Life is pretty sweet for the chickens and turkeys of Scratch-A-Lot Farm in Mill A.
The four acres of open pasture off of Cook-Underwood Road are dotted with pens holding the farm’s 400 Cornish and Delaware hens with one area sectioned off just for the 55 turkeys of various heritage breeds currently being raised there.
A garden situated in the center of the pasture sports greens, corn, flowers, and more partially, thanks to the chickens fertilizing the land as they sometimes roam around the rows of growing produce.
In one corner of the pasture, a wagon and a grassy area serves as home to some of the chickens currently being raised at the farm by Lee Lynn Thompson, who moved back to the Gorge a year and a half ago to start Scratch-A-Lot Farm after being in Colorado for five years.
“That would be because of all the wonderful farmers I met out there. They were great mentors for me, but I never really felt like I belonged in Colorado. You have this sense that there’s some place in this world you feel like you need to be and Colorado was just not it for me, so coming back here was definitely coming home,” Thompson said.
During her time in Colorado, Thompson was able to volunteer at a farm that raised 2,500 hens and 150 turkeys every year, but that wasn’t the only time she was able to gain experience on a farm. When she was growing up in Wisconsin, Thompson attended a small school that required students to work for a short amount of time in a commercial chicken house.
Seeing the conditions those chickens lived in helped shape her philosophy that chickens should not only be raised humanely, but also butchered in such a way that they feel less fear.
“They’re meat animals and they’re going to be eaten, but the least amount of fear and pain involved in it for them throughout their entire lives is what I’m aiming for. Out in the fields they have a chance to engage in behaviors they normally would, they get to eat grass, they get to have friends and dust baths and wander about in the grass,” Thompson said.
When butchering day arrives, Thompson said she only moves around seven chickens at a time down to the two acres she owns a few miles down the road from the pasture. There, Thompson and volunteers from the community work on butchering hens and, when the time comes, turkeys, in the most humane way possible at the small facility, which has been certified by the Washington State Department of Agriculture.
“Animals have different drives. They feel fear and they feel pain, but if you’re talking about what really disturbs and animal the most it’s uncertainty and fear. Pain isn’t what drives them. The butchering process itself is painful, but it’s not fearful for them and the pain that is in it lasts 45 seconds to a minute at the very most,” she said.
Thompson credits the success of her farm in its first year and a half to the help she has gotten from the community and her interns through the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms program.
Many times when volunteers come to butchering day for the first time, Thompson said they’re sometimes surprised to find a calm environment that some have even referred to as “meditative” because so much focus is involved.
“When people come to volunteer for the first time they expect it to be a certain way and it’s so far and different from their expectations,” she said.
Eventually, Thompson said she would like to grow her farm to taking care of around 2,500 birds, but has put on the brakes in the meantime while she focuses on trying to grow more fresh produce. Currently she has around 15 members for her Community-Supported Agriculture program that provides chicken only and around three members of a CSA for vegetables.
One day, she hopes to provide more vegetables and potentially eggs, which can currently be purchased from her directly at the farm for $6 per dozen. Scratch-A-Lot Farm eggs won’t be available at the White Salmon Farmers Market until Thompson is able to obtain a license, however.
“I like the idea of going the route of vegetable CSAs and building community through the garden,” she said.