USDA Circular No. 107: The Agricultural Situation for 1918: Part XI

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USDA Circular No. 107: The Agricultural Situation for 1918: Part XI Poultry: One Hundred Hens on Every Farm - One Hundred Eggs from Every Hen was a USDA circular published by the United States Department of Agriculture in 1918.[1]

Poultry Production in Back Yards

The circular reads:

"Poultry and eggs have never been cheap food for the city dweller and there is no nope that they can be, during the continuance of the war and its necessarily attendant high prices, even as relatively cheap as they have ordinarily been. The only possibility of cheap eggs for the city family lies in keeping enough hens in the back yard, where they can be supported principally on kitchen waste, to supply the family table. The keeping of hens in back yards is at once an economic opportunity for city families and an essential part of the campaign for increasing poultry production.
"What may be done with fowls in a back yard depends on the size of the yard, the character of the soil, the conditions of sunlight, shared and ventilation, and the interest and skill of the poultry keeper. The smallest and least favorably situated back yard affords an opportunity to keep at least enough hens to supply eggs for the household. the number of hens needed for that purpose is twice the number of persons to be supplied. Hence the smallest flock to be considered consists of four hens. Where hens are kept only to furnish eggs for the table no male bird is needed.
"A coop for a flock of four hens should have a floor area of about 20 square feet, or about 5 feet per hen. For larger flocks the space allowance per bird may be a little less, because the space is used in common and each bird has all the use of all the coop except what her companions actually occupy. For tine ordinary flock of 10 to 15 hens the space allowance should be about 4 square feet per hen.
"With proper care the back-yard poultry keeper can keep hens, for laying only, confining them continuously to their coops, and have them lay well nearly as long as they would be profitable layers under natural conditions. While hens like freedom, good feed and care reconcile them to confinement, and mature, rugged birds often lay more eggs in close confinement than when at liberty.
"If the space admits of giving the little back-yard flock more room than a coop of the minimum size required, the condition of the land will determine the form in which the additional space should be given. If the soil is well drained and free form such filth as often contaminates the soil of back yards, a yard for the fowls may be fenced in, allowing 20 to 30 square feet of yard room per bird. the opportunity for exercise on the land and in the open are which this gives the hens will benefit them, and make life for them more interesting.
"If the soil is poorly drained or foul, the hens will thrive and lay better if not allowed on it at all. In that case, the best way to give them some benefit of the extra space available is to build adjoining the coop a shed covering about the same amount of ground, and having the front enclosed only with wire netting. The foul earth under this shed should be removed and the floor filled in a few inches higher than the old surface with fresh earth or sand.
"By proper attention to cleanliness this may be kept in sanitary condition for a year or more. Whatever advantage can be given the hens in this way will tend to increase production, and to prolong the period of profitable laying. The eggs of hens kept in small back yards are perfectly good for eating, but of little value for hatching even when fertile. Good chickens can not be grown under such conditions. The hens will usually lay well for about a year. Then they should be replaced with farm-grown pullets.
"It is known as a matter of experience and observation that town and city people who have to figure costs of food closely have not been accustomed to use eggs freely except in the season of flush production and low prices. A great many such families can keep a few hens in the back yard, and even with low production get many more eggs than they have been accustomed to use."

An Egg a Day Per Person

The circular reads:

"The average novice can reasonably expect to get an average of at least ten dozen eggs per hen per year form his small flock in the back yard. On the basis of two hens to each member of the family this will give about 20 dozen eggs a year to each person, which amount is about half-way between the general average of farm and city consumption. No back-yard poultry keeper should be satisfied with less than this. Every back-yard poultry keeper should try to get as much more as possible.
"To provide an egg a day for each person, two hens would have to lay 183 eggs each per year. This is by no means an impossible average for small flocks. It is perhaps not too much to say that in cases where the person attending the flock is practically "on the job" all the time, that is, in a position to lock after the wants of the birds three or more times a day, an average of better than 13 dozen eggs per hen can easily be secured, if the hens are mature and in good condition at the start, and have the vitality to carry them through a year of heavy laying.
"For the farm the average of 100 eggs per hen is advised as the lowest that should be accepted as satisfactory, while for the back yard 120 (p 14) is insisted upon as the lowest average - although, in general, the condition in back yard are less favorable to poultry keeping than on farms.
"Experienced poultry keepers understand why this is. The appropriate methods for the farm flock are very different form the appropriate methods for the back-yard flock. On the farms extensive methods are used, with the object of saving labor wherever that can be done advantage, while in the back yards where the size of the flock is necessarily small and all wants of the bird must be looked after by the person in charge, intensive methods must be used, and every effort made to get high production.
"On the farm the poultry keeper can greatly reduce the work of caring for the fowls and at the same time give them the opportunity to pick the most of their living by distributing them on the land. In the city back yard the birds could not, under any circumstances, pick any considerable part of the feed they require. Practically everything must be supplied them, hence any negligence on the part of the keeper affects results more unfavorably than when the hens are under farm conditions.
"Yet there is nothing difficult in the care of a small flock if each of the things necessary to do is done at the right time in the right way, and this system involves nothing too hard for a child, or beyond the ingenuity of an adult who cannot look after the fowl as closely as the child whose time is divided between home and school.
"Hens of the medium-sized breeds - Plymouth Rocks, Wyandottes, Rhode Island Reds and Orpingtons - are best suited to back-yard conditions. Large hens kept in close confinement are likely to get too fat to lay well. Small, nervous hens are apt to develop such vices as egg-eating and feather eating. The bad tendencies mentioned to not prohibit the keeping of large and small breeds in small back yards, but make it necessary for the keeper to use extraordinary care to keep them in good condition and productive. White and light-colored varieties are not desirable for small back yards, because their plumage soils too easily.
"As a rule it is most satisfactory to buy hens of a local poultry keeper or dealer in live poultry. Desirable small flocks are frequently offered by people who are obliged to change of work or of residence to sell their poultry. Dealers in live poultry everywhere sort out from their general receipts the hens that show good breeding and quality to sell to back-yard poultry keepers. When satisfactory stock can not be obtained local, the advertising columns of poultry papers, agricultural papers, or newspapers that carry poultry advertising should be consulted, and the hens bought from the nearest breeder who can supply what is wanted at a reasonable price.
"For the back-yard flock that is kept to produce eggs only it is not necessary to have hens of extra good standard quality. What breeders of standard call choice utility hens are as good as any for egg production and cost but little more than ordinary mongrels. Hens of this grade in the medium-sized breeds are usually a little under standard weights, and have superficial faults - as unsoundness of color, or irregularity of markings or of the shape of the comb - which in no way affects their laying capacity but make them unfit for exhibition and undesirable for breeding purposes.
"When buying hens in person, particular attention should be given to the general condition - whether the bird seems vigorous and lively - and to the appearance of the comb and the condition of the feet. Health hens have bright red combs and bright eyes. A slight paleness of the comb is simply an indication that the hen is not laying at the time but a bird whose comb has either a yellowish or bluish cast should be rejected, for these are symptoms of internal disorders. The skin and scales of legs and toes should be smooth, and the soles of the feet soft and free from corns."

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