The World's Debt To The Hen And The Chicken

For much of recorded history, and untold centuries, the lowly chicken hen, has been a companion of man in the forward march of civilization. If we truly understood the language that chickens speak (and they do have a language of their own), what stories could they tell?

No doubt they'd have a lot to say, especially to chefs and cooks the world round, who owe them a debt seldom appreciated or maybe contemplated. There would be an awful lot of palatable squawking about cooking and baking success, without the egg or the chicken. Additionally, for many generations the hen's eggs were a valuable source of cash for most farm families. I'm thinking they deserve a lot more credit for feeding the world, and more respect than we currently give them.

It's believed that while chickens and their eggs were probably consumed since the time man's arrival on earth and hunted them, that they have been domesticated for well over 10,000 years. We know that they were man's companion and walking food source in Vietnam back then. Somewhat later, they were introduced to Europe by way of Greece, thanks to India. Certainly, they were known early in Egypt and throughout Asia long before that.

Because chickens are relatively easy and inexpensive to raise, they (and their eggs) have become one of the most consumed proteins and meats in the world. What's interesting to a lot of us who are a little older, is that chickens aren't what they once were.

Up until the 1960s, chickens were often raised on family farms or even backyards, primarily for a source of fresh eggs. Eating chicken for dinner was more of a once a week Sunday thing, as they weren't consumed as a meat almost on a daily basis, like they are today.

Improvements, if you can call them that, in incubation of eggs and chicks allowed for mass marketing of poultry, as a meat -- and allowed for eggs to be sold inexpensively in the grocery market. In some ways that's a good thing, in other ways, that's not so good.

Having free ranged chickens for many years, this is why I say, chickens (and eggs) aren't what they once were if you are buying them from the grocery store. There is a huge difference in taste in both, as well as being healthy to eat.

With what it takes to raise chickens and eggs in a closed environment, the chickens we all so eagerly consume, might be not such a healthy choice. The chemicals that they must be fed to remain disease free, are also the chemicals we are consuming.

Something to think about, still -- the world owes the hen who has always been there for us.


The greatest egg laying machine mother nature gave to the world -- The White and Brown Leghorn Chickens
The greatest egg laying machine mother nature gave to the world -- The White and Brown Leghorn Chickens | Source
This machine was developed by Lyman Byce and the poultry industry in Petaluma, California.  It blew fine sand on the eggs by compressed air to clean the shells.  Photo by Milton A. Ayers 1927
This machine was developed by Lyman Byce and the poultry industry in Petaluma, California. It blew fine sand on the eggs by compressed air to clean the shells. Photo by Milton A. Ayers 1927 | Source

Chickaluma

The joke in the 1930s was that you were from Chickaluma, if anyone found out that you were from the Nation's Egg Basket. Back then, Petaluma had reinvented itself from it's gold rush days of 1849. It even had a poultry drugstore and was known as the place where Lyman C, Byce invented the modern day egg incubator in 1879.

Mr. Byce wasn't just someone who invented certain egg incubators, he also invented a potato digger, a mold board for plows, a sewing machine, a conveyor for sawdust mills, a surgeons spring lancet, and a host of other useful items. It's funny how history forgets that men like Lyman Byce were just as important to the American story as men like Thomas Edison.

Today, Petaluma is still tied to it's agricultural roots, but not to its heyday of egg production.

We Used to Have An Egg Basket

Once upon a time, just a mere eighty-two years ago, America used to have a giant White Leghorn egg basket in Petaluma, California. The area was world famous, because of the intensive conditions under which they were kept. Hundreds of thousands of hens were laying eggs in one small valley. The entire community was depending on this one industry of commercial egg farming for a livelihood.

Petaluma became known as the "Nation's Egg Basket" because of the sheer numbers of pure white eggs harvested there, and shipped all over the U.S. At one point, they were shipping over fourteen hundred rail cars of eggs to the East coast markets. That was one egg of every fifty sold in the U.S. coming all the way from California.

This is a time when commercial eggs depended upon an abundance of sunshine and lots of green food all year round for the laying hens. This is when, egg receiving plants had to hand grade for size, color and condition of the shell. This was a time in which sand-blast machines cleaned the eggs that were soiled. One Petaluma egg packaging plant was reported to have been candled as many a million eggs a day.

One of several egg-receiving plants in Petaluma, California before being shipped on railcars to the East Coast. 1927
One of several egg-receiving plants in Petaluma, California before being shipped on railcars to the East Coast. 1927 | Source

The Fine Art of Egg Candling

Candling eggs is not really difficult, nor is there any big mystery to it or special art. It's just simply checking your eggs for edible condition. Basically, you find a dark place and hold the egg in a slanted position, in front of a light to take a peek inside. You want to hold the egg by the smaller end and turn it quickly from side-to-side -- checking for free movement of the air space around the white and yolk's outside. You need to see that the air space is there and moves quite well. You don't want an egg with a thin air space.

You are looking for bloodied whites, blood spots, or meat spots that would make the egg non-desirable. Egg candling is totally unnecessary, if you know that the egg has been freshly laid.

Note: Undesirable eggs are best used as cooked egg supplements for your dog's meals, if you have one.

 

Olive Riley Explains Egg Candling

Great Ancient Egyptian Incubators

Drawing by Charles E. Riddidford
Drawing by Charles E. Riddidford | Source

Beyond The Hen's Incubator

Up until the 1940s, the American hen ruled supreme in the capacity of being a natural incubator and brooder. She faithfully sat out the necessary twenty-one dreary days on her nest. All of that changed when man decided to increase production of chicks and coveted eggs for bigger flocks by use of incubators.

Incubators that allowed mass production of eggs and raising poultry for market, are something that we tend to think of as a "modern" invention, which is a falsehood. Reality is, that incubators for raising fowl have been around since the time of Moses. Ancient Egyptian incubators, like the one depicted above, were unique in that the farmer and his family lived in the incubator. This was in a time when no thermometer was available, and all the farm operator had to guide him was the "feel" of the air around him, and his skill at fueling the fires if need be.

Chicks at dinner time
Chicks at dinner time | Source
A hen chicken (Gallus gallus)
A hen chicken (Gallus gallus) | Source

Do You Know?

 The average hen will lay two hundred and twenty-seven eggs a year.

Once known as the Italiana chicken, the White Leghorn chicken is one of the earliest and most important chickens in American history of poultry.

They were and still are a popular breed of chicken, all over the world.

All About Leghorns

Fun Hen and Egg Facts!

  • Every part of the chicken egg is edible, even the shell.
  • While most of us eat infertile eggs, there is absolutely nothing wrong with eating a fertile egg and it's a delicacy in many countries around the world to do so.
  • A hard boiled egg will spin freely, while a raw egg will only revolve about three rotations.
  • If you hard boil an egg and see a greenish ring around the yolk -- this just means that you over boiled it.
  • The most common food allergy in young children is the egg. They will outgrow this allergy most of the time, if not repeatedly exposed to eggs.
  • For generations, farm kids have amused themselves by hypnotizing chickens by holding it down and drawing a line in the dirt with a stick, over and over. They chicken won't move as long as you do this, once you release it.
  • It's illegal to eat a chicken with a fork in Gainesville, Georgia.
  • Old-timers used to clean their chimneys each fall by dropping chickens down them.

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Comments 34 comments

cygnetbrown profile image

cygnetbrown 3 years ago from Alton, Missouri

Interesting article, but then I'm a glutton for both chickens and history!


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 6 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Michael Shane! A little piece of history to share.


Michael Shane profile image

Michael Shane 6 years ago from Gadsden, Alabama

You did a great job with this hub!


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks packerpack! I try not to disappoint. Absolutely a fact on the eggshell, in other cultures, they just mash it up when it's served. I couldn't get the Riddidford picture to enlarge with better clarity, but would have liked to.


packerpack profile image

packerpack 7 years ago from India, Calcutta

Waiting for your Hub has become a habit for me and you too make sure not to disappoint me. As usual I enjoyed reading it.

I didn't know we could consume egg shell too! Are you sure?

I also liked the Drawing by Charles E. Riddidford that you have attached here. So Egyptians were not only good pyramid builders but good at egg cultivation too. I read everything in the picture even though letters are small and not so clear.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States Author

I find it nice to know about a lot of things that aren't for me, for instance probably will never do foils but always wondered about the process when it's been done for me. So I enjoyed your hub on that.


Choke Frantic profile image

Choke Frantic 7 years ago from Newcastle, Australia

Chickens aren't for me, but nice hub.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Zsuzsy Bee! I am doing wonderfully, thanks for asking. Enjoyed your hub on determining the right garden size.


Zsuzsy Bee profile image

Zsuzsy Bee 7 years ago from Ontario/Canada

I used to have layers and meat birds when I had the farm a few years back. Now that I live in the coutry again I will have a few again. I have my baby chicks ordered and I will be picking them up in three weeks time. I just need to prepare their new home. I can hardly wait.

Great hub once again Jerilee. Hope you're well.

Kindest regards Zsuzsy


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks gr8archer45! I'm a big fan of hens and roosters.


gr8archer45 profile image

gr8archer45 7 years ago from Pakistan

wow, this is such an interesting & diverse topic. Ms hen, we sure owe u a lot!!


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Nemingha!


Nemingha profile image

Nemingha 7 years ago

I loved this hub. Congratulations.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Laughing Mom! I have the same issues with eating rabbit so I truly understand.

Thanks RGraf! Chickens are very easy to raise.


RGraf profile image

RGraf 7 years ago from Wisconsin

Great info. We are looking at getting chickens soon for the eggs. I'm doing so much research so this was good timing. Thank you.


Laughing Mom profile image

Laughing Mom 7 years ago

My husband's grandma raised chickens. She'd name them and pet them--treated them like pets. Then at dinner, the kids would ask what they were having, and she'd reply, "Billy" or whatever that particular chicken's name was. I still have difficulty getting him to eat it. :-)


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks rongould! Nothing better than home grown.

Thanks frogyfish! Chicken wired roofs and pens eliminate the cat problem.


frogyfish profile image

frogyfish 7 years ago from Central United States of America

Interesting hub and good pix with it. I live in a city area but have still toyed (just toyed) with the idea of having a couple or three chickens in the back yard. But then the cats come around...


rongould profile image

rongould 7 years ago

Almost all of our modern food has been 'tweaked' to make it easier and more consistent for the large food producers. Most of those changes reduce the flavor and nutrition. Homegrown is almost always better.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks LondonGirl!

Thanks shamelabboush! It's a sad state of affairs here too with chicken sold in groceries clearly doctored, unhealthy in color, tasteless too.


shamelabboush profile image

shamelabboush 7 years ago

Back in my country, we used to have a small barn with lots of checkns, pigoens and ducks. Nowadays, what we have is the genetically-processed checken and eggs. So sad. Excellent topic.


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

wonderful, detailed, and multi-media, I love it


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Ashley Joy! Your family will be a lot healither for it, too!


Ashley Joy profile image

Ashley Joy 7 years ago

I am moving to my new home in a couple of weeks and soon after that I will be filling the chicken coop there that is empty. I look forward to taking care of my little flock and gathering the eggs daily for my family. It will be nice to have food as it is intended and not the manufactured version.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks dianacharles! There's nothing like old pictures to remind us of all that's been forgotten.


dianacharles profile image

dianacharles 7 years ago from India

Fresh eggs over store bought eggs...any day. When I am at my mother in law's place, one can taste the difference.

A very well-researched and written hub. Thanks Jerilee. loved the old pix.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Tom Rubenoff! That's for sure, but it doesn't really hurt much.


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States

I know several people who raised chickens. Once as a young boy I accompanied a classmate out to the hen house to gather eggs. Gotta be fast not to get pecked!


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Christa Dovel! I couldn't resist the cartoon, one I no doubt watched as a kid.


Christa Dovel profile image

Christa Dovel 7 years ago from The Rocky Mountains, North America

Love the cartoon!  Now to actually read the hub.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks SoulaBee! I enjoyed Olive's wit and common sense. She was 108 years old I think.

Thanks Ginn Navarre! People here are taking to raising them in rabbit hutch like cages and towns are giving exemptions to old laws to have them in the city.

Thanks Katerine Baldwin! It just makes sense, people don't need to be eating meat with steroids, antibiotics, etc.


Katherine Baldwin profile image

Katherine Baldwin 7 years ago from South Carolina

Hi Jerilee, I've noticed a lot of renewed interest in raising your own chickens lately. I think it's a very good idea. You and Ginn Navarre are right. There really is no comparison in the taste of 'store bought' vs 'home raised' eggs.

Katherine


Ginn Navarre profile image

Ginn Navarre 7 years ago

I wish I had room to raise a few brown leg horns again, there is nothing like fresh eggs.


SoulaBee profile image

SoulaBee 7 years ago from United States

Okay, wow. Awesome! I'm going to have to reread this one again this afternoon. Fantastic subject. Love the videos, Olive is just adorable!

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