Let’s Talk Rusty Iron

1 / 5
2 / 5
Above: New babies in the hen house. Top: White Leghorn chickens.
3 / 5
Left: Egg scales and an egg candler. The Acme automatic scale and the candler in the illustration look exactly like the ones we used.
4 / 5
Above: Electric battery brooders. A three-tier, 300-chick capacity in front and a five-tier, similar to the ones we used, in the rear.
5 / 5
Left: New Hampshire Red chickens, a branch of the Rhode Island Red family and very similar to the Rhode Island breed.

Chicken operation the source of foul memories

It’s almost November, so I’ll tell you a little
about my father’s chicken business in the 1940s. I know, it’s
supposed to be turkey for Thanksgiving, but in those days we sold a
lot of chickens for the holidays.

I don’t know just when my father and uncle, who made up the
Moore & Townsend partnership, got serious about raising
chickens in addition to shipping milk. It was probably 1940 when
the first large chicken house was built at our place. This was a
single-story frame structure maybe 20 or 25 feet wide and 60 or 70
feet long. During the war, a two-story building of the same size
was constructed just west of the original, and the two chicken
houses were connected by a granary.

Besides two large bins, one for wheat and one for oats, there
was room in the granary for sacked feed storage, and a
McCormick-Deering hammer mill of probably 10-inch capacity.

When the partnership was dissolved in 1945, Dad ended up with
the chicken business, and he did very well for five or six years. I
helped with every phase of raising those birds and developed a keen
dislike for chickens and all they stood for.

During the early 1940s, our birds were white Leghorns because of
that breed’s high white egg production. In those days, the city
market in Beaver Falls, Pa., bought most of our eggs, along with
some chickens. Saturday was “go to town day,” and we always took
along a crate or two of eggs, and sometimes a crate of live
chickens for delivery to the store.

The chicks (we never called them “peeps”) were delivered by the
mailman in large, cardboard boxes that I think each held 100 of the
little, fluffy, cheeping birds. The boxes were divided into four
compartments and had round holes punched in the sides so the chicks
could get air. It seems as though we got two or three boxes at a
time, but I don’t remember how often they came.

Those eggs were the first things that soured me on chickens.
Each day, one or two large wire baskets of eggs were gathered by
Dad or Mom, or me after I got big enough. It wasn’t a bad job when
the eggs were found in a nest the hen had vacated, or could be
shooed away from, but I remember with what reluctance I slid my
hand under a hen that refused to leave the nest. These hens would
usually peck my hand, or else they’d be covering a broken egg into
which I’d stick my fingers.

Every evening, after supper, all those eggs had to be wiped
clean of the manure, straw and dried egg yolk sticking to the
shells. My sister and I usually had to do this chore and we weren’t
real happy about it.

After the eggs were clean, Dad would candle the eggs to identify
any with blood spots or other defects inside. The candler, a tin
can about the size of a coffee can, stood on its side and had a
light bulb in one end. At the other end was a round hole, about an
inch and a half in diameter and lined with a rubber gasket to
protect the egg from breakage.

The egg was held against the hole and twirled to allow the light
to shine through. A blood spot would show up as a black spot and
the egg was discarded, although we used a lot of them. Mom would
break the egg into a dish and remove the blood spot with a spoon.
These eggs were safe to use, but couldn’t be sold. Of course, if
the egg had anything wrong other than a small blood spot, it was
fed to the hogs.

The final step in the evening ritual was to grade the eggs as to
size. Each egg was placed on a special weight scale, and assigned
the appropriate grade of small, medium or large. After grading, the
eggs were packed into wooden crates and stored in the cool cellar
until Saturday, when they went to market.

After the second chicken house was built, we still kept Leghorns
for white eggs, but heavier chickens (Rhode Island Reds, I think)
were raised for meat. Every six weeks, we bought day-old chicks,
1,000 at a time, from a local hatchery.

By then, baby chicks were kept in battery brooders, galvanized
tin contraptions that had five levels, each holding 100 chicks and
heated by electricity. The chicks walked on wire mesh screens and
their droppings were caught on tin trays (two for each level) that
slid out for cleaning.

After the chicks got big enough that they no longer needed heat
from a brooder, they were transferred to larger cages, similar to
the battery brooders, but with only four levels and without
electric heat. These brooders and cages were another reason I hated
chickens. We used two battery brooders and three of the larger,
unheated ones which, if my math is correct, contained a total of 22
tin trays that required cleaning each day. Guess whose job that
was?

Every afternoon, I removed each tray full of chicken droppings,
sat it on edge in a wheelbarrow and scraped it clean with a 3-inch
wide hand scraper. When the barrow was full, it had to be pushed
outside and its contents shoveled into the manure spreader.
Naturally, I always ended up with a fair amount of the aromatic
stuff on my hands and clothes, not something I enjoyed.

After the birds outgrew the battery cages, they were transferred
to large, homemade wood and wire cages where they matured until big
enough to sell. They were always on wire and were never allowed to
run loose.

It took many years to get over my aversion to eating eggs and
chicken, but I finally did. It’s funny: We also raised hogs and
cows, but I’ve never had any qualms about eating beef or pork, I
wonder why?

I hope everyone enjoys their Thanksgiving turkey or chicken or
whatever.

Sam Moore grew up on a farm in western Pennsylvania. He
now lives in Salem, Ohio, and collects antique tractors, implements
and related items. Contact Sam by e-mail at
letstalkrustyiron@yahoo.com

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment