Poulet Palace Turns Two
When Tim Lindsay, Superintendent of the Virginia Robinson Gardens, and the Friends of Robinson Gardens expanded the Children’s Program, they decided that chickens would be a perfect addition. The Beverly Hills Garden Club provided funds to assist in converting a space for the hens. In doing so, the Club named, with approval from those at the Gardens, the hen’s new home “Poulet Palace.” Garden Club Board member Audrey Hutchings came up with this clever moniker saying, “Everyone thought it was very appropriate and not ordinary, because, of course, Beverly Hills is decidedly not ordinary!” The Palace has become extremely popular with everyone who comes to the Gardens.
During the Children’s Tours, the guide explains that the hens supply an ongoing source of edible and nutritious eggs. The children also learn that they can feed the hens with kitchen scraps, which has the added benefit of greatly reducing landfill waste. In fact, if every person in Los Angeles County had just two hens that were fed kitchen scraps, green waste going to the landfill would be reduced by fifty percent. The children learn that the Palace is a much more enjoyable and humane way to raise hens, where the chickens can have contact with humans and other hens and move freely. The hens always put smiles on the children’s faces.
The chickens came to the Gardens as baby chicks and lived in the Orchid House until they were big enough to move into the former Monkey Cage (now re-named Poulet Palace) where Virginia and Harry Robinson used to keep their pet Capuchin monkeys.
Today, there are six hens of four varieties: 2 Plymouth Rock, 2 Jersey Giant, 1 Campine, and 1 Rhode Island Red. They began laying eggs in their nesting box after six months. The box was lined with diatomaceous earth to repel parasites from their skin and wood shavings for cushioning. Each hen laid over 250 eggs in the first year. Production is expected to drop by about 10% every year thereafter.
Chickens go through a period in winter when egg production slows, or in some cases stops altogether. This reduction is driven by both a decrease in daylight hours and molting. The short day length during the winter season negatively impacts egg production by reducing the activity of the chicken’s pituitary gland which then impacts the production and release of eggs in the chicken’s ovaries. The molting process requires the hen to divert biological resources from egg production to feather production, and as a result hens lay fewer eggs.
The monkey cage was retrofitted with a tight wire mesh fence along the bottom perimeter to keep predators at bay, and a three room nesting box was built to accommodate the hens during egg laying. The hens go to roost on the cement wall bordering the tennis court, and some fight for the top shelf in the coop that was originally a monkey perch. They go to roost at sunset and come down at first light.
In addition to getting green waste from the kitchen, the chickens eat a vegetarian diet which contains 16% protein and is fortified with vitamins and minerals including Tagetes (Aztec Marigold) meal for golden yolks. Josh Johnston, who oversees the chicken’s care, occasionally will add oyster shell or ground limestone to the layer feed to help maintain their calcium levels and ensure strong eggshells. A mature chicken will drink approximately .5 liters of water each day in temperate weather and as much as 1 full liter in warmer weather.
The children are able to feed the chickens from outside the cage. Fresh laid eggs, sometimes still warm, are available for them to handle. The two most popular questions asked by the children are: “Why is there no rooster?” and “Is there a baby chicken in the egg?”
Post by grounds caretaker Joshua Johnston
and Friends of Robinson Gardens member Marcella Ruble