Updated: Sep 19, 2021
A Hot New Movement Sweeping the Country
So, you have a few chickens in your backyard? You’ve searched “What I need to know about raising chickens” and read The Beginners Guide to Backyard Chickens. Did it tell you, there truly is a pecking order; some chickens are bullied? Did you know that this egg machine would poop up a storm? Did it remind you, when designing your chicken coop, if a child can open the latch, so can a racoon? Do you think raising chickens in your backyard is a hot new movement? Read, laugh, and learn the history, the process and the purpose of “backyard chickens”.
Money Was as Scarce as Hens’ Teeth
For farmers living and operating small farms in the South, money was as scarce as hen’s teeth. Are you aware that hens do not have teeth? These were the days before debit cards and the only form of a credit card was the store owner writing your name in his credit ledger. Farms were operated with credit and merchants were paid at the end of the year when the crops sold.
There were few groceries needed, every farm had a large garden where an abundance of vegetables was grown to produce enough for canning for use during the winter. Orchards and wild berries provided fruit for canning and drying. Corn was taken to the mill and ground. Hog-killing took place as soon as the weather was cold enough and pork was canned, salted, and smoked to preserve for later use.
The lady of the house managed the chickens and collected eggs to provide barter for the items on her short grocery list. Ladies took their eggs to town in an egg basket and returned with coffee, sugar, and sometimes even some pocket change. These ladies were successful business women with an egg basket and a coop of chickens.
Why was a crack in the shell music to our ears? Learn this and more by reading memories of Ogeal Halfacre Webster:
Eggs, Chickens and Such
By Ogeal Halfacre Webster
A crack in the shell in the warm nest was music to our ears. This meant eggs for food, chicken in the skillet or pot and even egg money in the pocket.
Growing up in the twenties, the poultry produced on the farm not only filled our bellies but also produced barter for other needs.
What are these chickens called?
Our chickens were Rhode Island Reds and Dominique’s, which we called Dominickers. The Rhode Island Reds had rust-colored feathers whereas the Dominickers had irregular stripes of grey and light-colored stripes or bars. They each laid large brown eggs and when mature weighed six to eight pounds each. This made a good chicken for the pot. In addition to eggs and food the feathers of both breeds were sought after for stuffing mattresses and pillows.
Chicks are delivered by rural mail carrier
It was an exciting day in early spring when our Rural Mail Carrier, Mr. Bill Cornwell, delivered a crate or two of baby chicks. Ours were ordered from McCanless Hatchery in Cookeville. You could hear the “peeping” when they arrived. The fluffy little chickens were nestled together and they were hastily transferred to boxes lined with newspapers. We usually kept the boxes near the wood burning stove in the kitchen for a week or two. They needed heat when they were so young. They were fed a mash, which was especially ground for them. Long metal troughs filled with water were kept in the boxes. When they got their water in their toothless mouths, they held their heads high to swallow.
Taken to the chicken yard
When the weather was a little warmer and they were old enough, they were taken to the chicken yard where they mingled with mother hens and were taught to eat insects, worms, corn, and to get grit from the ground. They had to eat tiny bits of rock or hard material to go to their gizzard to grind their food.
These early chicks became the first frying chicken for our table. If there were more than needed, they could become layers as they matured. The chickens weighed about two pounds or were about six weeks old when we started eating them. Some people put their fryers in coops and took them to town to sell. We did not usually do this, as there were seven of us to eat three meals a day. By the time these were consumed our adult hens were ready to become mothers and produce more baby chicks.
Our chicken house was in the yard near the smoke house. The wooden unpainted building had a door at one end. A row of nests about five feet high surrounded the interior of the building. The nests were divided and each was lined with straw.
In the spring the roosters became cocky, mated with the hens, and fertilized the eggs. Each hen started laying one egg every twenty-four hours. Mama watched the hens religiously. When 12 eggs were laid, this became a setting of eggs. The hen, b instinct, stayed on them constantly to keep them warm. This required twenty-one days until baby chicks hatched one at a time. They were covered with wet down, when they pecked out of the shell. As the down dried and smaller feathers began to appear, they were ready to join the chicken yard. If they escaped the frying pan, they were ready to lay eggs when a year old.
Mother hens clucked to her baby chicks and tried to keep them near her. We had to see that the baby chicks were in the hen house at night and that the door was closed. Wild animals love baby chickens. The hens went to roost in their nests or on top of the chicken house. The roosters always roosted in the top of the trees.
Egg gathering was a special time for Mama and me. She let me reach under the warm breast of the hen to see if she had laid an egg. Sometimes a hen would be protective of her eggs and would peck my hand. Mama carefully gathered and counted the eggs. Sometimes she placed a cloth between them so they would not break.
Eggs for Barter
When she had enough, she took her egg basket to the store for shopping. Eggs were a commodity and we took them to Mr. Ben Sutton’s store. Mama knew exactly the price of eggs per dozen and she had her grocery list carefully made out. Usually, cash did not pass to her fingers as we needed coffee, sugar, spices, and other staples. Sutton’s Store also had oil cloth by the yard, thread and other items.
Eggs for Food
Each morning we had eggs for breakfast. They were fried, scrambled, or poached. Eggs were used for pies, cakes, teacakes, and muffins. Mama made deviled eggs by boiling eggs until they were hard. She peeled them and sliced them horizontally. The yolks were mashed up with a fork with salt, pepper, and sweet pickle juice and filled the white part. Mama always referred to these as ‘dressed eggs”. When she cooked turnip greens, she boiled eggs, sliced them in rounds and put on top of the greens. She grated a couple yolks and sprinkled over the dish. I always though they looked like goldenrod on top of the greens.
Christmas-time made a dent in the egg supply as many cakes required several eggs, and our always present “Boiled custard” required them too.
From Chicken Yard to the Table
Many times, I watched my mother go to the chicken yard and grab a chicken or more often two to have for dinner. She enclosed that chicken neck in her hand and wrung its head off. The chicken would flop on the ground and blood would spurt out of the neck. When it stopped flopping around, she had a container of hot water to douse the chicken into. This made it easier to remove the feathers. If there were many pin feathers, she would use the fire to singe them off.
The chicken was cut into pieces to be fried. There were two legs, two wings, two thighs, three pieces of breast and the neck. Having no refrigeration, the chicken was cooked immediately. It was salted, peppered and rolled in flour. It was put into hot back iron skillet with melted lard. The floured chicken pieces sizzled when it hit the fat. When good and brown on one side, it was