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article number 125
article date 05-03-2012
copyright 2012 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Raising Chickens and Why You Should Raise Chickens, A 1924 Tutorial
by Clarence Roberts

From the 1924 book, The Business of Farming – A Manual of Farm Methods for Oklahoma.

The farm flock of hens furnishes a valuable part of the farm living. Plenty of eggs and chickens to eat the year ‘around takes the place of many groceries that would otherwise have to be bought, and leaves the farm family with a little more cash money at the end of the year. Along with the cows, the hogs, the garden and the fruit, the hens provide an abundant living. Such a living can be grown on the farm more cheaply than it can be bought at the store. When so grown, the few things like sugar, coffee, spices, etc., which must be bought to provide the rest of the living, will amount to only a small sum during the course of a year.

Not only will the hens help set the table, but the farm flock will add to the farm income. With the right kind of hens, kept in the right kind of house and given the right kind of feed and care, eggs and chickens can be produced on the farm more cheaply than by special poultry plants, due to the abundance of free range and the waste the hens pick up on the farm.

However, the farm flock may yield no profit, despite the free range and waste feed, unless good management is used with the flock. The average farm hen in Oklahoma produces about 60 eggs a year. This number of eggs will hardly pay for the feed eaten by a hen in one year, unless she picks up a large part of her living from waste grain, insects, etc. What is more, the eggs actually produced are laid in the spring and summer when eggs are lowest in price of all the year.

This loss can be avoided. Poultry knowledge today is very exact. So many experiments have been made at the experiment stations that we know just what must be done to make hens and pullets lay. There is no need for anyone to make mistake after mistake trying to find out the best way to care for hens. Anyone who will read may learn for free, just what to do to make a flock of hens pay a profit, if a profit is possible with eggs and feed at certain prices.

The product of one hen in one year, 250 eggs. It is not possible to build up a whole flock with such high production. But it is possible by using the right methods to double the production of the average farm flock in Oklahoma.

1. Why should each family raise enough chickens and produce enough eggs to supply the family needs?
2. What advantages do we find on the farm of raising poultry?
3. From what part of the poultry business do we derive the greatest source of income?
4. What five things are necessary to get eggs in the fall and early winter?
5. What do we mean by hens “bred to lay”?
6. Why should the pullets be hatched early?
7. What things about a poultry house make it comfortable for the hens?
8. Why is a balanced ration necessary for laying hens?
9. What different feeds are included in a balanced ration?
10. Explain the proper care to give hatching eggs.
11. What points must be kept in mind when operating the brooder?
12. Feeding little chicks is one of the most important parts of poultry raising. Tell how to do it.
13. Explain the value of good feeding of the pullets. Why should they be forced for rapid growth?
14. Why do we cull the farm flock of poultry?
15. What is the best size of farm flock to keep?
16. How may the poultry products be marketed to secure the best market prices?

pullet – a young hen.
tankage – edible byproduct of livestock processing.
kafir – a sorghum grain
milo – a sorghum grain

MOST PROFIT FROM EGGS. The greatest income and surest profit from the farm flock are made from the production of eggs during the fall and early winter. Eggs are then higher in price than at other times of the year. The farmer who makes his hens lay in the fall will secure a much larger income than from a flock of equal size that does not begin to lay until midwinter or early spring. On free range most any kind of hen will lay in the spring, and will lay around 60 eggs during the spring and early summer. The profitable flock, however, begins to lay in October and November and will lay from 100 to 150 eggs a year.

An easily built coop for feeding young chicks. The larger chickens cannot reach the feed and trample the chicks.

HOW TO GET WINTER EGGS. To get eggs in the fall and early winter, when they are highest in price, five things are necessary. They are:
1. Hens bred to lay.
2. Early hatched pullets, well developed.
3. A comfortable hen house.
4. Hens fed on a balanced ration.
5. Healthy hens, free of insect pests

Every one of these is necessary. If one is omitted the flock will not lay. This combination to poultry profits must not be broken or the flock will fail to lay when eggs are most valuable.

HENS BRED TO LAY. By means of trap nests, poultry breeders have found out which hens in a flock were the best layers. They have then separated these and saved their eggs for hatching. In turn the pullets hatched were trap nested, and so on for several generations. In this way breeders have selected heavy laying strains of hens from all the more important breeds. As a result it is possible for the farm poultry keeper to buy a strain of bred-to-lay stock of his favorite breed. Such a strain, under the proper conditions will lay far more eggs during a year than will the average flock of the same breed which is not selected for egg production. It is poor business to keep so-called purebred birds which have not been selected for egg production.

The first step, then, in getting more eggs, when eggs are valuable, is to start with stock from a bred-to-lay strain of hens. As it happens it does not take much money, and is not much trouble, to start. We have found that the ability to lay is transmitted from the hen to rooster, and then back to the pullets again. This fact makes it easy to put good blood into a flock. One rooster from high-laying stock can be mated with 15 to 25 hens and from the eggs so produced, a start is made with good stock. Pullets from such a mating will be ready to lay in six or seven months. In two or three years, by this method, the farm flock will be high grade stock.

Some farmers prefer to buy baby chicks, eggs for hatching or even mature breeding stock. The method is not so important. The important thing is to make a start, even if a small one, towards bred-to-lay poultry, which at the same time is hardy, vigorous and healthy.

A very common mistake is to change frequently from one breed to another, expecting to make a better success with the new breed. All of the older light and medium breeds are good breeds. It is far better to stick to one breed and improve the stock by selection than to jump from one breed to another. Each person should first select the breed of his or her choice and then build up a flock with a high egg production.

Inside of a comfortable, convenient poultry house. Such houses cost money but are a good investment for the home owner. In such a house a large flock of hens can be cared for with but a small amount of labor.

EARLY HATCHED PULLETS. If pullets are to begin laying in October and November they must be hatched early in the spring. A pullet cannot lay until she is developed. It takes so much time for that development. If she is hatched late she will not be ready to lay until mid-winter or later, and will thus miss the chance to lay high-priced eggs. Since it takes just so much feed to develop a pullet, nothing is saved by light feeding at any time.

Chicks of the medium breeds, such as the Plymouth Rocks, the Orpingtons and the Reds, should be hatched in March. They may be hatched before that time, but if hatched later they cannot be developed in time for fall laying. The lighter breeds may be hatched as late as April 15 in Oklahoma, since they mature quicker than the heavier breeds.

Chicks hatched during these months are nearly always healthier, grow faster and do better in every way than later hatched chickens. Fewer runts are found in early hatches. Moreover, the roosters from an early flock are ready to market as broilers or fryers sooner and bring a better price than the roosters from the later flocks. This last reason causes some farmers to start hatching in February in order to get the early, high prices for frying sized chickens.

If the pullets are hatched early and are then stunted for lack of feed and proper care, nothing is gained. They must be pushed along with a balanced ration until mature and ready to begin laying. If they mature too early they may be kept on a “maintenance” ration until about October 1 and then be put on a laying ration. If they reach maturity just at the right time to begin laying, they may be put right on a laying ration and start in at once to add to the farm income.

HOME FOR THE HENS. Unless the bred-to-lay and early hatched pullets are housed in a comfortable house, it is not possible to make them lay heavily, if at all, during the winter. A comfortable poultry house need not be an expensive one. It should be dry, well lighted and free from all drafts. It may be a finished building or it may be a shed of straw, just so it meets the above requirements. Unless a comfortable house can be provided for all the hens it is best to sell the surplus and keep only those which can be given comfortable quarters.

The hen house should be large enough to provide three square feet of floor space for each hen. To secure plenty of fresh air, the house should have at least one square foot of open space (in the south wall) to each 10 square feet of floor space. In addition, each house should have one square foot of window space to each 15 feet of floor space, though this is not strictly necessary. The open space in the south wall may be covered with screen wire and protected with canvas during stormy weather, or it may be slatted so that light and air are admitted and the rains kept out. Hens need the fresh air, but the fresh air should be supplied from only the south side so that the building will not be drafty. Each hen should be supplied with eight inches of roosting space, and dropping boards of some kind should be used under the roosts to keep the manure off the floor.

Severe losses are suffered from damp houses, drafty houses and overcrowding. Hens can stand a great deal of cold, but they cannot stand dampness. They like fresh air, but drafts through the house cause colds and open the way for other diseases. If overcrowded in a house for long, nature will thin out the hens by disease. It is far better to cull out the flock and leave in each house only the number that can be kept comfortable, than to allow disease to develop and kill off a part of the hens.

FED ON A BALANCED RATION. Even though our bred-to-lay pullets are early hatched and kept in a comfortable house they will not lay unless they are fed to lay. This does not mean they must get all they want to eat. It means they must get all they want to eat of the right kinds of feed in the right proportion. An egg is made up of certain materials, as carbohydrates, protein, fat and minerals. Feeds which contain these different materials must be supplied the hens in order that they can manufacture the different materials that go into the egg.

A new type of poultry house. The loft is filled with straw, making the house warmer in winter and cooler in summer. It is less expensive to build than the shed roof type. Those who have used this type of house like it.

Hens may be heavily fed on grain and lay but few eggs all winter. Yet they lay well through the early spring and summer when fed the very same feed they got during the winter. Why is that? It is because that during the spring the hens are able to catch worms and many kinds of insects which provide them with the necessary balanced ration. These worms and insects supply the protein part of the ration which the hens do not get during the winter, unless fed some protein feed. Thus, to make hens lay during the fall and winter we must supply some protein feed that will take the place of the worms and insects picked up in the spring. We have also found that the larger part of the protein should be animal protein which means the feed must be made from animal products. The most convenient, as well as cheapest, animal protein feeds are milk, meat scrap and tankage.

If enough milk may be had on the farm to keep it before the hens at all times, they will need but a small amount of other protein feed in addition. But if milk is lacking it will pay to buy meat scrap or tankage for the hens during the season of high egg prices. A good grade of tankage is cheaper than meat scrap and will produce nearly the same good results when added to the rations.

The feeding of tankage is best done when used as a part of a “dry mash.” The use of a dry mash is not a fancy theory, but a fact of proved value to every farmer who wants to make money out of his hens. A dry mash is a mixture of such feeds as bran, shorts and finely ground corn, kafir, milo, oats and wheat. The best dry mash to feed will depend somewhat on the feeds raised on the farm. A mash that will give good results is made as follows:
- 100 pounds of shorts, ground corn, ground kafir or ground milo.
- 100 pounds of bran, ground oats or ground wheat.
- 40 pounds of meat scrap or tankage.

From the above suggestion, many different mashes may be made up. If the hens are fed all the skim milk or buttermilk they will drink, the tankage can be reduced to 20 pounds in the above mixture, or 10 pounds for each 100 pounds of mash.

The shed roof type of poultry house much used in Oklahoma. The shutter front admits fresh air at all times but keeps out the driving rains. The windows are closed in winter and opened in summer. A simple and practical plan.

A dry mash is best fed in a self-feeding hopper. Such a hopper saves labor and insures that the hens will at all times get all they want to eat, which they must have to lay their best and produce eggs at the greatest profit.

In addition to the dry mash containing the animal protein feed, the hens must be furnished grain feed. This feed, too, will depend on the grains raised on the farm. A mixture of grains, however, is always better than one kind fed alone. An excellent grain feed is made up of one-third cracked corn, one-third oats and one-third wheat. Another is one-half oats and one-half kafir, or one-half cracked corn and one-half oats, or one-half wheat and one-half kafir. In making up a mixture, if a choice may be made, mix wheat or oats with kafir, milo or cracked corn.

In addition to the dry mash and the grain feed, laying hens must have plenty of fresh, pure water. During the cold winter weather the drinking water should never become covered with ice. To form the egg shells it is absolutely necessary that oyster shell be kept before them at all times. They should also be provided with grit, such as coarse sand, unless they can pick it up about the farm.

Finally, green feed is of high value for laying hens. In Oklahoma a small patch of early, fall-sown rye or wheat will furnish the hens with plenty of green stuff during the fall and winter. A nearby field of alfalfa is excellent. Sweet clover also furnishes good early picking for the hens. A patch of mangels will provide green feed for winter but should not be fed to hens which are to produce hatching eggs.

To feed for eggs, then, these things are necessary:
1. A dry mash consisting of shorts, bran or ground grains together with animal protein feed of some kind.
2. Whole grain feed which should consist of two or more different grains.
4. Clean, fresh water.
5. Oyster shell.
6. Grit.
7. Green feed.

HEALTHY HENS. Even after we provide and do all these things, the hens will still refuse to lay unless kept healthy. Disease among the farm hens is almost sure to follow overcrowding, lack of ventilation, damp or filthy houses, under-feeding or a heavy infestation of lice and mites. These do not cause disease in any way, but they do lower the vitality of the hens so that the disease finds it easy to get a start. The best medicine for hens is a dry, clean and comfortable house with plenty of room, pure water, a balanced ration and freedom from lice and mites. If the hens are given these things, they will be able to resist most attacks of disease. It is easier to keep hens healthy than it is to make them well once they become affected with some disease.

HATCHING THE EGGS. Success with farm hens begins with the eggs used for hatching. Eggs for hatching should be selected only from healthy, vigorous stock. Only the well shaped, uniform eggs should be used. Eggs for hatching should never be held longer than 10 days before setting. They should be kept at a temperature ranging between 45 and 65 degrees. A clean cellar is a good place. If no cellar is available they may be wrapped in paper and carefully stored in a heated room away from the stove.

If hens are used for hatching the eggs, they should be given nests where they will not be bothered by the other hens. Sitting hens may be removed from one nest to another at night. In making a nest for the sitting hen, remember that eggs may be chilled from the bottom unless a tight nest is provided. The nesting material should be smoothed out so that the eggs will lie close together but not pile up.

If the eggs are hatched in an incubator, follow carefully the rules given by the manufacturer of that incubator. He knows best how to run his own incubator and is interested in your success. The directions he sends with his incubator are not general directions, but apply only to his own machine.

BROODING THE CHICKS. When hatched in small numbers chicks are best brooded with hens. But if taken off in large numbers, some kind of brooder is necessary for handling them. Successful poultry men are largely using but one kind of brooder—the stove brooder with a large hover. With one of these stoves as many as 500 chicks may be easily cared for. The principle of these stoves is that the heat is applied to the backs of the chicks in the same way that the hen warms the chicks. These stoves burn either coal or oil.

Hinged roosts like those shown in the picture make it easy to clean off the dropping board. In the corner is a broody coop. The nests are placed under the dropping board. The hens enter from the back while the eggs are gathered from the front by letting down a hinged board.

The brooder should be in operation for at least one day before the chicks are ready to come off. It should be regulated to the right heat so that there will be no change in temperature when the chicks are placed under it. The directions of the manufacturer should be carefully followed in order to maintain an even temperature. This style of brooder allows the chicks to move to or away from the stove in search of a spot of just the right temperature, which they quickly learn to do.

The person attending the chicks must keep careful watch over them. Often the chicks want to crowd into bunches and must be spread out. When they settle down for the night they are quite apt to pile up in a corner of the house and by so doing, many will be smothered. The person caring for them must be on the job at this time and spread them out for the night where they will remain without further crowding, provided an even heat is maintained by the brooder.

The brooder house should be large enough to allow the chicks to run about in the cooler air as soon as they are large enough, which hardens them off. Yet, they must not be allowed to wander away from the stove and get chilled. If watched closely at first they will soon learn to run back to the stove when they feel the need of more warmth.

FEEDING THE CHICKS. Feeding the little chicks is a highly important matter. Many chicks are lost every year by improper feeding. The small chick is delicate to begin with and must have the best of feed at the right time and must not be overfed or fed before it is 48 hours old. A close study of feeding will save many a chick from death and help greatly to add to the poultry profits.

Taking care of poultry is mostly a matter of many details. The work is not heavy, but must be done every day. The man who succeeds best, constantly studies his business and learns something every day about how to make hens lay and little chicks to grow rapidly.

The following feeding schedule for chicks is one recommended by the Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College. It is a summary of those proved practices which we know are successful every year on all farms. No change should be made from this schedule or from one very much like it, or severe loss may occur.
1. Do not feed chicks until they are 48 hours old.
2. First feed should be:
- A. Clean sour milk.
- B. Sharp, bright, clean sand.
- C. Bran and raw egg mixed to crumbly mash or steel cut oats, or re-ground rolled oats. Feed on clean boards five or six times a day, what the chicks will eat in 15 to 20 minutes. The last feed of the day should be all they will eat.
3. Fourth day, a little finely cut green feed may be added to the ration.
4. Fourth day, dry mash may be placed in pans or shallow boxes before the chicks for about one hour, made as follows: 10 pounds bran, 10 pounds shorts, 10 pounds cornmeal, five pounds ground oats (sifted) and five pounds meat scraps or dried buttermilk.
5. Hulled oats, coarse cracked wheat, medium cracked corn or a mixture of them should be fed begining the fourth day. Gradually decrease the starter feed and increase the dry mash and grain.
6. Feed the coarser grain in scratch litter at the beginning of third week.
7. Keep plenty of clean water and clean feed before the growing chicks at all times.
8. Feed them green feed every day.
9. Keep them growing by giving all the mash and grain they will eat.

Until the chicks are put on a dry mash they should by all means get what sour milk (skim milk or buttermilk) they will drink. This is not only a rich protein feed, which they need, but the sour milk helps to keep them healthy and thrifty. If there is plenty of milk on the farm, the meat scrap may be omitted from the dry mash, but we must make certain the chicks will get all they want to drink, else they will not get enough protein feed in their ration.

The danger period with chicks is mostly over at one month of age. From that time on they will make their growth on the dry mash kept in feed hoppers and a liberal feeding of grain twice a day. The evening feed of grain should be heavy which makes it possible for the chicks to carry on digestive activities during the night. Free range and green feed are almost necessary for fast gains and proper gains. Pure water, oyster shell and grit must, of course, be always available.

The eggs in the larger basket represent the production of hens fed on a balanced ration which included protein feeds. The eggs in the smaller basket represent the production of hens full fed on the same ration except that no protein feed was included. Proof that hens can’t lay profitably unless fed on a balanced ration, including some animal protein feed.

PUSH THE PULLETS. If the pullets are to begin laying in the early fall they must be pushed to maturity all summer. The dry mash should be fed the entire summer as well as the grain feed. A clean house, pure, fresh water, plenty of shade and free range are important items in keeping the pullets healthy, comfortable and growing rapidly.

The roosters may be separated from the pullets as soon as they can be told apart and quickly fattened out for an early market. It is always a paying practice to force the roosters with the best feed and care so they will reach the market age as quickly as possible. The market for fryers drops sharply as summer comes on. Often a two-pound chicken may be sold early for as much as a three-pound one later on, and of course will be produced at far less feed and labor costs.

CULLING THE FARM FLOCK. The careful poultry keeper will watch his flock for culls and take them out just as soon as they develop. Even among young chicks, a few stunted ones will show up. They rarely, if ever, amount to anything and may carry disease that will endanger the rest of the chicks. They should be killed at once. During the summer some of the growing pullets will show up badly, being stunted, or off-color or of poor shape. They should be sold with the roosters or eaten. When the pullets are ready to house in the fall for the winter laying, a few more may need taking out. From then on, in the laying flock, some culling will need to be done. Some of the pullets will be slow in maturing; they should be removed. Others may be of good type but are naturally poor layers; it never pays to keep such. A few others may go off feed, or show to be weak and of low vitality. Since such are likely to contract disease sooner or later, they should be removed.

Rules have been worked out so that any careful observer of the poultry flock may tell the layers from the non-layers. The birds with the bright red combs, pale shanks, deep bodies and with wide space between the pin bones are the layers. They are the valuable birds. With a little study, practice and observation the person who cares for the poultry can pick out the layers and make but few mistakes in doing so. This constant culling always leaves the best hens in the flock and in a few years results in a flock with a high average egg production, provided that only roosters from a bred-to-lay strain are used.

A renter built this substantial house largely out of cheap lumber. It is built on skids and can be moved a short distance on the skids or can be loaded into a wagon and moved some distance.

SIZE OF FARM FLOCK. The size of the farm flock should be fitted to the buildings. There is never any profit in a big bunch of hens that must roost in the trees or in a cold, drafty shed. Even though they have the best of care, hens so housed cannot be made to lay during the winter when eggs are highest in price. The number of hens kept each winter should be that number that can be comfortably housed in whatever house exists for that purpose. This may be only a small flock, but with the right kind of care and feed this flock will lay more eggs than a larger one that cannot be kept comfortable. In addition, the death loss is always large in a flock that is not given a comfortable house. It is better to sell off the surplus in the fall than have them die off in the winter.

DO NOT EXPERIMENT. It is not necessary, nor is it advisable, for any farmer to experiment with poultry. Hundreds and hundreds of experiments have been made at the various experiment stations. The facts proved by these experiments have been used and checked by thousands of poultry plants and proved practicable. Any man who will read the experiment station and government bulletins, the poultry and farm papers, may learn just what are the best practices in poultry raising. By some careful study he can avoid making costly mistakes. The farm flock can be built up to an average production of 100, 125 and even 150 eggs a year. Such a flock will be a large item in the success of the farm and will almost surely make the farm income larger each year.

Learn As You Go. Taking care of chickens is a thing best learned by experience. A person can start out with a mass of facts. He can learn those facts to begin with. They will be highly valuable to him. But the real knowledge of making hens lay and young chicks to grow must be learned out at the chicken house. The man who watches and studies his chickens, who looks for and remembers the cause of each little change in the flock will, in a few years, build up a fund of information that cannot be had in any other way.

It is not necessary to have mites in the chicken house. They can be destroyed by spraying with any one of the many good sprays. A sprayer costing $1 or more, a small amount of spray and a little work will keep them cleaned out.

MARKETING POULTRY PRODUCTS. The income from the farm flock of hens can be increased by business methods of marketing the eggs, young chickens and hens. It is possible for a part of those farmers living near the larger towns and cities in Oklahoma to sell eggs direct to cafes, hotels and private consumers.

The farmer who lives some distance from a town may ship his eggs in case lots to the wholesale buyers in the larger cities. In nearly every town there is the opportunity of creating a demand through the grocery stores for a high grade of eggs put up in special cartons. In all such instances, the eggs offered for sale must be fresh, infertile and uniform in size and color. It is not possible to create any special market or demand for an average quality of eggs. A special market can be created only for a special product.

However, the solution of the egg-marketing problem does not lie in each farmer working alone to sell his own eggs. If all farmers should try to build up a special demand or get a special price for their eggs, the result would be confusing. The better plan and way is to market eggs through local associations, which assemble the eggs of a community, grade, pack and ship them to the points where there is the best demand. A state marketing association which sells the eggs assembled and packed by the many local associations, is the final step in selling the eggs on the best possible market.

To a less extent, it is possible for each farmer to sell his fryers and hens for a better market price. He can always ship in coop lots to the wholesale buyers in the larger cities and get the wholesale price of the day on which his shipment arrives. He can also add to the poultry income by properly fattening his fryers and hens before he sells or ships to market.

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