Now that the nights are getting colder, the leaves are changing color, and winter is on the horizon, it's time to check on the chickens' well being.1 (If you have chickens.)
This handsome staplebound volume from 1932 is titled "Hens and Pullets, Care and Management During Fall and Winter." The 24-page guide was published by the Ralston Purina Company of St. Louis.2
One of the things I like about the cover is how much space and freedom the chickens have in their indoor habitat. You don't see that nearly as much in these sad days of factory farms for egg-layers. More than 90 percent of hens in the United States "live" their lives inside battery cages; worldwide, the figure is about 60 percent.
These hens of the 1930s had it great, by comparison, getting to walk and bounce around indoors. I guess it's too bad the farmers of the past were so thoughtfully inefficient.
Here are some tips and tidbits from Ralston Purina back in the day:
- Big-framed, well-developed pullets will lay larger eggs than poor-developed pullets, so it pays to grow and develop your pullets properly.
- "Give Layers the Right Kind of Care!"
- Hens can't do much unless they have a comfortable, warm and dry house to live in. It should be well insulated to protect the birds from sudden drops in temperature.
- Other factors affect moisture conditions. One is the number of birds to the house. Don't overcrowd them. A standard 20 x 20 house will hold 100 to 125 bird comfortably.
- Four inches of bright, clean straw makes a very good litter.
- Provide plenty of roosting space for the birds. Allow 6 to 7 inches of roosting space for light breeds, and 8 to 10 inches for the heavier breeds. The perch poles should be placed from 12 to 15 inches apart. Have the poles running from the rear wall, toward the front, not from side to side in the house. This prevents jostling and crowding and makes it easier for the birds to get on the roosts.
- Next to water, the cheapest egg-making material is the lime for egg shell. The best source of available lime is oyster shell. A pullet will eat about five cents worth per year.3
- The best way to prevent disease and control parasites in the laying house is to keep things clean. ... Clean the house thoroughly in the fall just before the pullets are brought in off the range. Burn the droppings or put them on land that is not being used for poultry.
These hens would love to know.
By the way, even as this 1932 booklet was being produced, change was afoot in the United States. According to Wikipedia, Milton Arndt's 1931 book Battery Brooding began to spread the idea of creating more "efficient" ways of containing hens and gathering their eggs.
1. One option is to bring your chicken inside for the winter and read to it by the fireplace each night.
2. Ralston Purina is no more. In 2001, one of those big mergers turned it into Nestlé Purina PetCare.
3. Five cents a year in 1932 is the equivalent of about 86 cents a year, per chicken, today. Still a nice bargain. Back then, of course, the writers of this guide wanted farmers to use Purina Crushed Oyster Shell.