Commuters who drive Highway 22 between Wellman and Kalona know that Washington County has a secret tourist attraction: giant roving chickens.
There are five of them, two brown and three white, and although at 4 ½ feet tall they may not compare to the world’s largest chicken at 62 feet, they are certainly more mobile. Drivers never know where the chickens will appear on any given day.
For the last three years, James Yoder has been collecting the huge chickens. On his farm, Riverland Poultry, he has more than 60,000 of the real kind. But for fun, he started purchasing the statue kind. All of them enjoy a cage-free lifestyle.
“It makes people happy,” Yoder said when asked why he has the big chickens. “I was able to get these, and I thought, let’s put them out by the road and people might enjoy them. And I found out that people really enjoy them.”
Yoder first saw the chickens at the Midwest Poultry Convention in Minneapolis and learned that he could purchase one for about $700. The chickens are made in Europe and shipped to their new homes around the world.
“I remember the first time I loaded that chicken up on the golf cart and I took it out. I set it in the field, and a guy drove by, and he rolled down his window and his arm was waving and he was honking his horn. He thought it was pretty cool,” Yoder said.
The chickens, which are fragile and need to be handled with care, have since taken on lives of their own. Yoder likes to put them in interesting places, so every day is a new chicken hunt for passing motorists.
“I have a lot of people that talk to me about how they drive by, they see those chickens, and [the chickens] move, and they like that,” Yoder said. “One lady told me that she would take her father, who was real old, to go see the doctor. Whenever they would come by, he would always perk up, ‘Let’s look for the chicken. Let’s look for the chicken.’ That was part of the ride. Look for the chicken. I enjoy having other people enjoy those chickens.”
Some chicken fans have contributed to the chickens’ wardrobe. One night, a chicken received a scarf as a gift. Yoder found the chicken wearing the scarf in the morning and has allowed the bird to continue wearing it.
Other chicken lovers have written fan poetry. Leroy Bontrager posted one such poem on Facebook, which begins,
The time has come, that we again,
continue the saga of Matilda the hen.
The cornfield is drying, and she’s lost it’s shade.
She seems to be older, her eggs are all laid.
The mystery remains as to who is to blame,
for moving her about in this on going game.
Like any good chicken farmer, Yoder keeps a close eye on his chickens. He doesn’t like them to get out of sight, where they could get lost or damaged.
A couple of years ago, a chicken was taken in the night. For three or four days, Yoder searched for it, finally finding it north of the Cheese Factory out in a field. It sustained injuries that now keep it close to home.
“We don’t really appreciate that,” Yoder said.
Whether visitor or local, one never knows where the chickens will be next. That’s up to the farmer to decide, and those driving by to enjoy.
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