Meet Mike Kowal: Delta’s Hen House Maintenance Man
Tyler Shoberg, Associate Editor on 03/06/2014
WHILE MALLARDS soak up the sun on their wintering grounds, Mike Kowal fights through snowdrifts in Manitoba to make sure nesting hens have a hospitable place to call home this spring.
For 15 years, Kowal has worked for Delta Waterfowl as the resident Hen House installer and maintenance man in Minnedosa, Manitoba. This winter, he will maintain 440 Hen Houses, as well as install 200 new houses through funding by the Minnedosa Duck Club of Memphis, Tenn. Kowal, 49, manages a local co-op by day, repairs and refurbishes old snowmobiles by night, and pulls triple duty as a husband, father and volunteer firefighter.
Delta Waterfowl: What do you hope to accomplish during a typical day afield?
Mike Kowal: I shoot for 40 to 60 Hen Houses a day. This includes documenting each cylinder’s contents, making repairs and re-stuffing. I stage somewhere in the middle of the nests and load up my truck with gear, then zip off on a snowmobile. I’ll return to fill up with flax and hay before going to the next Hen House.
If one of my boys is helping, he’ll bust trail and clean out and document each nest, while I come behind and do the maintenance. We can do 80 to 90 in a day, but that’s leaving at 7:30 a.m. and working until dark. Installing takes longer. This year’s 200 will take at least a week.
DW: Why wait until February or March to maintain and install Hen Houses?
Kowal: This winter has just been brutal with subfreezing temperatures, wind chill and lots of snow. The drifts in the cattails are over 6 feet high, which has made travel tough. But the closer to spring, the less likely all that flax straw and hay will blow out. We also have a pretty high whitetail deer population, and during a harsh winter, they’ll clean them out.
DW: Are you seeing the impact from all of your hard work?
Kowal: We’ve had some really high usage rates in the 200 Hen Houses I just installed last year. One area with a high concentration of nests had 98 percent usage rates, yet five miles north, there aren’t even half the nests and we had 45 percent usage. I’ve yet to find out why that one area is so popular.
DW: Have you had any close calls during all the miles you’ve covered?
Kowal: One year, I was on a slough and my machine and everything fell right through the ice into waist-deep water. Fortunately, it was still visible and some friends helped me tow it out. Then I went home, got a change of clothes, and finished my day. Just a job hazard, I guess. No biggie.