Back in my boyhood days, the chicken house was a center of activity in The Brim Hollow. It was actually one building that accommodated two different houses – the chicken house and the henhouse.
Rectangular in shape, it featured a dividing wall in its center with wooden floors. The front of the building was boarded halfway to the roof. Chicken wire covered the large windows. In the winter, heavy black paper was tacked up to keep out the cold.
A path led from the side door of the Brim homeplace, past the smokehouse, over a two-log footbridge that crossed the branch, and ended at the steps of the hen house.
Because it was built on a slope, the floor was at least four feet above ground level on the henhouse side. It took two big steps to get up into the henhouse. It was, of course, equipped with a maze of roosting poles that ran perpendicular to the entrance. At dusk, when the hens went to roost, we shut the henhouse door for the night.
Just to the right of the henhouse door, a row of laying nests was attached to the outside wall. Covered with a narrow tin roof, it was located about four feet above the ground.
In my younger days, I was not tall enough to peer into the nests when gathering the eggs, and I was not brave enough to reach into each nest and feel for eggs (chicken snakes were known to crawl into nests sometimes). So I took along a wooden box on which to stand. Better to be safe, than sorry!
During the day the hens were relatively safe from predators. Their number-one enemies were red-tailed hawks (My grandfather called them hen hawks). He said a hen hawk could carry off a hen in a minute. He also said a hen hawk would get a baby goat.
I vividly remember the sight of a hens ducking and running for cover when the shadow of a hawk swept silently across the ground.
The hens rarely ventured past the tree line up into the hollow. My grandfather hung hubcaps and aluminum pie pans in the low hanging tree limbs to scare away the hawks.
The other section of the chicken house was used for starting and growing frying chickens. I helped my grandmother start several batches of chicks in my younger days. In some years we gathered up the newly hatched chicks from the settin’ hens.
I recall a few years when we purchased chicks from the feed store. I especially remember the purple medicine my grandmother put in the chicken water. She would fill up a half-gallon Mason jar with water and add the purple medicine. Then she would put a glass waterer on top of the jar and quickly turn it upside down. As a boy, I never could figure out why that purple water didn’t run out of the Mason jar on its own. But it didn’t. Those chicks would walk up to it, take a drink, and point their beaks to the sky.
The chicks were fed chicken scratch (ground shelled corn) and Purina Groweena (I thinks that’s what it was called), and they grew like they were shot out of a gun. Once they were off to a good start, they were allowed to leave the chicken house through a small door in the back. At night they returned and the door was shut tight.
In a few short weeks some of the chicks began to grow thick, red combs. That wasn’t good for the chick. That meant they were boys and they were headed for the frying pan. Some of the pullets met a similar fate. A few of the best were kept to become layers.
My grandmother, who stood all of 5-foot-2, could not only wring the neck of a chicken; she could pluck and clean a chicken. I always made myself scarce when she was plucking and cleaning.
I shall never forget the smell of scalded feathers or the sight of chicken entrails in the dish pan.
And my Granny Lena could cook fried chicken with the best of them.
In the modern age that led to sophisticated pressure cookers and secret recipes, Granny Lena could have taken a wood cook stove, a black iron skillet, a little lard and a farm-raised chicken and given Colonel Harland Sanders a run for his money.