Chirping chicks huddled under the stove’s warmth

Posted by | March 29, 2012

That spring, I gathered up suitable pieces of scrap lumber wherever they could be found in order to construct a brooder house. Many of these boards came from a discard pile of surplus materials at the mill where Daddy worked. He often reclaimed a lot of useful items that were otherwise destined to be hauled off to the town dump.

The seven by eight foot structure had a shed roof and was only five feet high at the back. The sacrifice of head room in the design limited the space to be heated during March and April. Initially, the only source of light was a large window installed at floor level. Its southern exposure brought an abundance of afternoon sunshine, providing some solar warmth before the balmy spring days arrived.

boy in chicken brooder houseOur neighbor Bernard Butler sold us a small top-loading coal burning stove. A removable round sheet metal hover radiated the warmth downward.

Daddy suggested an easy way to hoist and securely dangle the stove in midair. He appended a wire bail to the hover and attached a snap buckle fastened to one end of a rope pulley. A lip on the top of the stove helped keep it suspended about six inches from the floor. This gap allowed the chirping chicks to go to and from the heat at will.

The lifting device was easy to operate and gave enough working room to remove the ashes from the stove as well as to clean the area where the chicks nightly huddled. A fresh bed of wood shavings every day restored the space to spic and span sanitary condition.

The stove had a regulating apparatus of sorts to control the updraft, which in turn helped govern the rate of combustion. There were two opposing mercury-filled metal chambers, each one shaped like a small pancake, that acted as a thermostat. Their expansion when heated caused the damper to open and slow the coal’s burning rate. As they contracted, the closed system got the fire going again.

This assemblage wasn’t perfect. When falling temperatures called for more heat, the movable plates that regulated the draft didn’t always respond properly. Also, the small stove required constant restoking. Given these circumstances, the habitat of my little charges needed fairly constant monitoring, both day and night. The first two weeks were critical, a time when young chicks are really susceptible to chills, and the greatest losses occur.

My vigil began several days before the cute fuzzy chicks arrived. I lit the stove, kept the fire going to dry out any dampness, and made sure everything was hunky dory. Maintaining a uniform environment demanded discipline. Once we settled the chicks in the brooder, I had to set an alarm clock and get up at least twice on the chilliest nights to keep close check on our investment. Once I had dressed and bundled up for these nocturnal visits, a bright beam from a flashlight pointed the way. Sometimes the heavens, luminous with the full moon’s radiance, projected my shadow along the pathway.

Opening the door to discover cozy warmth insider the brooder house both soothed my shivers and reassured me that all was well. I routinely added more coal and waited for the embers to burn brightly before returning to the house and crawling back into bed.

Excerpt from ‘The Day is Far Spent,’ by Kenneth A. Tabler, Montani Publishing, 2006
b. 1926, Martinsburg, WV

chicken+house farm+chores appalachia appalachia+history history+of+appalachia

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