Fresh eggs with golden yolks are the pride of farm owners Brenda and Bob Calvert of Half Moon Farm in Brush Prairie. With 55 years of chicken-keeping experience, Brenda Calvert uses innovative methods to protect her flock from illness and predators.
Calvert began helping tend chickens at her 10,000-acre family farm in Wyoming when she was 8. Caring for the flock in her early years fostered a deep love for chickens, Calvert said.
“They’re so cute because they know you,” Calvert said. “When I walk down to the summer coop, I can say, ‘Hey ladies,’ and they’ll come running around the corner to me.”
Half Moon Farm’s current flock features a variety of different chickens, such as Novogen browns, barred Plymouth rocks, black Australorps and Easter eggers. The many different breeds on the farm produce a variety of colored eggs, including green and blue.
Calvert uses different methods to keep her flock healthy and protected. Chickens are susceptible to diseases and are prime targets for predators, like coyotes, hawks and weasels, Calvert said.
To deter predators from approaching the coop, Calvert plays loud classical music radio within the feed room. Intermittent talking during the program, accompanied by arrangements from composers such as Johann Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven, tricks predators into thinking a human is nearby.
“The predators can’t tell the difference between the radio and a real human,” Calvert said. “They think somebody is in there and stay away.”
The chickens enjoy the music, as well. She has tried other programs, but the calming sounds of classical music and talk shows seem to be their favorite, Calvert said.
Gentle giant Maybell the mastiff also assists in protecting Half Moon Farm’s flock from predators. The large-bodied and muscular livestock guardian is an intimidating sight that scares away coyotes, Calvert said.
“She’s really in tune with the chickens,” Calvert said. “If she hears any kind of commotion down there [at the coop], like their distress call, she is down there.”
To keep hawks from hunting her hens, Calvert keeps black-feathered chickens in the flock. Their feathers are reminiscent of crows, which are known to bully birds of prey, Calvert said.
Though deterring predators is important, Illness prevention is also critical to the wellbeing of Half Moon Farm’s chickens. Providing a healthy environment, good nutrition and enrichment is important for the flock.
Disease prevention begins with the coop, Calvert said. Half Moon Farm uses two seasonal coops, which are rotated each summer and winter. Rotating coops allows the pasture to recover between seasons and gives time for a coop deep clean.
Keeping chickens ventilated and dry helps prevent respiratory and foot disease, Calvert said. Each coop includes ample airflow through windows, keeping dust to a minimum. The coops are roofed, providing shelter from wet and muddy weather.
Bird droppings can also be a vector of disease, and chickens poop a lot, Calvert said. To keep the mess to a minimum, Calvert has a “poop board” beneath each roost. The chickens sleep each night on staggered wooden dowels and their droppings fall on the board. Calvert then cleans the board weekly and collects the droppings for fertilizer. The boards keep poop from being tracked around the coop, which keeps the hens and eggs cleaner.
Supplements are also important for chicken health. Producing good eggs requires healthy nutrients, according to Calvert. Though her hens have access to grazing pasture, she also supplements vitamins such as calcium to bolster their eggshells.
Calvert also provides enrichment through food. She plans to add homemade soldier fly traps to supplement her hens with fresh, huntable bugs this year. During the winter, when the pastures have less vegetation, she provides leafy greens to enrich her birds.
“One of my girlfriends works at Portland airport, and all the restaurants over there do a lot of organic lettuces,” Calvert said. “She’ll bring me all the lettuce scraps from them in the winter.”
Illness among the flock can still happen. Calvert’s years of chicken-keeping has taught her to quickly recognize a sick hen. Identifying an unwell chicken early and providing quick medical care is critical to keeping the entire flock safe. Drooping tails, low-hanging heads and listlessness are key indicators of sickness, Calvert said.
“I assess the flock every day,” Calvert said. “After you’ve kept birds you can know just by looking.”
Half Moon Farms is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays, or by appointment, at 14737 NE 159th St., Brush Prairie. The farm store sells fresh eggs, seasonal produce and other giftable items. For more information, visit halfmoonfarm.com.