August 2018
Youth Matters

4-H Extension Corner: A Whole New World

From Chick Chain to Poultry Palaces

 

Ethan Hughes holds Lucy, his Silver Laced Wyandotte, who was named Reserve Champion at the Chick Chain Show. His chickens provide more eggs than their family can use, so they share with other family members. Ethan also provides eggs for the third Sunday Men’s Ministry breakfast at his church.

When one enterprising young man from Wetumpka made the decision to become a part of the 4-H Chick Chain, he thought he would only learn about chickens. Little did he know that this experience would not only open a whole new world to him, but ultimately, would change his life!

Ethan Hughes is the youngster, and his story started innocently enough. His parents, Trey and Kim Hughes, wanted to plant a family garden, but they needed a soil sample.

Kim and her three boys, Ethan, (14); Evan, (11); and Eli, (5); traveled to the Elmore County Extension Service to get a sample box. While there, some of the ladies mentioned the 4-H Chick Chain Project to the boys.

Because the Hughes children were home-schooled, they were not members of 4-H nor had any of them ever had chickens of their own. Nevertheless, Ethan was interested and expressed a desire to try his hand at raising chickens. Fortunately, his parents agreed to let him try.

The baby chicks would need a comfortable place to live. Ethan and Trey looked on the internet at hundreds of coop plans.

"We wanted something that would meet the needs of the chickens, but also look good and match our house," Trey said. "We had no plans, but we had decided on some things we liked. We wanted to build something we could do as a family."

Trey works for Alabama Power, and his only carpentry experience had been some electrical and finishing work. Nevertheless, with his do-it-yourself attitude, he persevered, teaching Ethan as they worked. At first, only Trey used the saws, but as time passed, Ethan became more proficient. The twosome still joke about the number of pocket-holes Ethan had to make until he could work the saws.

Many buyers want their coops customized to match their homes. Poultry Palaces offers many other options to meet individual needs.

 
   
   

"When I first started," Ethan laughed, "I was not very good. Dad and I worked together as a team, and I kept learning as I went along."

Ethan and Trey completed their first chicken coop, just in time to welcome Ethan’s 4-H Chick Chain flock. Even though Ethan had never had chickens before, he quickly became very attached to his brood.

"Chickens are really more fun than work," he stated. "I just enjoy fooling with them."

As part of the Chick Chain Project, Laurie Weldon, the 4-H Foundation Regional Extension Agent, visited Ethan. Weldon was pleased with the progress of his flock, but she was most impressed with the coop Ethan and Trey had built. A chicken lover herself, Weldon asked the Hugheses to build one for her.

"I wanted a nicer coop for my own chickens," Weldon stated, "and I had saved a photo from Pinterest. Trey said he and Ethan could build that coop."

Weldon liked her new coop so much she ordered another one for the outdoor classroom at the Elmore County Extension Office. Later, she added still another coop, just for quail.

Word quickly spread about the quality workmanship and practicality of the Hughes’ chicken coops. Trey and Ethan named their business Poultry Palaces.

 

Ethan works on the door to a coop while Lucky, his assistant, supervises.

Kim posted a few pictures on Facebook, and suddenly, the Hughes family heard from people all over the country.

"It was unbelievable," Trey added. "As we went along, we changed a few things from the first one we built to make it easier on us and easier to deliver. We have now gotten to meet such a variety of people. We still get a lot of repeat customers."

That was in 2016. Today, Poultry Palaces is such a successful business that Trey and Ethan have branched out in other directions: building custom furniture and dog kennels.

Ethan has built many coops by himself, and now he continues to hone his skills making solid wood furniture. He has already built many pieces for his mother and grandmother, Ruby Winn.

One table with custom-turned legs was made from a large sycamore tree that once grew on the Hughes property. Ethan did the mortise and tenon on the breadboard ends by hand, a slow process requiring meticulous measuring and accuracy.

"He had to have so much patience," Kim proudly stated, "because it took him a very long time to do this kind of work."

So, what about the 4-H Chick Chain Project that started all of this?

From left, Evan, Trey and Ethan Hughes work to complete their orders. All the boys help in the family business.

 
   

Well, Ethan completed his project and was rewarded with the Senior Showmanship award and Best in Breed. His Silver Laced Wyandotte was named Reserve Champion.

When his two chickens were auctioned, Winn purchased both and returned them to his flock.

He now has three coops. They are filled with happy hens, and he has more chicks on the way.

The chickens provide the Hughes family with more eggs than they need, so they share them with other family members. Every third Sunday, Ethan supplies the eggs for the Men’s Ministry breakfast at his church.

Ethan is still in 4-H, serving on the Youth Council and participating in the Shotgun Club. He enjoys all kinds of hunting and finds time to coach a church-league soccer team. He will be a junior this year, but, after graduation, he plans to attend Auburn University and go into their Ag Econ program.

The decision to bring 10 little chicks to the Hughes home not only led a family into a successful business but also helped a young man discover his incredible talent as an artisan and craftsman.

"My chickens opened up a whole new world for me!" Ethan said. "I never thought we’d have our own woodworking business that I enjoy so much. I like to work with my hands, so I hope I can have my own business someday."

Check out Poultry Palaces on Facebook.

 

Carolyn Drinkard is a freelance writer from Thomasville. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..