PITTSFIELD -- The annual Country Fair at Hancock Shaker Village has always been a highlight of the fall season, where artisans display their handcrafts, delicious competition pies, and traditional farm activites from timber framing a barn to shucking corn and pressing apples for cider.
Add some farm-fresh produce, live bluegrass music, horse-drawn wagon rides and intricate quilts, and the historic village positively bustles with old-time enjoyment for all ages.
When my daughter, Rebecca -- a dedicated volunteer on the Shaker farm, like her brother before her -- told me there would be a very special new event at the fair this weekend ... well, why don't I let her explain it herself.
You can't have a country fair on a farm without involving chickens. As Laura Field, Farm Manager at Hancock Shaker Village and the racing chickens' trainer (also known as "The Chicken Lady") said, "Let's face it: Chickens are awesome, and chickens in a little race are even better."
So, this year, for the first time, the Hancock Shaker Village Country Fair will host the first annual Chicken Games!
The way these games will be set up is that there will be a short chicken run wide enough for five chickens to run down easily. The five racers will be held at the starting line until the race begins, when they will be released and run to the finish line. At the finish, an employee will stand with a scoop of grain -- a small prize for the winning chicken and a clear destination for the chickens to reach.
Farmhand Katie Trickey said this is her favorite part of the race: "Seeing them all running to the food, seeing which chicken will win and the excitement of it -- we've never done anything like this before."
Although she has one less toe than her opponents, due to a squabble with a pig, the Rhode Island Red racer "Pig Chicken" will run proudly alongside her four competitors. The races will also include a Barred Rock chicken, already sporting her natural racing stripes, and a white Silkie. It is a small race, and only two other mixed-breed chickens will accompany them.
During each race, 15 children will draw plastic eggs from a basket, each egg containing the number of a chicken racer. There will be three eggs for each racer's number in the basket. Whichever chicken wins, the three kids who chose that chicken's number will get the chance to have their photographs taken with their little racer and will also receive coloring book prizes.
Those five fabulous chickens have been training for these races their whole lives; every afternoon they have raced to the chicken coop, running their little hearts out, clucking excitedly, racing to be fed.
Getting to know chickens
Laura Field, "The Chicken Lady," came up with the idea of the Chicken Games. She said she hopes these races "will give kids a chance to be actively involved in the farm life at the village and give everyone the chance to appreciate one of the most quirky and amusing animals on the farm."
She grew up around chickens and said they are her favorite animal because of their little chicken ways and because they "have their own unique way of interacting they have their own language."
After watching the races, visitors can make their way to the chicken coop and experience all these special chicken characteristics for themselves.
I also am a fan of chickens. I have known one of the racing chickens since she was a little chick, when I had to carry her in my pocket to keep her out of the cold air whenever I took her out of the brooder for a tour.
I watched the father of another racer grow from a fluffy little baby Silkie to a nice, proud rooster, crowing all day long.
As I have volunteered at Hancock Shaker Village for two years, chickens have grown on me as one of the cutest, most lovable species on the farm. Some people say chickens don't have feelings, but they really do.
And although they don't appear to be able to show facial expressions, once you really get a chance to look at them for a while you notice they actually can.
What: Hancock Shaker Village Country Fair with crafts, fall Shaker fare and games
Where: Routes 20 and 41, Pittsfield
When: Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Chicken Races: 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. each day
Admission: $17 for adults, $8 for ages 13 to 17, and free for children 12 and under
Information: www.hancockshakervillage.org, (800) 817-1137.