J. Darby Farm — Shelby County’s free-range paradise

Published 4:08 pm Monday, January 23, 2012

By LAURA BROOKHART / Community Columnist

Let me tell you a story about a chicken named Buttless.

Doesn’t that sound like a fine banjo-pickin’ tune that might have survived from the days of the Great Depression?

Buttless is, however, a contemporary chicken living the good, free-ranging life at J. Darby Farm along with another hundred or so Gold Nugget chickens.

Buttless, alas, has no tail feathers and is blind in one eye, but doesn’t appear to notice her infirmities at all and keeps her good eye sharp for any possibility of food arriving.

She is usually leading the pack when Joyce Darby arrives at feeding time or as “city folk” tour the demonstration-style farm. My friends and I fell into a prolonged fit of girlish giggles upon being introduced to Buttless.

Free-range chickens at the J. Darby Farm in Helena. (Contributed)

“The chickens don’t like to have their clutch messed with, so they go off and hide their eggs, which have to be hunted each day,” Darby said.

Once an egg was found in the toilet in the solar-powered barn. That bathroom door is now kept closed.

“Fortunately, chickens have a very short memory so they forget that it was me who messed with their clutch. I have an affinity with them all — they really love me,” Darby said.

J.Darby Farm eggs are certified organic.

The general cacophony of the farm also includes several Nigerian and Nubian goats as well as four male hybrids including Calypso and Circe, who produce a higher quality of milk.

The goats are separated into females and “smelly males goats.” Celeste, a currently pregnant black female, likes to stand atop the brush pile enjoying her elevated view.

Octavia is the only female with remaining horns. A bottle-fed baby, the smallest of triplets, Darby said she was initially the size of a kitten, and her horns were so small that no branding iron small enough was available.

“I was afraid I would fry her brain. And she wasn’t that smart to begin with, so I didn’t want to do that to her.”

Darby told us the goats take care of all the bushhogging and brush clearing and keep the acreage totally clear of privet — their most favorite aperitif.

J. Darby Farm consists of 17 doubled-fenced acres as they have “lots of coyotes and pit bulls as neighbors.

“Everything we have here is an hors d’oeuvre for them,” said Darby, “They will even eat watermelon and Muscadines.”

Nearby are horses, and Darby said the alpacas can be packed and taken out for a picnic on the grounds.

In her first years of operation, Darby has established raised beds where organic vegetable plantings are rotated year round. We picked five kinds of lettuce mid-January including Red Gem, plus spinach, tender beets and some purple broccoli. And one lucky gal took home that day’s last dozen eggs — maybe laid by Buttless herself.

Open Farm Days for visitors are scheduled year round. Sign up for a weekly delivery of organic produce through the Community Sustainable Agriculture program.

Email jdarby@hughes.net  to receive email updates and CSA info.

Laura Brookhart can be reached by email at labro16@yahoo.com.