From Pipi’s Pasture: The chicken house

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We don’t have a chicken house here at Pipi’s Pasture. We don’t have chickens or any other poultry, for that matter. For some reason, I’ve been remembering the old chicken house on the Morapos ranch where my siblings and I grew up.

photo

Diane Prather

The log chicken house was there when our parents bought the ranch. It sat behind the house, and to get there we had to walk across a plank that had been placed over an irrigation ditch. The building was long and had a slanted roof and some type of mesh wire across the front. (I think the wire was covered with some type of plastic covering in the winter.) The house actually was underground by a couple of feet so that we had to step down to get inside. There was a dirt floor.

The chicken house was divided into two rooms. A smaller room had poles covered by boards that served as roosts where the chickens perched to sleep at night. This room was the chickens’ bedroom. The other, larger room was where we put the feed for the birds. Some nests had been built up off the floor along one wall where the chickens laid their eggs.

Mom sometimes fed the hens some type of pellets with ingredients that were supposed to encourage egg laying. Mostly, however, we fed the chickens wheat that was harvested on the ranch. It was stored in a metal bin that couldn’t have been in a more inconvenient spot.

To get to the bin we had to go to the corral, located across the road from the house, climb over the corral fence with the bucket, open the bin and fill the bucket with wheat, “work” the filled bucket up the corral fence and down the other side, and pack it over to the chicken house — over the plank across the ditch. In the winter, we had to drag the bucket through the snow.

We had to pack water to the chickens, too, and pour it into a chicken water device or in a big dishpan held down by a rock. In the winter, we packed warm water. We also fed the chickens vegetable peelings, leftover milk and other scraps. (Nothing ever went to waste on the ranch.) We made sure there was plenty of oyster shell for the birds so that the egg shells would be hard.

In the summer, we let the chickens out to pick at the grass, bugs, seeds and other things, but we shut them back up at night to protect them from the predators.

Sometimes, even though we shut the chickens up at night, the badgers and skunks showed up. They tunneled right into the roosting room, caught chickens and took them back through the tunnel. I can remember those nights when we had just gotten to sleep and the chickens started squawking. Dad jumped out of bed, pulled on his pants, grabbed his gun and started for the chicken house. As I recall, the predators usually got away.

I remember the badgers more than skunks, but my brother Duane Osborn, who is 14 years younger than me, recalls how he trapped eight skunks at the “rooster house” that Mom and Dad built in later years (that I don’t remember at all). He also remembers that water snakes used to crawl into the chicken house.

In the fall, we got the chicken house ready for winter. That meant scooping out all of the waste material from under the roosts. It was a dirty job — not for a person with breathing problems. Then, as I remember, the chicken house was dusted with lime. I think we might have put straw in the building, too.

We kids spent many hours in that old chicken house.

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