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— For as long as I have known, chickens and eggs have been part of farm life in the Pea Ridge area. On our farm in the 1940s and 1950s we never had large flocks of chickens, but we always kept about 200 laying hens, usually producing hatching eggs for sale to Webb’s Hatchery. Webb’s Hatchery in turn provided chicks to the broiler farms which were becoming a major new industry in our area.

The little chicks came to us from Webb’s in large ventilated cardboard boxes.We first put them in the brooder house where they were kept close to a heater. As I remember, we kept old newspapers and a thin layer of straw on the floor for them to walk on. There was a cardboard “fence” around groups of the chicks to keep them close to the heater. We used glass waterers matched with half-gallon fruit jars of water. One of my earliest physics lessons was in trying to figure out how that water would stand in those upside-down jars without running out on the floor. We used some metal feeding trays, with rows of small holes for the chickens to feed individually.

Some of the feeders were of cardboard, which came in flat sheets. I remember as a very young boy knocking out those openings (chads?), and folding the sheets to make the feeders. The little chicks, sweet asthey looked, could be mean to each other, pecking at each other’s tails. So we would whack off the point of their bills to take away the sharp weapons.

As the chicks grew, we would move the pullets to a screen house across Otter Creek from our house, and they would spend much of the summer there. During that time, someone from Webb’s would come by to test the chickens for disease. I can’t remember all they tested for, maybe Newcastle Disease and Pollorum. We used a small two-wheeled trailer for moving the chickens. We would cover it with chicken wire, catch the chickens and put them in the trailer under the wire cover. From the screen house across the creek the mature hens and roosters would be moved to the main laying house.

As I remember, the eggs were for hatching hybrid broilers. I think at one time we had red Wyandotte hens and white Leghorn roosters (Fred McKinney may correct me on that).

Some of those old roosters got the idea that they owned the hen house. They would try to flog and spur me when I went to feed them. Sometimes I had tofight my way in.

I have wondered how our early settlers in the late 1800s brought chickens into this area? Undoubtedly, from the beginning, they had small flocks of chickens to provide eggs and meat for the family. I have wondered if they had crates of chickens with them in the covered wagons that brought them here, or if they brought eggs with them to be hatched after they arrived? In the early days, apparently no one had large flocks of chickens, but nearly everyone kept a few hens and chickens and a rooster or two.

My mother told a story about her grandmother and her egg money. In the 1920s, mother’s grandmother kept a flock of laying hens, and sold eggs to several customers, providing herself with a bit of spending money. She used a horse and buggy for her deliveries. On one of her outings, a passing car spooked her horse, wrecking the buggy and smashing all her eggs. Mother said she went on and on about loosing her egg money, lamenting that loss even more than the damage to the buggy.

At our house, Sunday meals were special - friedchicken for dinner after church. Whether at home or at Grandma’s house, the fried chicken was the best.

It was fried chicken for Thanksgiving, too. In those days killing a chicken for Sunday dinner was a regular routine. Sometimes as I reflect on how things have changed through the years, it seems remarkable that almost no one raises their own chickens any more, very few have hens to supply eggs for the family breakfast table, and almost everyone buys chicken at the supermarket already cut up and packaged, and maybe even pre-cooked.

But poultry is important to us today, maybe even more than in years gone by. The poultry industry is a big part of our economy.

And apparently chicken and turkey are healthier meats than either pork or beef. We are having turkey for Thanksgiving. Sometimes we are eating baked chicken these days, but once in a while we revert back to the luxury of good old fried chicken for dinner and delicious bacon and fried eggs for breakfast.

Community, Pages 5 on 12/02/2009

Print Headline: Now & Then Chickens and eggs and changing times

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