Saturday, 1 October 2016

12 February 1881 - 'How to Rear Fowls' by P.A.L.M.

Poultry-keeping is both an interesting and profitable occupation. If girls only knew what pleasure it would give them, more would pursue it. Remember, however, that it is not a thing to be done by fits and starts. Poultry requires constant care; no arduous work, but regular daily thought and attention. My present paper shall only treat the subject as applicable to the keeping of a limited number of fowls, as can be practically done by any young lady.

Poultry-farming becomes, of course, a matter of capital and interest; while prize poultry-keeping is generally a hobby, very often lucrative, but depending very much on the success your fowls have at shows. It is not by any means to be discouraged, only fowls intended for exhibition require different treatment from those kept merely for household use. If you are successful in taking prizes, and can commend a high price for setting eggs - for instance, from ten shillings to a guinea a dozen - it is a very good thing. Before, however, you can expect to succeed with prize-poultry, it is necessary to obtain a correct knowledge of the management of ordinary fowls.

Proper housing, feeding, and early batching are the three great requisites to profitable poultry-keeping, and I purpose now to say a little on each subject.


Cleanliness, dryness, warmth, and ventilation, without draughts, are the principal essentials to the health of the fowls. A proper hen-house need not be an expensive affair. Of course, if you have ample means at your command, and wish for ornamental houses, you can have them in endless variety, but please don't consider that as part of the expense of poultry-keeping. My own houses cost a mere trifle. If there is any stone or brick outhouse which can be converted into a hen-house, nothing is better. If it is necessary to build a new one, wood is the cheapest and best material to e employed. We cannot expect all girls to become carpenters, but often they have a brother willing to help them, who would delight in a little joiner work. A house five or six feet square is quite large enough for a cock and six hens; if larger, it only increases their liability to cold in winter. The roof must be made sloping, and either covered with felt or tarred. It must be perfectly water-tight.

It is an advantage if the house can be built against a wall, especially if it be a stable wall or at the back of the kitchen fireplace. A stove inside the hen-house is not generally considered a good thing, because the fowls get heated and then when they go out are very apt to catch cold.

The roof of the hen-house may be carried on a little longer than the house, so as to form a shed under which the fowls can shelter. If, however, the house be raised from the ground about two feet, the shed can be dispensed with and the fowls shelter under the house. If space be an object, the latter plan will be found an advantage. A slide for the fowls to go in and out by must be made near the ground. A window is absolutely necessary; one part of can be covered with perforated zinc for ventilation, as pure air must be had without draughts. For the floor, Roman cement or concrete is best, but any hard substance that can be easily brushed will do. For perches, nothing answers better than a fir pole. Be particular in having them placed away from the nests.  For the larger breeds, such as Brahmas, Cochins, &c., it should not be more than a foot from the ground. Indeed, these birds very often prefer to roost on the ground on nice, clean straw. Brahmas and Cochins are so liable to foot disease owing to their heavy bodies, and this liability is often increased by their having unsuitable perches.  For the lighter breeds the perches can be placed higher, but not too high, as is frequently the case.

Boxes or little round hampers, without lids, answer capitally for nests. Hens seem to prefer laying on the ground. They must be furnished with clean straw or hay; three bricks laid at the wall, with straw between, make very good nests. Use chian or chalk nest-eggs and gather the eggs every evening.

Too much stress cannot be laid on the importance of cleanliness. The hen-house must be whitewashed with lime at least once a year. It must be thoroughly cleaned out twice a week or oftener, and the floor sprinkled with dry sand. It is a good plan to have a board placed under the perches to catch the droppings. It is so easily cleaned, and keeps the manure free from sand, &c. The manure must be carefully preserved, as it is one of the profits of poultry-keeping. For garden purposes it is equal to guano, especially for strawberries. If quite pure, the tanner gives a good price for it. In hot weather use powdered sulphur for sprinkling over the floor, nets, &c. This kills the vermin. It should also be used freely for sitting hens, but that belongs to the treatment of hatching.

The larger your run is the better; grass is preferable, but unless it can be kept very fresh and clean, it is better dispensed with, and good gravel substituted. It is excellent if the runs can be made to open into a grass park, for then the different lots of fowls can be let out by turns, but not everyone can have that advantage. Of course, if the runs be only of gravel, green food has to be supplied.

For enclosing the yards, the best thing is galvanised wire netting. Stabs must be driven into the ground at equal distances; each stab should have a spike at the top to prevent the hens alighting on them. The wire is fastened to these stabs with staples made  for the purpose. Better than stabs are iron stanchions, but of course much more expensive. The more liberty fowls have the better; they can pick up so much for themselves, and as a rule are healthier. Very few persons have this accommodation, though we meet with very successful poultry-keeping in very small space. It requires all the more care and very strict attention to cleanliness, but if well looked after will do very well.

The number of houses required depends of course on the number of fowls kept. A house could be built longer and then divided, a wire division being between each run, or a number of separate houses may be found most convenient.


Having built your house, the next thing is to stock it, and that depends very much on the taste of the owner, and also on the nature of climate and soil. A young hen-wife should begin cautiously. Many go and buy expensive fowls and set to work with no knowledge or experience (and in poultry-keeping nothing but experience answers), and then say "poultry does not pay." No wonder; the whole thing is mismanaged; therefore, learn by experience, and, to use an old Scotch proverb, "Creep before you gang." Pure breeds are, of course, most to be admired, but many crosses lay very well. A cross between a Dorking cock and Brahma hens makes a famous table fowl. Dorkings are capital  for the table, but I do not consider them good layers; the chickens are troublesome to rear, and do not thrive well on a clay soil. Brahmas (light and dark) are good table birds, and lay well when not broody. They make excellent mothers. Cochins are very good, too, but their flesh is yellower and their bones larger.

Spanish and Hamburgs lay splendidly, the former very large eggs. Houdens, Leghorns, Crevecoeurs, Polish Game, Andalusians, and others give plenty of choice. The Scotch Grey is considered a strong, useful bird. Bantams may be kept for amusement; they are too small for table, and though they lay well, their eggs are very small. Unless in a very large poultry establishment, it is better not to keep many different kinds. For beginners a very good plan is to buy some common hens, which can be had from two shillings to half-a-crown each, and buy some settings of whatever kind may be preferred.


The feeding of poultry is of the utmost importance. If in confinement they require three meals a day, and in winter, although at liberty, should have them. The first meal, to be given at daybreak in winter, and about six o'clock in summer, should consist of soft feed - small potatoes, potato and turnip peelings, apples, cabbage leaves, or any refuse of vegetables &c., boiled till very soft, and mixed into a stiff paste with thirds or barley meal, and a handful of Indian meal. This last is very fattening, and should be used sparingly for laying hens. Oatmeal makes the best feeding of all, but is generally too dear. The food should be mixed in a pail overnight, covered with a lid or cloth, and allowed to stand beside the kitchen fire, and given hot in the morning. A little pepper mixed in it in cold weather is a good thing.

Generally the cook gives the first meal, but girls should see that it is properly done; the rest of the feeding they will do themselves. The mid-day meal may consist of waste bread, steeped in water, or, better still, skimmed milk, scraps of meat from the kitchen, or a little grain. In summer they do not require much; the last meal, given shortly before they go to roost, must be grain of some sort. The reason is that the fowls require some support during the long hours of night; grain gives them that, and so produces more eggs; soft food is more easily and quickly digested, and hence is best in the morning. It is a great mistake to give grain as constant feeding, and fowls will never pay if fed entirely on it. Good oats, barley, and wheat, with buckwheat in winter, should be used; light wheat will do for a change in summer; Indian corn is too fattening. Their food is best to be varied Old ship biscuits, which may be bought at ten shillings a hundredweight, if steeped all night in boiling water, form an excellent change. A "buff," purchased for threepence or fourpence from the butcher is also a nice variety, and in winter should be got frequently, as animal food encourages laying.

Lime must be supplied, and if in confinement, green food given daily. AS there is generally a garden where fowls are kept, this is a very easy matter. Weeds, especially groundsel, do as well as anything; cabbage-leaves, lettuce, or even grass.

Lastly, but of primary importance, is a plentiful supply of good water. This is often neglected, and hence very often disease ensues. In winter it is important that it is kept free of snow or ice. Give fresh water daily, and in hot weather oftener, as it dries up so quickly If a cow is kept, the hens will likely get skim or butter milk.

There are several varieties of drinking fountains made, but a common delf trough or a large flower-pot saucer serves as well as anything. As regards the quantity of food to e given, no very definite rule can be laid down; each must use their own judgment. Hens will not lay well if over-fed. Generally about half a handful of grain for each fowl will be the right thing to give at night. Some kinds of fowls require, of course, more feeding than others.

Again, all poultry should be more highly fed during moulting, and on wet or cold days should also get rather more. The soft food is often given too soft; it should be of the consistence of dough NO more should be given than can be consumed at one meal; no food should be left lying over DO not use a feeding dish, but give the food on the ground; the fowls require the sand that gets mixed with it for digestion. There is no economy in buying cheap grain, and the size and quality of the egg depend very much on the feeding.

It has been often calculated that the cost of feeding each hen is about five shillings a year. This is, of course, lessened if there be much waste from the house that can be used. These directions refer only to adult fowls; the treatment of chickens is different, and belongs to the subject of hatching.

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