The Old Chicken House & Things South

A recent picture of the old chicken house.

The Old Chicken House

As far back as I could remember, the chicken house was just an old, ugly building that no one could see. For the usual visitors to the farm, it was hidden from view by the house and by the trees around it, and, of course, by the well house and the barn.

And the chicken house smelled to high heaven! The stink was very distinctive. Of course the chickens used to crap all over the place, and that smell dominated. We also raised baby pigs in the chicken house, but the chickens seemed worse to me. Once there were also two little calves born in a blizzard, that we put into the second room of the chicken house, and they had their own distinctive odor. But that is getting a little ahead of my story.

In my very earliest memories, the chicken house was just the long building that lay south of the barn and the old well house, forming part of the fence for the corral. Looking at it from the house, I saw a right trapezoid shape. The side of the roof near the barn on the north was the lowest point and the southern side was the highest. There were windows only on the south side.

The old chicken house was originally divided into three rooms. The eastern side, nearest the house, was the room where the nesting chickens lived. The room next door was used for many different things as I remember, sometimes the baby pigs or baby cows that I began helping to care for when I was five or six years old. The last room, the west room, was the storage room for chicken feed, pig feed, or coal for the water heater in the stock tank.

The center room also contained a large brooder for raising the littlest chickens. The brooder looked like an upside-down funnel and the little birds would run around and get under it for protection and warmth. The cute, fluffy little yellow birds needed constant heat to survive.

Sometimes my parents would order a box of little chickens that we would receive in the mail. The baby chicks were a little bedraggled when they arrived but they were generally okay. (Newborn chicks can survive 72 hours without food or water, thanks to nutrients from the egg yolk, which they ingest immediately before hatching. The U.S. Postal Service has allowed shipments of live baby chicks since 1918.)

When the baby chickens got a little older, they were moved to the room nearest the house. Some became laying hens, one was chosen as the rooster of the flock, and some became food. I think we also sold some, but I don’t really remember those details.

Chickens for dinner

One of my early memories from this time period comes from a day we were having company come for a meal. We needed several chickens to cook. Mommy and Daddy went out to the chicken house, where they selected the biggest chickens. Daddy had an axe and Mommy had a big bag. They would spot a good candidate and Daddy would run and grab it, carry it over to a block of wood, and chop off its head. Blood spurted everywhere, shooting several feet into the air, and spraying everything nearby. The headless bird would run wildly around until there was no blood left. Then Mommy would pick up the bird’s body, and start pulling out the feathers, which she put into the bag. Later, she would make pillows from the feathers.

A blizzard with baby calfs

One night, I remember that we were expecting a blizzard and at least two of the cows were due to have babies. Daddy had been keeping watch over them all evening. The blizzard blew in about sunset, which was also the time that one of the cows went into labor. A few hours later, Daddy came into the house carrying a new little baby calf. Mommy grabbed a lot of towels to dry off the calf and we made him comfortable in the back hallway. Daddy went back out to check on the next cow. A short time later he came in with the second calf.

Now my parents had a real problem, because there was not enough space for two little calves in our hallway. Finally, they decided to put both baby calves into the middle room of the chicken house. So Daddy carried the little calves out to their new beds. For the next several days, Kenny and I both accompanied Daddy to feed the young calves in the chicken house. We used a special bucket that had a rubber udder on the side.

The third room

It looks like the third room is missing.

As I have said, the third room of the chicken house was usually used for tools. It had not been constructed in the same way as the rest of the chicken house; It was more of a lean to shed, with the low end on the west side, and with the east side leaning on the chicken house. Kenny and I used it to climb onto the roof of the chicken house. The low side was only a couple of feet high and the roof of the chicken house was only a step up on that side.

Another big blizzard

According to one of my earliest memories, one year there had been a really bad blizzard. A giant drift of snow reached the top of the chicken house on the high side. Kenny and I both climbed onto the chicken house, using the low lean to roof on the western end. Then we climbed up the chicken house to the very top of the roof, and we walked straight out onto the drift.

The big snow drift had all sorts of places to slide down. One in particular was a lot of fun, but was also very frightening the first few times we tried it. It was near the building, a chute that abruptly dropped down close to the ground, and then leveled off, for a long fast ride. The snow on the top had frozen solid, so it was easy to walk on. But the drift also had several overhangs. One time I ventured a little too far from the building, and my right leg broke through the frozen drift and I fell down. I only stopped because my hip was too big to go through the hole, and it stopped me.

After recovering from the fall I tried to get up. First I tried to find something that I could put my leg on, to push myself up. But there was nothing. I kicked in all directions and I found nothing solid to step on. I tried to use my other leg, but it was at such an angle that I could not use it, nor could I use my arms. I could hoist myself up a little, but not high enough to get both my legs under me.

Kenny tried to help but we were afraid that if he got too close, he would have the same fate.

Finally, we decided that I was well and truly stuck, and the best strategy was to go get Daddy. So Kenny headed out to get him, and I waited for what seemed like an eternity. Finally Daddy, like a superhero, came and lifted me out with no problems.

The eastern room

Nesting box on north wall
Nesting box on north wall.

In the eastern room of the chicken house were two long nesting boxes. On the north wall the nesting box was about four feet long. The hens would climb in, lay their eggs, and tend them until they hatched and the babies were large enough to take care of themselves. And there was also ramp for the chickens to roost on at night. It was about ten feet long and sloped up at a thirty degree angle. It was constructed of several 2×4 running up the slop. Then a number of 2×1 attached to the 2×4. They were spaced about a foot apart. At night the chickens would get on the highest board and sleep.

On the southern wall the nesting box was probably double the length of the northern wall. Each box was about 18 inches deep and the same front to back. The roof was on a hing and sloped down. A person could lift up the roof and get the eggs that the hen had laid in the previous 24 hours. Supposedly, once a year we would clean the nesting box and put in new hay for the chickens to nest in.

Above the nesting boxes on the southern wall was windows that looked south.

Gathering eggs

On the front of the nesting box was a wooden platform that the chickens would stand on when getting into and out of the nesting boxes. In my earliest memories, my head was about the same height as the platform. I would accompany my mom when she was getting the eggs. We would generally go before sunset before the hens had returned to their nests. But on rare occasions we would not make it, and mommy would have to reach in the box, grab the chicken by the tail and left it out of the box. The chicken did not like this one bit! They would try to peck my moms hands and squawk a lot. Especially to a little person’s ears.

As time passed, I grew and before long mommy said that she thought I was big enough to gather the eggs. So she turned the job over to me and my little brother, Kenny. He would crawl on the platform in front on the nesting box. I would hold the cover of the box up and I reached in a got the eggs. That was not too bad.

However, if we were late, and the chickens had returned to their nest, it was another story. Kenny would hold the lid open and I would tentatively put my hand up to grab the chicken by the tail. She would start furiously picking at my hand and I would pull my hand away. I would do this several times before I figured out where her tail was and grab it. It was not as easy as my mom made it look. Eventually, I got so I could do it as easy as my mom.

Several years pass and my parents decided to get out of the chicken business. But the chickens lived on and I eventually did not notice them. I think there was still some of them when I went to college. They were probably several generations from the first ones I tended.

Pigs move into the chicken house

My parents bought some little pigs so we could have pork. They put then in the middle room of the chicken house.They were really cute when they were young but they did not stay small for long. Soon they were too large for the small little room. So daddy cut a doorway between the middle room and the eastern room.

Each day after school, we would have to go out feed the pigs. We would take a long walk up to the old bunkhouse, fill a five gallon bucket with grain, and carry it down to the chicken house. We had an electric fence across the door to keep the pigs in. We had to lift the heavy metal pail of grain over the electric wire. To make matters worse, the doorway was always wet and muddy.

In the first years, Kenny and I would have to share caring the bucket since it was too heavy for one of us to carry. But it usually feel to me to hoist the bucket over the electrical fence and pour it into the pig trough. One day, I was hoisting it over but I did not get it high enough and it hit the electrical fence. All twenty thousand volts, plus or minus a lot, surged through my body! All my muscles tightened up and I could not let go of the bucket.

Finally, the fence charger turned off and I could let go. I let out a scream that let everyone know what had happened, luckily Kenny was the only one close enough to hear. He was laughing so much. I spilled the grain in the puddle in the doorway and it was not good for anything so Kenny and I had to go get another one. From then on, I was always very careful to lift the bucket high enough.

The Old Outhouse

An old outhouse. By Bill Pickens

We had an outhouse somewhere around the farm. I don’t remember where it was. Kenny thinks it was out in front of the house. The way I remember it, it was old and very ran down. So daddy got a another one that was in better shape. And it was put it out in the front of the house.

Kenny and I dig a deep hole

Framhand on tractor. Dad put ours on an old Model AA truck.

My mom was not very happy with this, she wanted it moved. But before it was moved it needed a deep hole dug. Kenny and I were assigned the task of digging a deep hole. We had watched as Cecil Bogart dig a deep hole, it appeared easy. So the next day we got all the shovels and other tools needed for digging.

Did I say that we were still very young. Well, we dug and dug and dug. We took shovel full after shovel full out of the hole. We poured jugs of water in the hole to soften the soil. We got big heavy jam bar and daddy’s pickaxe. We dug for days and days and several times daddy would ask if it was deep enough yet. And we would say no.

The outhouse moves

Finally, after considerable time, he came out to inspect the hole, and he said, “That looks deep enough”. So, the next day, he got the Farmhand, hoisted the outhouse up, and carried it over and lowered it over our hole. And that’s where it set for decades.

It was mainly used as a spare restroom, when there were too many people waiting in the house for the one restroom. Or when we had farm laborers or people working on the farm.

The Garden

South of the outhouse was where we had our garden. We only grew it for several years but it did real well. It was an area where runoff from the windmill and stock tank would run to then absorb into the ground. Things that grew in this area flourished. The corn, and beans was the best things. But buying things at the grocery store won out plus we did not grow enough to last a full year.

The Old Blacksmith Shop

South of that was an old blacksmith shop. I was too young to remember it, my mom and dad said it looked too dangerous to have little kids around so they tore it out by the time I could remember. The only thing that remained from it was an old forge that was moved to the quonset. It was a hollowed out piece of cast iron about two and a half feet by two and a half feet. It had four wobbly legs and a fan with a crank on one corner. The crank was connected to the fan through a series of gears that really sped up the fan. The fan blasted air across the bed of coal to produce high temperatures needed for forging iron. I only saw it used once, it generally collected junk in the quincet. Kenny and I liked to spin the crank and see how fast we could get it going.

The Farmland

South of that was farmland, we grew wheat and feed for our cattle. And also they would graze on it most of the year. Kenny and I would use it to fly kits, model planes and missiles. There was one Saturday I remember, when Kenny and I were out flying a box kit. The wind was perfect, we had several rolls of string, and we had low clouds. The kit would keep climbing and climbing so we would tie another role of string to the string running to the kit and it would keep rising. Finally, we used all three rolls and it started flying into and out of the clouds.

Finally, we had to bring it down, in doing this we got the string all tangled up and try as we could we could not get it untangled. Eventually, we had to throw all the string in the trash. We agreed that next time we had low clouds and plenty of string we would have to try again. We tried several times but we could not get the kit to fly into the clouds. I think that one day the clouds were exceptionally low.

The Pasture south of the house

South of that was a real pretty pasture. It was about a quarter of a section (160 acres) in size and had a dry lake that only filled after a rain. On the side of the lake were several old wagons from the horse and wagon era. Kenny and I thought they were old covered wagons from the early settlers but mommy and daddy thought they were from much more recent times. They said that people used wagons like that up until World War II.

Abandoned homestead

Up the hill from the wagons was an old abandoned farmhouse and two wells. One had a windmill and stock tank on it and was used for watering the cattle. The other one had been capped of to prevent things from falling into it.

The old house had been abandon many years before. But mommy and daddy warned us that rattle snakes lived in places like that so it scared Kenny and I off for many years. I did go in it when I was in high school. Daddy was thinking about using it to store wheat in it.

The mysterious bone

Daddy was out one day in the pasture a found a bone that looked a lot like a human finger bone. He showed it to several other people and they agreed with him that it looked like a finger bone from a human. Kenny and I were will real curious, and wanted daddy to tell us where he found the bone. He didn’t want us going out and disturbing someone’s grave. So he never told us.

Sometime later, an older couple who owned a very large ranch north of us stopped in one day and told daddy a story. There was, many years before, a very large ranch that included our land. It was there for many years. Then the settlers started arriving and one fellow found the lake and loved it and got a homestead for it.

The rancher was not pleased with this, but there was not a lot he could do. He did not own the land. So he sent his cowboys out to harass the settler. This continued for some time. Than the homesteader just disappeared. No one ever found out what happened. Perhaps, the finger bone was his.

The threesome’s father had settled the land while it was still untouched prairie. They lived with their parents while there was few neighbors. Their parents died and the children stayed on the land. In my time, they were two old men and one old woman. I don’t think I ever meet them.

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