Reminiscing about ye olde chicken coop

Karen Wils photo A basket of eggs is the reward for keeping chickens.

ESCANABA — Open the latch on the old wooden door. There is a rustic creaking sound, an earthy smell, content clucking sounds…

Travel back in time. It’s the 1960s again and I’m walking with my grandpa Rose to the chicken coop near his home in Gladstone.

My noisy brothers dart off in several directions into the garden.

Grandpa is tall, his shoulders slightly stooped. His suspenders make an X on his back. I follow the X through a gate of chicken wire.

We both move slowly. You don’t want to scare the hens. Feathers, wood shavings and bird droppings dot the ground.

Here comes a big, black tame rabbit loping over to us. Grandpa scratches Blackie between his long ears. The bunny twitches his nose and looks for his handout.

A visit to Grandma and Grandpa’s house wasn’t complete until we wandered out to the chicken coop.

The chicken coop was cool.

Grandpa was way before his time: free range chickens, compost bins and organic veggies everywhere were a way of life for my grandparents.

My grandpa Rose came to the U.P. from Kansas and farming was in his blood. His sweet corn was a popular item at many family picnics.

Climbing beans made a stockade around the yard; squashes, carrots, kohlrabis, Swiss chard and beets all thrived in their own niche of the large garden. He sold fresh produce to the neighbors by the peck sack.

A small flock of chickens pecked for bugs and worms throughout the fenced garden.

I think my grandparents were one of the last families to raise chickens in the Gladstone city limits. At one time, my grandma even had a few tame ducks. She gave my brother Mark and I a few duck eggs. I was so disappointed when Mom cooked with them. I thought I was going to get ducklings.

What goes around comes around, Grandpa’s garden and the chicken coop are now high on everyone’s dream list. Raising chickens is once again popular with the younger generation. Books on how to build a better chicken coop go in and out of the library frequently.

Free range chickens are visible along many country lanes once more.

Organic eggs are in demand. Mass produced eggs from hens in pens and whose feet never touch the ground are losing their appeal.

Most of us Yoopers now have a friend, family member or neighbor who sells us fresh eggs right out of their own chicken coops.

Collecting eggs into an egg basket was a chore many of our parents had to do before breakfast a few generations ago.

The warmth of the chicken coop, hens sitting protectively on eggs, the ruffle of feathers — these things helped Yoopers to survive.

Chicken coops are in style once again. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket… and don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

But I sure hope you enjoy a “good egg” once in a while.


Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong north Escanaba resident. Her folksy columns appear weekly in Lifestyles.


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