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Yesterday's Chicken Farming for Tomorrow's Table
Some people think we may need subsistence farming skills in the future. Some farmers are using old fashioned ways today. It is now permissible to raise chickens in many cities, though roosters may not be allowed due to early morning crowing. The first picture, in color, is of chickens living in the city of Wallingford, Connecticut. Consider this: like Jews in Eastern Europe, who raised chickens in cities because they were not allowed to own land, we city dwellers could feed ourselves in hard times. Of course, we may need to study how—even if we move to the land.
Let me take you down memory lane into the future.
My grandfather worked a subsistence farm up on a hillside in Maine. He grew most of what they needed and sold apples, and later vegetables, for a cash crop. My grandmother spent the cash on flour and molasses, perhaps some bolts of cloth to keep the children in clothes. When my father took over the farm, he raised a crop of roosters as a cash crop. He paid off some back taxes, which relieved my grandfather of a major worry.
From there Dad built a hen house and raised chickens for eggs, first to send to hatcheries that produced chicks for broilers and, much later, for marketing directly as eggs to US breakfast tables. Here are a few pictures of his early flocks. Shown first are chicks under a gas brooder. Then there are chickens on range, White Rocks and Rhode Island Reds. Of course, in these black and white photos from the 1940s you can’t see the green and bronze shimmer of those handsome rooster tails. These pictures also show the feeders he built and a rain shelter or two, which he made from lumber and chicken wire, tin for the roofs. One elegant feeder had a cover so the mash wouldn't get wet.
I remember helping my dad feed chickens on range. I sat on the tailboard of the Studebaker truck with bags of scratch grain—whole kernels of corn, wheat, oats, and peas. As Dad drove slowly around the range, I would open a bag and let the grain fall in a tinkling stream from the truck. When one bag ran out I’d holler and he would stop while I opened the next. We’d use three bags to make the circle out around the biggest shelter and back to the gate. Opening the bags involved picking at the string until you got the end that would, in one pull, unravel. The chickens ran to the line of grain and soon the entire flock was lined up in one great circle.
Perhaps I should never have left the farm. Eventually Dad sold it and made a second career of working as tax assessor for the town. We were proud of him for making the mid-life switch and for being unflappable when, inevitably, someone came in hot about his taxes. Dad would say, “Step into my office and I’ll show you how I got those figures.” The man would go away satisfied that Dad had been fair. What would life be like if all of government opened the books for our questions?
I had good reason for leaving the farm. My Yankee parents knew well what they knew of farming and a steadfast moral living. But they had no answers to my bigger questions. I was one who had to go a-wandering in search of truth. I wandered far and found out plenty. But those stories are told elsewhere. I could happily work the farm now, knowing what I know of life, but I could not have stayed and kept it then. Today, like many others, I have to find ways to survive in the city or in communities of folks in cooperation. Raising chickens could be a good move.