Monday, March 10, 2014

Ashley Sterne Poultry-Keeping

Here is Ashley Sterne's workmanlike article on chickens.  Oh, the topics the poor humorist must write about to put food on the table!

The Lone Hand – The National Australian Magazine, Vol. VII, No. 8, p. 405
July 2, 1917

[Note: the (slightly garbled) Tennyson reference was from his famous poem In Memoriam, the pertinent stanza being:

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

"Parson's nose" in the final sentence of the article is the informal British name for the piece of flesh at the tail end of a cooked chicken.]


After perusing a small brochure on the subject which someone sent me a few days ago, I am much struck with the fact that poultry-keeping is not more commonly indulged in as a war-time economy.

Quite apart from the company the birds afford to anybody who is not addicted to ordinary suburban social life, there are at least three cogent arguments in favor of the more universal adoption of poultry-keeping.  Not only is it possible thereby to ensure that the eggs at the breakfast-table did not form part of Noah's personal estate, but also occasionally to include in the dinner menu a bird that is not reminiscent in its texture of a non-skid Dunlop tyre.  Furthermore, the starting of a poultry-run does not require a vast outlay of capital, and anyone who possesses a little loose cash, a back garden, some empty crates, and a box of tools may soon realise the truth of the poet's allusion to:

"The glory that was geese, and the gander that was Rome" —

Only, of course, it is chickens we are talking about, and not geese.

At the same time, the amateur who takes up poultry-keeping on the assumption that every hen can be made self-supporting by a diet of its own hard-boiled eggs labors under a grave misapprehension.  It is not as easy a process as all that; and in offering the few following hints to the student of fowl-culture, I am presupposing that his good taste and tact alone would suffice to prevent his cherishing so thoroughly heartless and immoral an illusion.

In choosing your birds, care should be taken to select only hens that will lay without undue pressure being brought to bear on them.  Nothing is more discouraging that to set a bird on a nest, and after days of anxious watching and of constantly lifting her up to see if anything has happened, suddenly to be informed by an expert neighbor that the particular breed of bird you have selected is a kind of mule, to whom the function of egg-laying is denied.  It is equally heartbreaking to find that you have invested your money in a hen that shares the popular prejudice against large families, and that considers she is doing her duty to the State if she reluctantly releases an occasional egg over the weekend.

As poultry-keeping depends for its profitableness entirely upon the egg output, you will readily see that to secure a constant stream of eggs is the first essential towards a saving in the house-keeping money; and this can only be done by securing hens that will devote themselves body and soul to the task in hand, and not be lured away upon the impulse of the moment to sing to wounded soldiers, or to take up munition work on the promise of additional emolument.  In selecting your birds, therefore, you should be guided by the judgment of someone who knows how to choose good layers.  It is useless to rely on the now obsolete method of shaking a hen and listening to hear if she rattles.

You will next have to consider the question of proper food.  As you are doubtless aware, egg-shells consist largely of lime, and it stands to reason that unless a hen has an ample supply of this commodity she will be unable to lay anything but eggs resembling tinned apricots, which can only be removed from the nest with great difficulty and a gravy spoon.

It is necessary, therefore, to see that whatever else your hens are given to eat, an adequate quantity of lime, either in the shape of lime-juice, lime-water, or lime-regis, is included in their daily dietary.

For the other part, certainly the most economical way of feeding chickens is to liberate them in your neighbor's kitchen-garden.  Otherwise they may be fed on household scraps of a farinaceous or vegetable nature, and many a bird whose breast has been covered with the Poultry Club's medals owes her success to her owner's constitutional dislike to tapioca pudding and the lids of potato pies.

Then, too, there is the question of illness.  Fortunately, there are many ailments with which chickens are customarily afflicted; and when Tennyson implored us to "ring out wild shapes of fowl disease," he was obviously referring to the most common, chicken-pox — a malady to which all unvaccinated birds are liable.  Though the symptoms are distressing to witness — the bird slowly gyrating in circles with its bill in the air (and I really don't know where else it could put it) — the remedy is simple.  You merely pick it up by the neck and whirl it round your head for a few seconds in the opposite direction.  This is what is known as "the rotation of crops."

Another form of indisposition to be on the look-out for is broodiness.  As you may well imagine, the life of a hen is not overcharged with hilarious excitement, and it is not to be wondered at that hens of an introspective or dreamy nature should sometimes seek a lonely corner of the poultry-yard, and brood over some of the more absorbing social problems of the day.  This tendency should be broken at once, as, if persisted in, the hen will eventually lose the knack of laying eggs, and do nothing but brood.  It is when they are in this peculiar mental state, however, that advantage is often taken of them to get a little hatching done — the normal instinct of the hen being to liberate an egg and then put it to nurse.  Broody hens, therefore, are employed for this purpose, the only difficulty being that, having hatched a chick from the egg, they are inclined to remain sitting on the chick to see if it in its turn will hatch into anything else.

Roosters, I may mention in conclusion, do not get broody.  As far as I can observe, their days are spent in resting and strengthening their vocal chords so that they can sit up all night and crow.  So great has this nuisance become in my own particular neighborhood that I feel that I don't care if I never again look a poached egg in the yolk, or a roast chicken in the parson's nose.


As lagniappe to my readership, here is the remarkable picture of a one-man tank.


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