Chicken Farming With a Dutch Accent

NAMPA, Idaho (KBOI) - When the morning fog descends on the windswept and snow-covered prairie west of Boise, the land and sky are one.

In late January, farms and ranches practically disappear in an eerie blanket of white, with only a few trees standing in stark relief to remind the visitor that on better days there's an actual horizon.

And there are better days in the offing, if you can believe Hans Bruijn (pronounced Bruin), a Dutchman who once was a dairy farmer in the Treasure Valley but who now raises chickens. Bruijn is no stranger to the vagaries of Idaho weather, although the recent deep-freeze has him dreaming of his childhood in the Netherlands where winters are as mild as western Oregon's.

Being a chicken farmer has its perks, like fresh-egg omelets whenever the mood strikes. Curiously, though, Bruijn tells a reporter he opted for oatmeal. Maybe it was the damp cold, an ear-burning and finger-freezing phenomenon that has had the Treasure Valley in its icy grip for several weeks.

The first thing you notice driving up to Bruijn's place, the one identified by a lonely sign advertising "Fresh Eggs," is the constant rooster-crowing and scatterings of chickens.

"I haven't counted them lately," he says in his lilting Dutch accent, "but I probably have between 200 and 300."

The second thing you notice about this particular chicken farm is the fanciful coops. To be honest, they're more elaborate than traditional coops.

Gesturing toward one designed like an old town hall in Amsterdam, Bruijn says, "I enjoy building these. They remind me of places back home."

One looks like it could house a Hobbit, with gingerbread accents and a pitched roof. Another is a replica of a church he remembered from his youth.

"I'm still working on the roof, as you can see by the hole there. And it needs some new paint," he says.

The coops are lined up against a back fence, one after the other, in a way that suggests Mickey Mouse might be just around the corner. But they are far from mere decoration. They provide a practical refuge for the chickens from the dismal winter conditions.

Truth be told, it's not the cold the birds mind. They just fluff their feathers and retreat inside their hand-built Dutch treats. Wind is the real enemy, according to Bruijn. And he has a large windmill on the property that tells him when things are about to get dicey.

But the conversation inevitably drifts back to this winter-for-the-record-books. After weeks of single-digit temperatures, this chicken farmer has had to adapt to a new morning routine.

As he bangs a water dish the size of a pizza against the hard ground, and dislodges a large chunk of ice, Bruijn seems a bit forlorn.

"It's definitely taken a lot longer to do my chores, " he says. "Normally (it's) an hour, now it's a half-hour longer."

Bruijn has no fancy out-buildings, anything that might be heated.

"So every morning I have to break the ice and fill the dishes with water and then the same thing in the afternoon."

And the bitter cold also means higher bills for feed. On an average day, his chickens will require 50 pounds, but during this cold snap they've been going through sixty.

The unusual weather is also affecting egg production. Bruijn figures his chickens are laying eighty percent fewer eggs. For now, he sees a lot more oatmeal in his future. Omelets will have to wait.