16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:
Saturday, April 29, 1911: Ma kept me busy a chasing the chickens out of the garden this afternoon. I get so mad at them. Carrie Stout came over this evening. Wanted me to go along with her up to McEwensville. She is afraid of the dark. Of course I went, although I looked like a witch.
Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:
I wonder what Grandma and her friend Carrie were doing in McEwensville on a Saturday night. Today, I think that Saturday nights in McEwensville are generally pretty quiet—maybe it was hopping a hundred years ago.
The chickens probably enjoyed eating the small emerging plants in the garden. It sounds like the family needed a fence to keep them out.
In the old days women often were able to earn a little “pin money” by raising chickens and selling their eggs. A hundred years ago women’s magazines—as well as farm magazines—had lots of poultry advice.
Paul Orr in the June 1911 issue of National Food Magazine in an article titled “Are Old Methods Best? Two Thousand Years Have Seen Little Progress in Poultry Raising” argued that the old ways of raising chickens were best—and that incubators and other “fancy” equipment were not needed. Poultry tips in that issue of the magazine included:
- Beginners in poultry raising often owe their failure to the deluge of new-fangled suggestions by men who make things to sell. There are a hundred trinkets and devices on the market that are useless, and the beginner is the legitimate prey not only of egg sellers but of breeders and makers of all ilks of useless contrivances. The fact is that the old methods of poultry raising are often the best.
- Two hundred heads are sufficient for employing the whole care and time of one person, provided that either a diligent old woman or a boy be appointed to keep watch over them, so they will not stray away or fall a prey to marauders. (Comment by Sheryl: Or I guess—at least in the case of the Muffly family—a diligent teen-aged daughter might be asked to chase after the chickens.)
- They must not be allowed wander far from the coop when very young.
- Let the custom be observed here, as with other cattle; pick out the best for breeding and sell the less good.
- Also dispose of all hens over three years old, and those hatched after the solstice (June 21), as they will not attain their full growth.
- Avoid the white kind, as they are not very hardy, and because of their conspicuous white color they fall an easy prey to hawks and eagles. Those of a reddish color, with black pinions, should be chosen.
- It is not expedient to keep a cock except he is exceedingly strong and vigorous of the same color as the hens and with the same number of toes . . . Such a male should be provided with five females.
- When the breeding season begins. . the keeper must take care that the laying places are strawed with clean straw, and free from vermin; and the eggs are gathered every day and marked, so he may know that the freshest are put under the hens when they become broody. The freshest eggs are the most proper for hatching; yet such as they are stale may be set, provided they are not over ten days old.
- The old hens are best suited for hatching, as they are more reliable than the young.