The Chicken Yard: Raising Chickens on the Family Farm
I grew up on a family farm with my parents and nine brothers and sisters. I was sixth in line. As we grew up to handle responsibilities each one had to do his or her part.
My area of responsibility was in the chicken yard. We raised chickens from start to finish. They were a large part of our livelihood. Nature created the hen to become broody in the summertime; she quit laying and sat on her nest like a dummy for weeks at a time if allowed. We put broody hens on a nest of 15 carefully selected large eggs. We had nest apartments of about 12 in a row. Each hen had her own apartment where she settled in for her three weeks of brooding. She sat patiently, as if in a trance. Once each day I put her in a coop where she had her feed, water, dust bath and elimination; she never soiled her nest.
After three weeks of this, we listened closely and we could hear a little tapping going on inside the egg. Soon a little hole appeared. As the chick kept pecking, the opening grew larger. Finally the shell broke in two and out came a little wet chick. It soon dried and became a beautiful, bright-eyed fluffy little ball.
The hen and her chicks were housed in a larger coop. Soon they roamed the yard, garden and orchard searching for grass-hoppers, beetles and anything that suited their fancy in addition to their usual diet of small grains and water.
As they grew larger, the day came when the cockerels were large enough for the frying pan. To catch them we used a stick with an extended wire with a hook bent on the end to snare them by the leg. They then went to the chopping block; this part I did not like. Next they were immersed in very hot water, which made it easy to remove their feathers.
After being washed and cut into serving pieces, the chicken was ready for the frying pan, which had plenty of pork fat in it. Along with new potatoes, peas and pie made with fresh-picked cherries, this was a dinner to be remembered.
The pullets were saved and kept for laying hens. As the laying hens grew old they quit laying. Then was the time to cull out the non-layers, which was not hard to do. They were taken to the market and sold. These sales provided us with money for new clothes, dresses, shoes or coats, which we often purchased from the Sears and Roebuck or Montgomery Ward catalogs.
Our chicken yard included turkeys. One old gobbler didn’t like me; often he would sneak up behind me and attack. One day I picked up a stick and threw it at him. To my surprise my aim was so good he hit the ground. I hadn’t meant to kill him and was sorry. However, he recovered and learned a lesson. It was a long time before he bothered me again.
One day Mother and I were sitting on the porch when an old rooster strutted in front of us. Mother looked him over and said we should have him for dinner. This old rooster was ugly; he had lost his tail feathers and parts of his body were bare and wrinkled and his legs had long spurs. I declared I was not going to eat any of that meat. In a family of 10 children Mother couldn’t pay attention to such notions.
After the rooster meat was browned and put into the waterless cooker with onions and other appropriate spices, the kitchen filled with a delicious aroma. As the cooker valves clicked the smell grew more and more delicious. This hungry girl was sorry for the vow she had made and would gladly have eaten that meat, but she was true to her word and ate only the gravy. Mother, bless her heart, didn’t even remind me of my rashness.
Mrs. Arthur E. Koehn
Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.
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