforeseen advantage of the location has been the input and support the project has received from Physical Plant staff.

"They really love the chickens," Nash said. "They have actually set up chairs around the pen to watch the chickens during their lunch break!"

A number of staff have raised chickens before and have been very helpful, offering advice on how to care for the chickens and other tips, she added.

The chicken project has brought people with varying interests (e.g. student athletes, student body leaders, artists, activists, etc.) together around a common interest, Hafner said.

"I’ve met so many people through this that I never would have met. That’s really exciting," she said. "Chickens seem to have an almost universal appeal on campus.

Hafner said the project is "never truly ending" and hopes it will pass down to other students.

After graduation, Nash plans to pursue a Ph.D. in agricultural economics.

This semester, she is interning with Hendrix alumna Emily English ’02 in the Delta Garden Study (Story, Page 32).

Hafner, who grew up on livestock farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, hopes to have a farm of her own one day.

"It’s always been in my life," she said.

A former Heifer International intern, she hopes to combine her interest and experience in sustainable agriculture with a career in diplomacy.

"This project is an effort to begin that journey."