Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Every February we would receive a batch of newly hatched chicks which were placed in the freshly cleaned-and I mean scrubbed cleaned- coop. It is worth taking the time to describe that cleaning process.

The first order of business was to remove all the chickens and chicken shit in the coop. It was simple mindless labor. The truck was backed up to one of the doors and the CS was shoveled onto the truck bed. The first half of the job was relatively easy because the CS in the body of the coop was loose and dry. But once cleared, we had to clean out under the wire racks where the slept, and here everything was wet, heavy and packed, in addition to being further away from the doors to the truck. It was also home for numerous rats, so our little rat terrier had a grand old time. The dust was awful, and we didn’t know enough then to wear protective masks. I was not surprise some 40 years later when my chest xray showed signs of old histoplasmosis.

After the last bit of manure was removed, the coop was washed down with soap and water, removing all remnants of manure and dirt in preparation for the final stage of cleaning. In the 40s and 50s creosote was not considered hazardous, and was readily available for my father to use to “disinfect” the coop. In typical fashion, he had a special contraption made to complete this task. A large galvanized trash can was fitted with wheels and handles so it could easily be moved about like a wheelbarrow. Within the can was a hand pump and sprayer, and when filled with the nasty creosote, it was possible to spray the entire interior of the coop. As I remember, I did most of the pumping and my father handled the sprayer. It did not take long for us to recognize an obvious problem with creosote, it burned the skin, and thereafter we covered all exposed skin with a heavy application of noxzema which proved to be only partially effective. I’m not sure just what “germs” my father hoped to eliminate with the creosote, but I can’t imagine anything surviving after our “treatment”.

With the coop all cleaned (sterilized?), the next step was setting up the stoves to keep the newly hatched chicks warm. For a few years we used small coal burning potbellied stoves with a large round galvanized hood, but later replaced them with special heat producing lamps. Around the stove and extending out about 24 inches from the edge of the hood a bedding of Staysdry was spread over the concrete floor. (a thick straw and fine wood chip combination that I don’t believe is available any longer.) The bedding was contained by a twelve inch high metal ring with a diameter of about six feet encircling the entire area. We usually had six to nine of these “nurseries” set up, always in the same coop.

With the heat on, the young chicks were literally dumped out of their boxes into their nurseries where they immediately gathered all together beneath the hoods producing a carpet of yellow fuzz. They quickly discovered where the feed and water containers were placed and would venture away from their self imposed cluster long enough to fill their tiny gullets.

Of all my memories from the farm, nothing compares to the the pure joy of going into that coop on a bitter cold February day and experiencing the combination of the warmth and the sweet smell of the chicks, enhanced by the sound of their peeping and the touch of their fuzzy feathers as they clamored around the hands that provided their feed and water. It was easy to wish you could climb in there with them and lie down under the cozy hood.

1 comment:

Linda said...

I really enjoy your stories. You describe it all so well -- it's easy to imagine the feel of all those little chicks gathered around your hands and a warm feathery smell -- nice!!!