By Michael H. Imwalle
In 2013 Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation Maintenance Chief Eduardo Garcia and I started planning for a chicken coop to complement the Presidio Heritage Gardens at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park. After researching historic Mediterranean chicken breeds and consulting with interpreters at La Purísima Mission State Historic Park, Black Minorcan hens were chosen as the first residents of the outdoor Presidio exhibit. Thanks to a generous grant to the Presidio Heritage Garden from the California Missions Foundation in 2014, the dream of having chickens in the garden was finally realized.
In January 2015 I special ordered 10 Black Minorcan chicks from a hatchery in Missouri through Island Seed & Feed in Goleta, California. After months of anxiously waiting, the chicks were delivered to the feed store on May 9th 2015. My wife Terri and I excitedly picked them up and transported them to their temporary home at the Santa Inés Mission Mills property. Their surrogate mother was the “Chicken Whisperer” Leeann Haslouer. The chicks were brooded under heat lamps indoors at the Mill property. Leeann graciously volunteered to care for them until they were old enough to move to their permanent outdoor home at the Presidio. After losing one of the chicks, and one developing into a rooster named “Franceeeecsco,” we ended up with eight hens. On July 19th receptionist Brittany Sundberg and I moved six yet un-named hens to the coop/palace recently completed by Eduardo.
On August 13th I changed their feed to a mix of regular “scratch” for a mix that included “layers crumbles” which contains extra calcium and other nutrients to promote healthy eggs with good shells.
They seem to enjoy their new home, feasting daily on a diet of Mission figs, Mission grapes, quince, tomatoes, carrots, tomatillos, and anything else that is ripe in the gardens. Thanks to a corps of volunteer “chicken whisperers” (Brittany Sundberg, Anne Petersen, Neeva Pradhan, Tacy Kennedy, and Barbara Chung) the girls are happy, healthy, and very entertaining. We look forward to the fresh eggs they will provide to staff and volunteers in the weeks to come and all the enjoyment they will provide to visitors to El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State SHP.
Mike Imwalle is the archaeologist and chicken wrangler at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation