Sunday, February 27, 2011

Chicken houses I have known

My first chickens were the result of much research by my 10 year old self and continually begging my parents. Fifty nondescript white hens found in a classified ad were carried home in carboard boxes in the back of my dad's pickup. And a dog - but that's another story.
My dad partitioned off part of our little barn with old storm sash windows scavenged from somewhere I nolonger remember. A feeder came courtesy of my grandma and her propensity for buying things at estate auctions. Water was supplied in a pan on the floor. For roosts there were limbs nailed higgly piggly across one corner of the new "hen room". 
These poor birds never got to go outside. Outside was where the chicken-eating beagle that belonged to my brother lived. Outside - no matter how sunny and green- was no safe place for chickens on our farm.

Later, when my kids where small, we had a mini-henhouse in West Virginia. It was just 3' X 6' and 3 feet tall. The house stood on legs so it was about 30 inches off the ground. One whole side was a "picture window" to let in the light and there were 2 nest boxes you could get into through a drop down door.  I liked that henhouse it was easy to clean out through a door set low on the back. You could park the wheelbarrow right up under the edge and use a hoe to pull out all the litter.
We had 3 great hens and a rotten rooster some friends had given us. They spent most of their time in the big chicken yard attached to the house. The three hens laid just enough eggs to keep our family of four well supplied. The rooster was a great defender of his harem from maurauding wildlife, the family dog and anybody else who happened by. We stayed out of the chicken yard as much as possible.
If I did have to enter the yard I used a long piece of stiff metal wire bent into a hook on both ends. I'd reach over the fence and snag that mean rooster's legs in one hook then I'd hang him up from a convenient tree limb by the hook on the other end. I sort of felt bad for hanging him up like that so I'd hurry and finish up what needed doing. Then I'd take him down from the limb. Get my body outside the gate and the rooster still in the hook on the inside. Then I'd set him down and slip the hook lose. He was indignant, but no worse for wear.

More recently when we came back to the family farm we had chicken tractors: big ones, little ones, fat ones, skinny ones, tall ones and short ones. They worked well but all that moving got tiresome. And incidently chicken tractors won't keep out weasels.  A couple of late night dashes out to the pens with the rifle in hand and losing an entire pen of half grown turkeys convinced us of that fact.

Then we had an egg mobile built on an old melon wagon. I loved it for the big laying flock we had. The nestboxes were all on the back wall. You lifted up the flap and collected the eggs. Brian had put drinking cups suspended under the wagon. A water barrel inside the egg mobile kept the cups full. Every few days after we locked the hens up for the night we'd hitch it to the tractor and move it to a new spot.  Unfortunately, it was the victim of straight line winds. It's amazing how many times an eggmobile can roll down a hill. The carnage was horrible. We lost most of a 100 hen laying flock.  Then we went back to chicken tractors. They are low to the ground and low maintianance and the weasels didn't seem so bad afterall. We modified the old chicken tractors with doors to let the hens out during the day. The chickens loved being able to roam during the day. It worked great until we had a plague of hawks and got tired of loosing a hen a day to the Red Tail menace. So we modified what had been our first pig house and and added big outdoor runs for the hens - with bird netting over the top to foil the hawks. And that's where we stopped. My daughter and son in law have inherited the hens and this hen house. It works well for their household flock. There are two seperate sides so the hens can be rotated or one side can be used to raise up replacement pullets. Lydia says there is only one thing she wants to change. She wants to be able to gather the eggs without actually going into the hen house. Having all those chickens milling around her feet makes her nervous.

So what have I learned from this hen house history? First you can have too many chickens. And you can have too few. Second there is beauty in simplicity and ease of access. Third there is no such thing as a varmint tight henhouse. Fourth I think I know what my next henhouse will look like. I'm thinking something along the lines of the West Virgina henhouse, but mobile. Perhaps with wheels on one end and wheelbarrow handles on the other so that it can be moved. Hmmm....

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