18 April 2011

Poultry On The Farm

"In the economy of the farm too little importance is attached to the keeping and the profits of poultry.  If this department is properly managed, the income, so far from being an insignificant item, will far more than balance the cost, to say nothing of the good derived from the destruction of insects and vermin that infest our crops.   Fowls require a variety of diet, and however much grain they may have, the desire for flesh food, in the shape of insects, grasshoppers, and grubs of almost every sort, seems never to be appeased.  It is, therefore, highly important that they should be allowed to run at large through the summer, so far as it is practicable.  The good they accomplish counterbalances, to a large extent, the mischief they may do in the garden.

Many fail to get the highest prices for poultry in the market from a neglect of a proper attention to their wants in the course of preparation for this final ordeal.  Fattening poultry ought to be regularly supplied with fresh and sweet Indian meal, or barley meal, mixed in scalding water, or what is better, in milk.  If cooped up, as they should be a t this time, they should have fresh food three times a day, very early in the morning, again at noon, and at night, giving each time as much as they can eat, but no more than will be eaten by the next meal, and if any of it is left, it ought to be taken away and given to the other fowls, before it gets to be sour.  To prevent this the feeding pans should be kept quite clean and pure.

To vary the diet, and so increase the appetite, an occasional feeding of boiled barley is excellent, and a small dish of grains, in addition to their regular feeding, may be kept within reach.  To fatten them rapidly and to excess, mutton suet and the trimmings of loins are often chopped up fine and mixed and scalded with the meal, or boiled in the milk or water before it is used to mix the meal.  It makes a firm fat that the dealers like.

It is hardly necessary to say, that during this course of  preparation there should be a constant supply of fresh and clean water, and a little gravel always at hand.  Fowls depend chiefly on gravel to facilitate the grinding action of the gizzard, and the food does not digest readily without it.  This is a point too often overlooked in cooping fowls to fatten, but gravel, oyster shells, bones, or something of the sort, is essential to the comfort and well l being of fowls, at all times, and especially when confined and highly fed. It is a good plan, also, to have some kind of green food within their easy reach such as turniptops, sliced cabbages, or common green turf, to pick over.   It is conducive to health and contentment, and so to the increase of fat.  Oatmeal may be given as a change from Indian meal, from time to time, but Indian meal is better as the basis of the feeding, as it contains a large percentage of oil, and is very fattening.

Under this method of treatment, two weeks, or three at the most, are sufficient to prepare fowls for the market, and when fat enough, as they will be in this time, they ought to be killed immediately, for an attempt to keep them too long in this state may lead to some inflammatory action which will make the flesh hard, and perhaps unwholesome.

No more than a dozen fowls should be confined in the same coop to fatten, and a coop three feet long, two feet wide, and two and a half feet high, is sufficient for this number.  Set it in the barn, or any comfortable room, two feet from the floor, and where it will be free from any strong light and from all cold draughts of air." 


Evidently, farmers did not buy scientifically formulated and balanced feed rations from a feed store back in 1873. They also did not have the hybrid Cornish-cross meat chickens we have today, which require high protein diets and are ready to eat in only 8 weeks. But I'll bet the eggs and meat from poultry raised as explained above in 1873 was nutritionally superior and more flavorful than the average eggs and meat raised in the factory farm of today.

The next installment of Agrarian Nation will feature a lengthy and informative essay from Thomas's 1859 almanac titled, How to Enrich the Farms and Farmers of New England. It's about manure—a topic of great importance to the old farmers.

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Unknown said...

Hi Herrick,

Just goes to show that t'aint rocket science. The old timers had a much better appreciation for keeping critters than do most now. It has been reduced to simple inputs and outputs, and keeping of poultry is little more than unzipping a store-bought feed bag from time to time. No further consideration need be applied.

Cristy said...

Great post!
I've talked with old-timers that talked about making their poultry "milk fat" with milk and oats.
What is indian meal? Maybe ground corn?

Herrick Kimball said...

Yes, Indian meal is ground corn. Most farms had plenty of milk, so milk and whey (the liquid left after making cheese) was a popular food for chickens (and hogs). Surprisingly, raw meat was also commonly fed to poultry and this will be discussed in upcoming excerpts. What I like about this particular entry is that we see a lot of variety, both in the food and its form. Surely, any chicken is much more satisfied with such variety. And a natural variety of foods is NOT what industrially-raised birds get.