The chooks have abandoned Palm Beach, my upcycled mid-century vernacular modernist masterpiece of a hen house. Its retro roof line and evocative beach-shack colour scheme wouldn’t look out of place on the cover of Vogue Living with Chickens but it seems these days, our girls feel out of place inside it. I feel the overwhelming sadness of an artist doomed to be underappreciated during their own lifetime.
Of course, the veterans never saw the appeal of the coop: Andy Ninja unswervingly committed to her lonely position on top of the chicken dome; Snowball, after enduring wearying attentions during Andy’s “cock of the roost” phase, shifted to an exposed position on the rim of a half-barrel.
At first I blamed Treasure the uppity Light Sussex, throwing her weight around. During our recent holiday, she took up a new role as “Her Indoors”. Friends and neighbours, promised eggs as a quid pro quo for keeping the flock fed and watered, went away empty handed. Treasure kept prying eyes away from her crowd-sourced egg stash with fluffed up feathers and force of personality.
Queen Treasure was enjoying plenty of wing room in the nesting box the first night Luna, Shyla and Abbey decided to perch next to a Snowball by the brown turkey fig. However, by the following evening, she’d followed the crowd, and Palm Beach, with its rakish verandah, striking use of organic forms for perching purposes and innovative aquarium-lid clerestory window, stood empty and unloved.
I’d like to console myself that this move is not so much a rejection of my design ideas as an embrace of one of the garden’s many “outdoor rooms”. But before concluding that the chooks’ change of roost simply expresses a seasonally appropriate relish of al-fresco napping, I thought I should eliminate alternative explanations. Like an infestation of red mites: the bed bugs of the chicken world.
I can now report that the henhouse is now cleaner than my kitchen, with the deployment of a bottle of bleach and a rarely sighted scrubbing brush. The organic credentials of my garden may have taken a dent but hopefully the chookhouse has had a detox. The mantra of “form follows function” does come in handy when you need to hose chickenshit out your modernist masterwork – though this is not a feature frequently noted in Australian Architecture magazine. In the process I believe I may have made a breakthrough in the quest for an eco-friendly alternative to concrete: a mixture of sugar cane straw, wood ash and a small quantity of egg yolk, carefully cured under a sequence of chicken bottoms, makes a substance that could not be moved by a jack-hammer.
I hope the chooks were keeping a close eye on my efforts to pest-proof their home, since the tomorrow’s weather forecast, predicted with 95% confidence, is for rain. If there’s anything more humiliating than spending your Sunday on your hands and knees scrubbing a nestbox, it’s standing in a puddle during a downpour trying to persuade a group of saturated chickens of the merits of functionalist architecture.