STONINGTON — Clucking and trilling and wearing a red harness, Mabel the chicken was strutting her stuff at Coogan Farm Tuesday.
Mabel has become the unofficial ambassador and tour guide of the farm’s Giving Garden, which has distributed produce to food pantries since its inception in 2014.
The farm has had chickens in previous years, but Mabel stood out from the flock, said Cassandra Meyer-Ogren, director of marketing and communications for the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center and Coogan Farm.
“This is the year that she’s been named,” she said. “We’ve had a flock for a little bit of time, but I feel like Mabel is a recent installment because she’s so much more talkative than all the other birds. She monitors everything and everyone who comes in and out of the garden.”
Emma Sutphen is the assistant manager of the Giving Garden and takes care of Mabel and the chicken flock.
“I’m the chicken lady,” she laughed. “It’s just so fun to see a chicken that is fun and friendly.”
Approximately three years old, Mabel is a marans, an heirloom chicken breed that lays dark brown eggs. She summers at Coogan Farm and spends the winter at Footsteps Farm in Stonington, owned by Craig Floyd, manager of Coogan Farm and the Giving Garden.
The chicken flock lives in a mobile chicken run on wheels that can be moved around the garden. Wherever the flock goes, they eat bugs, grass and whatever looks interesting to them in the soil.
“They go between the rows in their run,” Meyer-Ogren said. “It’s natural pest control and it’s nature’s compost.”
Having chickens and growing food at Coogan Farm reflects its history and legacy, said Meyer-Ogren.
“Right now the chickens are the animals left on Coogan Farm,” she said. “It’s been nice to speak to that heritage of Coogan Farm itself and still grow things here and have at least some animals.”
At the farm’s summer camp, the children often want to meet Mabel, said Sutphen.
“At first they think they’re going to get pecked, which is a normal response, but she’s really good with kids, she doesn’t peck them,” she said. “Something that’s really cool too is when we have enough eggs, I’ll tell the kids they can go back and collect an egg, and they’ve never held a warm egg because all of our eggs are refrigerated.”
Because being around a chicken is usually far-removed from most children’s experience, Mable has become instrumental in teaching about farm animals, said Meyer-Ogren.
“Children get so curious when they see Emma come by with Mabel in her arms and you can see their bravery,” Meyer-Ogren said. “As they see more of Mabel, they become more brave and more curious and want to pet her and just follow her around.”
Adults also become transformed around Mabel, she said.
“It’s been really rewarding to watch kids of different ages get excited about her, or even the adults — all of a sudden you can see their childlike nature come out and they start to laugh and they all want a picture with Mabel.”
Mabel, walking along a row in the garden wearing her harness, scratched the ground and clucked.
“She really enjoys worms, and she tells us when she runs out,” said Sutphen. “She was trying to help all morning. She marches to the beat of her own drum.”