As poultry is an indispensable appendage to the farm, in all cases, the poultry-house is equally indispensable, for their accommodation, and for the most profitable management of the fowls themselves, and most convenient for the production of their eggs and young. Indeed, without well-arranged quarters for the fowls of the farm, they are exceedingly troublesome, and of doubtful profit; but with the proper buildings devoted to them exclusively, they become one of the most interesting and agreeabl
objects with which either the farm or the country house is associated.
poultry lawn, plan
It is hardly worth while to eulogize poultry. Their merits and virtues are written in the hearts of all provident housekeepers; and their beauty and goodness are familiar to every son and daughter of the rural homestead. We shall, then, proceed at once to discuss their proper accommodation, in the cheapest and most familiar method with which we are acquainted.
The hen-house—for hens (barn-door fowls, we mean) are the first and chief stock, of the kind, to be provided for, and with them most of the other varieties 268 can be associated—should be located in a warm, sheltered, and sunny place, with abundant grounds about it, where they can graze—hens eat grass—and scratch, and enjoy themselves to their heart's content, in all seasons, when the ground is open and they can scratch into, or range over its surface. Some people—indeed, a good many people—picket in their gardens, to keep hens out; but we prefer an enclosure to keep the hens in, at all seasons when they are troublesome, which, after all, is only during short seasons of the year, when seeds are planted, or sown, and grain and vegetables are ripening. Otherwise, they may range at will, on the farm, doing good in their destruction of insects, and deriving much enjoyment to themselves; for hens, on the whole, are happy things.
We here present the elevation of a poultry-house in perspective, to show the principle which we would adopt in its construction, and which may be extended to any required length, and to which may be added any given area of ground, or yard-room, which the circumstances of the proprietor may devote to it. It is, as will be seen, of a most rustic appearance, and built as cheaply, yet thoroughly, as the subject may require. Its length, we will say, is 20 feet, its breadth 16, and its height 10 feet, made of posts set into the ground—for we do not like sills, and floors of wood, because rats are apt to burrow under them, which are their worst enemies—and boarded up, either inside or outside, as in the case of the ice-house previously described, though not double. Plates are laid on these posts, to connect them firmly together; and the rafters 270 rest on the plates, as usual. The chamber floor is 9 feet high, above the ground, and may be used either for laying purposes by the fowls, or reserved as a storage-room for their feed. The roof is broadly drawn over the body of the building, to shelter it, and through the point of the roof, in the center, is a ventilator, with a covered top, and a vane significant of its purpose. It is also sufficiently lighted, with glass windows, into which our draughtsman has put the diamond-paned glass, contrary to our notions; but, as he had, no doubt, an eye to the picturesque, we let it pass, only remarking, that if we were building the house on our own account, there should be no such nonsense about it. The front windows are large, to attract the warmth of the winter's sun. A section of picket fence is also attached, and trees in the rear—both of which are necessary to a complete establishment; the first, to secure the poultry in the contiguous yards, and the trees to give them shade, and even roosting-places, if they prefer such lodgings in warm weather—for which we consider them eminently wholesome.
The wooden floor is dispensed with, as was remarked, to keep rid of the vermin. If the ground be gravelly, or sandy, it will be sufficiently dry. If a heavy or damp soil be used, it should be under-drained, which will effectually dry it, and be better for the fowls than a floor of either wood, brick, or stone. Doors of sufficient size can be made on the yard sides of the house, near the ground, for the poultry to enter either the living or roosting apartments, at pleasure, and hung with butts on the upper side, to be closed when necessary.
The front door opens into the main living room. At each end, and in the rear, are tiers of boxes, one foot wide, one and a half feet long, and one and a half feet high—the lowest tier elevated two feet above the ground—and built one tier above the other, and snugly partitioned between, with a hole at one corner of each, ten inches high, and eight inches wide, for passing in to them; and a shelf, or passage-board, nine inches wide, in front. These are the nesting boxes, and should be kept supplied with short, soft straw, or hay orts, for that purpose. Hens love secrecy in their domestic economy, and are wonderfully pleased with the opportunity to hide away, and conceal themselves while laying. Indeed, such concealment, or the supposition of it, we have no doubt promotes fecundity, as it is well known that a hen can stop laying, almost at pleasure, when disturbed in her regular habits and settled plans of life. Burns says—
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Gang aft agley;
and why not hen's? We think so. If turkeys be kept in the premises, the females can also be accommodated in these boxes, as they are fond of laying in company with the hens, and frequently in the same nests, only that they require larger entrances into them; or, a tier of boxes may be made on the ground, for their convenience.
272 A door leads from the rear of this room into the roosting apartment, through which is a passage to the back side of the building, and a door opposite, leading out into the yard. On each side of this passage are roosts, rising, each behind and above the other, 18 inches apart. The lowest roosts may be three feet from the ground, and the highest six feet, that they may easily fly from one to the other; and in this way they may all be approached, to catch the fowls, when required. For the roosts, slender poles, two to three inches in diameter—small trees, cut from the woods, with the bark on, are the best—may be used; and they should be secured through augur holes in board slats suspended from the floor joists overhead. This apartment should be cleaned out as often as once a fortnight, both for cleanliness and health—for fowls like to be clean, and to have pure air. A flight of stairs may be made in one corner of the front room, to go into the chamber, if preferred; but a swing ladder, hung by one end, with hinges, to the joists above, is, for such purpose, a more cleanly mode of access; which, when not in use, may be hooked up to the under side of the floor above; and a trap door, shutting into the chamber floor, and also hung on hinges, will accommodate the entrance.
For feeding troughs, we have seen many ingenious contrivances, and among them, possibly, a Yankee patent, or two; but all these we put aside, as of little account. A common segar box, or any other cast-off thing, that will hold their food, is just as good as the most complicated invention; and, in common feeding, 273 there is no better mode than to scatter abroad their corn, and let them pick it up at their pleasure—when spread on a clean surface. We think, also, that, except for fattening poultry, stated hours of feeding are best for the birds themselves, and that they be fed only such quantity as they will pick up clean. Water should, if possible, be kept constantly by them; and if a small running stream could pass through the yard, all the better.
If it be desirable to have fresh eggs during winter—and that is certainly a convenience—a box stove may be set in the living room, and properly protected by a grating around it, for warming the living apartment. It may be remarked, however, that this winter-laying of hens is usually a forcing business. A hen will lay but about a given number of eggs in a year; say a hundred—we believe this is about the number which the most observant of poultry-keepers allow them—and what she lays in winter must be subtracted from the number she would otherwise lay in the spring, summer, or autumn. Yet a warm house will, laying, aside, keep the fowls with less food, and in greater comfort, than if cold, and left to their own natural warmth.
There is usually little difficulty in keeping hens, turkies, ducks, and geese together, in the same inclosure, during winter and early spring, before the grass grows. But geese and turkies require greater range during the warm season than the others, and should have it, both for convenience to themselves and profit to their owners. For winter quarters, low shelters may be made for the water-fowls in the yards, and the turkies will 274 frequently prefer to share the shelter of the hens, on the roosts in the house. Guinea-hens—cruel, vindictive things, as they are—should never be allowed within a common poultry yard. Always quarrelsome, and never quiet, they should take to the farmyard, with the cattle, where they may range at will, and take their amusement in fisticuffs with each other, at pleasure. Neither should peacocks be allowed to come into the poultry inclosures, during the breeding season; they are anything but amiable in their manners to other birds.
With the care and management of the poultry department, after thus providing for their accommodation, it is not our province to interfere; that is a subject too generally understood, to require further remark. Nor need we discuss the many varieties of poultry which, at the present time, so arrest the attention of many of our good country people; and we will leave so important a subject to the meditations of the New England Poultry Society, who have taken the gallinaceous, and other tribes under their special cognizance, and will, doubtless, in due time, illumine the world with various knowledge in this department of rural economy, not yet dreamt of in our philosophy. The recently published poultry books, too, with an amplitude and particularity in the discussion of the different breeds and varieties, which shuts all suspicions of self-interest into the corner, have given such a fund of information on the subject, that any further inquiry may, with entire good will, be turned over to their pages.