Thursday, February 13, 2014

“Going on a trek through Kansas one winter-time . . .”

By Jesse Halsey | c1933

Going on a trek through Kansas one winter-time, visiting former students, knowing his plebian extraction and agrarian interest a minister took him to a new model hatchery; batteries of incubators lined the room which was immaculately white like a hospital operating theatre. Three times a day incubators produced their broods. Greatly impressed our friend ordered fifty Plymouth Rocks to be delivered about Easter.

Easter came and with it frigid weather. Nonetheless, the chicks arrived by parcel post, half frozen, but still alive. The wife set them on the register and they soon revived and put on their pristine puffiness. I had prepared a habitation in the basement—hardware cloth for the bottom, a hover where the chicks could foregather in the heat of a constantly burning hundred-watt lamp. They began to grow at once, a one hundred pound bag of growing meal secured from a downtown store standing hard by. No incidents or accidents save one; the half dozen that fell into the drinking facilities and nearly drowned. Rescued and put in the kitchen over all but one revived.

Forty-nine out of the fifty lived to maturity. Unfortunately, instead of being Plymouth Rocks that have some size and would give some meat, these turned out to be Leghorns, which are raised for their egg productivity, and not for their avoirdupois. As they were all young roosters we had no prospects of either eggs or meat. However, we fed them along until broiler maturity. In the meantime, I had become so attached to them collectively and individually that I found I could not eat them with any relish. Summer heat was coming on and there were olfactory reasons for removing the brood from the basement. In the meager backyard on our alley we devised a hutch of ample proportions but problems multiplied. With growing lustiness the young roosters began to crow at sun-up and disturbed the neighbors along with ourselves. The best wire and lock were no sure safeguard against night prowlers. Several disappeared in spite of the fact that I kept a light burning in the yard all night. Obviously the time for their demise was at hand. I could find no deep freeze nearer than Waukegan so moving them piecemeal to the cellar, I dispatched them, prepared them for canning, and in a steam cooker the broilers turned to soup (for several years we had chicken soup). While Campbell’s could be bought for ten cents a can in those days, when I counted the initial cost, plus the four bags of feed at $5.00 per, without counting anything for work and worry, our chicken soup cost about 50 cents a pint.

I don’t doubt but when we retire to our country diggings we will have some chickens, but they won’t be kept in the cellar and they won’t be leghorns. And we hope it won’t be war times, which was the excuse for the experiment.

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