Our chicken house, or "der hinkel haus," as finished on March 7, 2009.
As many readers and friends know, I have always wanted a chicken house. At my grandparents' New Hampshire farm we had an old separate shed structure that was later converted into a garage/tractor shed. Before I was born it had been windowed off with a door and was attached to the old greenhouses that my grandparents built, whose only remains in my memory were the bits of glass and cement blocks strewn about the field. The structure was always called "the pigeon house" as I assume my grandparents or the previous farmer had once kept pigeons there (note to self: ask my mother about this). As children we liked to play house in it even though we weren't supposed to go in there as it was full of old pesticides and glass shards. It may have even once housed chickens.
When we first moved to the farm year round in 1974 after only being there for a precious bit of each summer on vacations from Ohio, the chickens were in the cow tie-up in the main barn. My grandfather kept hens for eggs, and some for meat, and that August, only two months after we moved to the farm, he died. I helped my mother and uncles put those chickens up and my task was to help hold each one on the chopping block for my Uncle Bob and then to help pluck them. Gruesome tasks and easier then for me, for some reason, than it probably would be now. I'm not certain why we didn't keep the chickens or perhaps they were just ready for the freezer. [I expect my grandmother breaking her back a few weeks before my grandfather died, my mother working full-time after being a full-time mother for almost twelve years, and our starting a new school in a few more weeks, were all contributing factors.]
When I married Temple and we lived in Hancock, we had room for chickens in the barn and for an adjacent hen yard on our 1-acre village piece. However, being so "public" in the village, and right next to the town library, it was not something he wanted to start there, despite my pleadings. We also would have had to lug water from the house during long, heavy snow winters. Besides, I never felt we were going to be rooted there and so I did not do many things that I might have done. Garden attempts on my part were well-meaning launches and then never with any great staying power or conviction (however, my patient husband was enthusiastic and installed raised beds and compost bins for me, even though I was not as persistent a gardener then as I might have been). So instead I focused on the kids, the house, and my writing, and I became really good at planting pots full of bright and unusual annuals--perfect for a transient gardener.
West side of chicken house with entry into grain room and coops. [And yes, the little stoop will have a potted plant or two on it each summer, I'm certain of that!]
So, at last, in Kentucky, I got my chicken house--and for our first Kentucky Christmas, at that. The week before Christmas the crew started on it and it was largely finished over the holidays. [I just haven't blogged about it until now as I wanted to wait until all of the finishing touches were done, like the weathervane.] It sits on the oval created by our circular driveway in front of the double-wide, where the old barn used to stand and where, in recent years, Miss Lillian had a perennial garden. [Fortunately, many of those perennials are just starting to nudge up from the soil and I can lift and save some before the grown chickens start pecking at them in a few more months.] My garden patch, also just fenced and gated as it must be chicken proof--as well as puppy, rabbit, deer and general critter proof--is just below the chicken house at the start of the oval and also where Lillian had her vegetable garden. [More about that as garden season progresses.]
I designed the chicken house for putting onto a roll-back and hauling up the road a few hundred yards to our future farm site one day, but in the meantime it will be a genuine fixture here. After studying dozens of designs and not finding anything I really felt was useful for what I wanted, I sketched my own plan for Melvin and his crew: 20 x 10 feet with a half-dividing wall inside (topped by chicken wire for cross-ventilation), a small feed and storage area when you walk in between two c. 100 x 100 square foot rooms (for meat birds on one side and laying hens on the other). In the hen side (on the south) there is an array of 15 metal nests for laying (1 box is recommended for about five birds, so we have plenty) and a roost, about three feet off the ground, where the grown chickens will sleep at night (and, below which, where most of their manure will ideally end up). It is a duplex, a theme echoed in our former Federal New England home with its two front doors and also in so many Kentucky homeplaces that have two front doors that open directly onto their front (or often back) porches. (This local vernacular architectural tradition intrigues me.)
Another view of the finished chicken house: east side with chicken ramps.
The outside chicken yard is also divided in two, as apparently meat birds and hens will fight. The idea is that when the fryers are in the freezer (Cornish X birds only take about 8-10 weeks to fatten up for that purpose), we will then get some turkeys to raise on the "meat bird" side from June-November in time for the holidays. The "duplex" yard is also gated for easy access and my plan is to allow the hens, at least, to free range for a time outside each day after they've laid. [My friend Anna opens her coop up in the late afternoon by which time they've laid their eggs for the day: the chickens apparently learn to go back inside to roost in the evening and, of course, soon learn where their grain and water is located -- then the outside hatches can be shut.]
Now, I like chickens as I like all animals. It is possible that our hens will be pet-like, or at least some of them might live to be a ripe old age, but most farmers will eat their hens once they have stopped producing eggs. This remains to be seen here but I need to be realistic. However, I can not become attached to our meat birds in any way. It would be hypocritical of me to say that "I like my animals and want to eat them too," but there it is. I clearly would not make a very good vegetarian. Regardless, the Cornish X chickens will not have names and I probably won't pay them much attention apart from food, water and hygiene. I might not even name the hens unless there are a few that I foresee always having as pets. Our turkeys will be a harder proposition than the meat chickens as we will have them longer with the idea of eating them--or giving them and selling them--around the holiday season. [I am thinking of the farmyard in the movie Babe or in E.B. White's Charlotte's Web and "what would Wilbur do?"]
In January we had dinner with our friends Melvin and Anna (Melvin is the head of the crew here and is a fine carpenter and builder) and I asked them what "chicken house" would be in Pennsylvania Dutch. As I also learned that this is only a spoken dialect of German interspersed with some English words, and not written, they have to spell phonetically if required. In other words, they always write in English but speak in "Dutch" (a derivative of the German word for the German language: "Deutsch"). When the old order Mennonite and Amish children start school that is when they are first introduced to the English language and also learn to write it. At home they speak nothing but "Dutch" (which also uses many English words) when they are young children and also when alone with each other. Otherwise, they are all raised to be fluent in both languages as they have to interact with "the English" in society.
We bought this weathervane from Melvin and Anna who did not want it after all.
So the long and the short is that "chicken--or hen--house" in Pennsylvania Dutch is "hinkel haus" (in German it would be "hun haus"). As we had primarily old order Mennonites building our chicken house, and because of my own Germanic ancestry from Gernsbach, Germany in the Black Forest to Lehigh County, Pennsylvania and eventually to the Akron, Ohio region, I thought it would be fun to name the house "Hinkel Haus." Now, I need to find and consult our "Dutch-English" dictionaries to see how this should be spelled before I paint a sign to put next to the door! [Yes, confirmed today, 3/11, it's "hinkel" but pronounced "henkgl"]
Looking back at the progression of our chicken house in photographs, I realize that most of it was actually done during a two week period before and after Christmas. Then the crew went across to the street to work on the new shop (see "Frolic on Friday the 13th!" blog entry), oil tank house and wood shed at the same time. Now we are winding down on all projects and the crew should be done sometime next week. On Saturday, they put up a storage shelf inside the chicken house and the weathervane atop the house. Now it is officially ready for our chicks to arrive from Murray McMurray Hatchery sometime during the week of March 23 and we will buy our Cornish X starters locally about the same time. I'll keep you updated with our progress and my learn-as-I-go approach to having chickens.
Photos of the Chicken House In-Progress (with captions)
The chicken house was started on December 18, 2008.
Everyone lends a hand with the framing.
The next day, December 19th, the roof and sides were all up.
We like dark-green standing seam metal roofing and have it on all new buildings (and will also have on our future farmhouse).
On December 20 the side walls were clapboarded and windows framed. As with the siding on the shop and woodshed across the road at our future farm site, we used cedar clapboards (applied in board & batten fashion) from trees cut on our property. The chicken house is not too far from the double-wide where the important outside water source is, too. Electricity, when needed, can be run by extension cord from a small storage shed on the west side of the chicken house.
The chicken house is at a nice angle on the site where the old barn on the property once stood (our double-wide was built eight years ago on the site of the former "dog trot" house). It faces southeast (left elevation) for good sun and ventilation.
I had forgotten how red the chicken house was less than three months ago. The red cedar will weather into a tannish-gray that we like for old barns.
On January 2, the windows were in, the fence started and gates installed.
The 20x20 (divided in two) poultry yard has sturdy locust fence posts from trees cut on our property. [The grassy cluster--a perennial tall grass on the outside of the fence--is now a favorite place for puppy hide and seek so it's staying.]
The windows were designed to pull in for ventilation and, since this photo was taken, are now encased with chicken wire so the chickens--or vermin--can not have access or egress.
Jonathan and Melvin (right) finish the front stoop. The door was salvaged from a house fire and one of two that Melvin (he has one just like it on his chicken house). We wanted the multi-panes for additional sunlight. [And yes, we've discovered that shirtsleeves on occasion during a Kentucky winter is not uncommon!]
The chicken house after a late January ice and snow storm.
The west side of the chicken house with a patch of snow from another winter flurry in front of its north side (taken February 25).
On March 7, the weathervane and an interior shelf--above the filled grain bins--was installed. Everything is now ready for our chicks in a few weeks. It feels like getting together a nursery! [For fun and whimsy, I will be painting a "Hinkel Haus" sign on an old barn board that will hang to the left of the door.]
The chicken house, as photographed on March 8, from our fenced garden patch. [We just installed two compost bins made out of scrap cedar only yesterday--for chicken manure and kitchen vegetable scraps that the chickens won't eat--just to the left of the gate on the outside of the fence.] As the narrow wall between the tractor and front of chicken house faces south, I want to plant hollyhocks there this summer (if the chickens will let me!).
Old caches of daffodils are emerging below and in front of the chicken house. They will likely be blooming in late March when the chicks arrive.
Old window sash was used for all chicken house windows, including two small 2/2s that had been the only windows in our original Hancock upstairs bathrooms (originally washroom/closet rooms, pre-plumbing). When we renovated the ell, the roof extended over them so we salvaged them for a shed one day: now it is nice to have a part of our former home with us, as well as salvage windows from some old Kentucky barns.