|CHICKENS and POULTRY
Chickens were a staple animal on most farms and homesteads, providing eggs and
meat for the family while eating insects and scraps.
Dominiques ("dominekkers"), Plymouth Rocks, and Rhode Island Reds are all
chickens that might have been found on late 19th Century farmsteads.
Dominiques are considered the oldest strain in the United States.
Male Chicken- Rooster
Young Male- Cockerel
Young Female- Pullet
Neutered Male- Capon
GETTING YOUR CHICKENS
There are several ways to start a flock. You can find a person locally and buy a few
laying-hens. If you do this, be sure the flock is free of disease. You can buy an
incubator and fertile eggs (either from someone local or online) and raise chicks. Or
you can buy chicks from a mail-order hatchery and raise the chicks yourself.
If you choose to buy eggs or chicks, you'll need more equipment and it'll be about 5
months before your flock is ready to day. For eggs, you'll need an incubator. I have a
cheap styrofoam one that cost about $80, and it does okay. The more expensive
incubators do a better job, but some of them are very pricey.
Chicks need a brooder for the first few weeks of life. The brooder is simply a
place where the chicks can stay warm, be protected, and get feed and water. I
use an old water-trough, lined with paper towels, for a brooder. For warmth, I
hang a heat-lamp bulb down into the tank. You can tell if the brooder is warm
enough by the chicks' actions. If they are all clustered around the lamp, they
are too cold. If they are all far from the lamp, it's too hot. You want the chicks to
be scatter all around the brooder, getting their food and water and chirping
softly. Those are happy chicks.
Chickens could be housed in different ways. Some families had a secure coop
for night, but allowed the chickens to wander during the day. Other families
keep their chickens in pens all the time. Today, portable chicken-shelters
called "chicken tractors" are popular. These can be hauled around so that the
chickens can scratch in different places.
Chickens do not need fancy accomodations, but they DO enjoy being sheltered
from bad weather. They like to have a roost on which to perch at night, and of
course they need clean food and water.
Hens will produce eggs whether a rooster is present or not, although if you
want chicks you'll need rooster.
If you don't want your hens to lay on the ground, then provide them with raised
nesting boxes. Hens like their nests in safe, dark places, but humans need a
nest that's easily accessible. Most people put some hay in the bottom of the
nest. This has to be changed regularly, because hens are not always clean
Farmers often put a fake egg, a small gourd, or even an old door-knob in the
hens' nest. Seeing an egg there may convince the hen that this is a safe place
While broodiness has been bred out of many modern breeds, some of the old
breeds of chickens will occasionally try to set and raise chicks. You can tell a
setting hen when you go to collect her eggs and she puffs up, squawks or tries
to peck you. Then you can decide whether or not to let her set, or to gather her
eggs and break up the nest.
If you let your hen set, in about 21 days you'll hear some tiny peeps coming
from under Moma Hen. Be careful when you look, because the chicks often get
under Moma's wings to stay warm. Mom will soon show her new brood how to
scratch and get water, clucking at them all the time and chasing off cats and
|In addition to chickens, the farm wife often kept geese, ducks, guineas, and turkeys.
Geese: eggs, meat & feathers for pillows or mattresses
Ducks: meat, eggs
Male: Cock, Tom, gobbler, stag
Guineas (see illustration below): pest control; alarms, can be eaten
Some Southern plantations also raised meat-pigeons in a building called a pigeonnaire. A few
others had peafowl, which could be eaten, but were also for decoration.