Every time I go out on the pasture, I have to feed the chickens some scratch feed. They come running out, eager for a treat, and it’s really hard to look at all those expectant faces and disappoint them. Besides, it’s a good practice. By feeding your animals kinda-sorta by hand, they come a lot tamer, you become a lot more attached to them, and you get a good look at them, close up and in good light.
I ended up in the egg business because I couldn’t resist a 25¢ hen.
We were raising our very first batch of chicks, 25 New Hampshire Reds we got from Oregon State University. At the same time, a barn owl was raising its own offspring in our barn. One day, we saw one of the fledgling owls flying around at dusk: a beautiful sight. A little later we discovered the body of our sole rooster, which was probably the owl’s first kill. Oh, no!
Chickens in the Snow. 7:30 AM, 18°F, Light Wind
But I not only have open houses, but all my feeding and watering is done outdoors, year-round. What’s up with that?
So when was the golden age of American farming?
I think the answer is different if you’re thinking from the point of view of the farmer or the consumer. If you’re the consumer, the answer is obviously, “The golden age is now.” You’ll see why in a minute.
For the farmer, we need to separate what’s picturesque from what’s good. Some aspects of the bad old days were:
Let’s do the math. There were 76 billion eggs laid by US chickens last year (not counting hatching eggs), laid by 280 million hens (23 dozen eggs per hen). The vast majority of these hens are in factory farms. Suppose we wanted to get rid of factory farms. What would it take?
Well, before factory farms there were ordinary farm flocks. Between about 1900 and 1950, a typical “egg farm” held steady at about 1,500 hens. Some had more, some had less, but a farm family making most of its income from eggs typically had a 1,500-hen operation.