Chicken With Holland Days

Chicken With Holland Days  »Play Video

NAMPA, Idaho (KBOI) - At Hans Bruijn's tidy farm, the roosters crow like clockwork, and that's the problem.

"We have 20-25 roosters," says Bruijn, "and unlike what people think, they not only crow early in the morning. They crow up to 9, 10, 11 o'clock at night, too."

Though the neighbors sometimes squawk, Bruijn admits, most of the time, he doesn't hear the birds. So he's one of the few poultry farmers around who needs an alarm clock to rise before the sun does.

There's something else a bit out of the ordinary here. Bruijn (pronounced BROO-in) has built himself a theme park. Not for people, but for poultry.

His devotion to his chickens is legendary in these parts, but would surprise friends and family back home in the Netherlands, because he started out working with cows on his dad's dairy farm.

It's hard but honest work, and led to many years in the dairy business, first in West Virginia, and then in Idaho. On moving to Nampa, he supplied milk to a large dairy, with a herd that, at its peak, numbered more than 150.

In fact, at one time, the Treasure Valley was Idaho's dairy capital. Bruijn liked the fact that he didn't have to grow his own hay to feed his cows; he could simply buy what he needed from a local supplier.

But as the dairy industry migrated to other parts of Idaho, Bruijn down-sized his operation. Today he has five cows, largely for sentimental reasons.

And he's transformed the old milking barn into a man cave, an eye-popping shrine to Ayrshire cows, the red-and-white breed he grew up with. Walk inside and your gaze is met by cows on seemingly every surface: cow blankets, cow pictures and posters, cow salt-and-peppers, even cow wind chimes.

And in an adjoining room, he has a practice cow for kids who've never milked one. It's made of wood and painted in the true red-and-white motif that bleeds from every wall.

It features a plastic bucket with rubber nipples attached. Bruijn can fill the bucket from a strategically-placed chamber that opens under the tail.

You'll find the fake milking cow every year at the Western Idaho Fair, where Bruijn manages the competitive exhibits.

"If you enter anything from a cow to a cookie," he says proudly, "it goes through my office.

The room also contains games of chance Bruijn built by hand. One looks like a tabletop version of bocce. And another is his version of mini-golf, with a club fashioned from a wooden shoe.

He lines up several golf balls and putts.

Every shot misses.

"As you can see, I'm not a very good golfer," he says with a rueful smile.

Then he grabs a big red tub filled with day-old bread. It's time to feed the chickens. The bread helps to stretch the grain reserves and the birds don't seem to know the difference.

In seconds, they're at his feet, clucking and posturing like ticket-holders waiting to crash a sold-out concert.

Then it's time for a tour of the fanciful buildings that line the back of his property like a Dutch Disneyland.

Pointing to a weather-beaten structure the size of a large dollhouse, he swells with pride and says, "This one's probably 20 years old."

It's a replica of a farmhouse, the kind he lived in as a boy in Holland. Dutch farmhouses are quite different from those we might encounter in America. They contain both living quarters and a separate room for the hay. Think barn and house joined at the hip.

And next to it is an elegant townhouse--the sort, he says, you'll find lining the famed canals of Amsterdam. It's not quite built to scale, but stands out for its distinctive brick walls, painted of course.

But the show-stopper is the operating windmill, a masterwork of engineering that stands almost 12 feet tall.

"The hardest part of the windmill was the blades," he explains, "because you can see there's a bit of a twist in that."        

And up close, the blades are indeed slightly curved. They're the reason the windmill works a little too well.

"When this thing gets full speed," says Bruijn, "you really have to watch where you walk."

He monitors the weather closely, because, when strong winds are forecast, he has to tie down the blades. Otherwise, he could lose a few chickens in what becomes the world's biggest egg-beater.

When you think about it, building standard coops for his chickens could have saved Bruijn a lot of work.

"Oh, it would be easier, but what would be the fun of that?"

It's clear that in the world of Hans Bruijn, it takes a village to raise happy chickens.

But this farmer is too modest to let the world know what he has in his backyard.

You won't find him crowing about it.

That he leaves to the roosters.