Branches of the Poultry Business
Only four kinds of poultry have been found widely profitable for market purposes; namely, chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys. The only other two kinds that occasionally come to market from the farm are pigeons and guinea fowls, but these in such relatively small numbers that they can scarcely be compared with the first four. The only way all these, except chickens and ducks, reach the market is in the live or the dressed form. Doubtless the eggs of all may be used on home tables. Duck eggs may also find a market in some localities, but there is in America no important demand for the eggs of any of them. Day old ducklings, goslings and turkeys may reach some special customer, but such instances are so rare as scarcely to deserve mention. All classes may, of course, find ready sale either as eggs or as mature birds for breeding purposes. But when all is summed up the hen is the only fowl that can fill all the roles in the diagram below. For this reason she will occupy chief attention in the pages that follow. Special chapters at the close of the book will discuss the other farm fowls.
Branches of poultry raising.
The diagram covers the various activities of the chicken business. For convenience, let us start with the egg and discuss the various divisions.
Eggs for Home Use
The cost and the value of the eggs consumed at home is rarely considered by the general farmer. Hens are kept because the housewife must have eggs for making certain dishes as well as for boiling, poaching, frying, etc. If they were not kept the farmer would either have to do without or purchase eggs. As the former does not suit his palate nor the latter his pocketbook, he tolerates a few hens which care for themselves more or less, and which pick up a considerable amount of forage that would otherwise go to waste. If they supply the family's needs he is content to consider the yield in eggs and chickens as offsetting his losses of grain which he has to feed the flock.
This is a slipshod way of doing things. Its practice is only too often costly, especially when the common practice of allowing poultry to do its own breeding without any oversight is followed. No one who practices this way can tell whether his fowls are producing eggs at a loss or at a profit. Doubtless, with ordinary farm flocks, as still too frequently managed, the record of egg laying would be more than offset by the cost of grain fed, to say nothing of the amount of food picked up, nor of the time and care the flock requires. In many such cases it would be even cheaper to buy eggs than to produce them. Of course, the other fellow might be losing, but that would be his lookout.
This matter of home consumption of eggs and poultry should be put on a business basis. Every pound of food fed to the flock should be charged against the flock, and every egg used by the family should be credited to the hens at current market prices. This is the only way the farmer can be fair to himself and to the hens and can know whether or not he should keep fowls to supply the home needs. Of course, when he aims to supply a market the eggs consumed at home should be credited to the flock so that the full value may appear.
Eggs for Market
There is an unlimited demand for fresh-laid eggs. This has been shown in Chapter I. The market has never yet been fully supplied, nor is it likely to be for a very long time to come. The fact that some specially favored small towns may have all the fresh eggs they can consume, must not be thought to overthrow this statement. The great consuming centers are always in need of genuinely fresh eggs, and are likely to be even more clamorous in their demands as they learn how much superior such eggs are to those ordinarily procurable at grocery stores. On this account egg production offers exceptional opportunities to make money. In fact, no branch of poultry raising is so likely to prove profitable over so wide an area. There is not the least likelihood that there will be an overproduction or that the business will be overdone; in fact, it is the only branch of poultry raising concerning which this statement can be made without qualification.
Perhaps the most important reason why egg production and sale can be made most profitable is not so much on account of great demand and high prices as because the cost of production is proportionately less than in other branches of the chicken business. By "cost of production" is meant not only the cost of the egg as a market commodity, but the cost of making the machine, the hen, which is to manufacture the egg. In rearing chickens to sell as broilers and roasters the cost occurs mainly in the losses of chicks during the brooding period. Pullets of a reasonably good laying strain of any good breed having been reared to laying age are, therefore, worth far more because of their ability to lay than they would be if sold for eating. In fact, to be disposed of in this way would generally mean a decided loss. For the eggs such pullets would lay, especially if hatched early enough to begin laying during October or early November, would be worth several times the market price that they could command at that season. It is all well enough to sell hens after they have done laying. Indeed, their carcasses at that time may command even higher prices than in the fall. So the return from the eggs they lay is so much to the good, the only items of expense to be deducted being those connected with housing, feeding and care -- the maintenance of the machine, the hen, the cost of the raw material, the feed and the items of labor, interest on investment, etc.
Eggs for Hatching
One of the advantages of keeping pure-bred fowls is that eggs may be sold for hatching at prices considerably higher than even the highest market figures. No farmer, however, should strive to make sales, especially through advertising, until after he has learned to breed and select his flock sufficiently well to secure fair uniformity in the progeny. This applies just as much to one line of breeding as another, whether for plumage, for flesh or for eggs. Having reached a fair degree of success it will be time enough to dispose of eggs to his neighbors, and by means of advertising. In fact it would be unwise for a successful poultryman not to dispose of his surplus eggs in this way provided, of course, he can do so at reasonable profit. The one thing to remember is always to have a good article to sell and to treat the customer with as great fairness as one would demand were the case reversed. This is the surest way to build up a good-paying business.
It must be remembered that selling eggs for hatching is in the main not so satisfactory to either buyer or seller as selling fowls, or perhaps even as selling day old chicks. To be sure the great majority of poultry breeders do sell eggs for hatching. Perhaps this is because the custom has become almost universal or because it pays. In spite of the disadvantages it seems evident that selling eggs has enough to recommend it to offset these drawbacks. One thing the poultryman should remember is not to make his price too small. When he has really good stock, he is, if anything, more likely to sell eggs at, say $2, than $1.50 or $1 a setting. One of the principal advantages of selling at this higher figure is that a better class of customers is secured, a class more desirable to deal with because of their familiarity with the risks to be run in buying eggs. Such people are more reasonable in their demands, more careful in their methods of manipulation of eggs and more considerate of the breeder when the hatches are not as satisfactory as they might be.
When several settings are ordered at a time, it is customary to make a reduction from the single setting price, because the work of selling, handling, packing, etc., costs relatively less for several settings than for one. It is also customary to reduce the price of settings toward the close of the season so as to induce people who would not buy when prices are high. Late sales are considered also as encouraging sales in later years, because the customer sees the value of the improved strain and is willing to pay the advanced price so as to get the advantage of early hatching. On the other hand many breeders maintain a uniform price throughout the season because they believe that in the long run not only their interests but those of their customers are best served in this way. Late hatched chicks, especially from stock more or less weary from laying, are not, in their opinion, as desirable as chicks hatched earlier, nor does the breed or variety live up so well to its reputation.
Whether the breeder can guarantee eggs or not is a disputed question. About the only things which the seller should guarantee are that the eggs are true to name and laid by the fowls which the purchaser has seen advertised. The eggs should be the same as the breeder would set to increase his own flock. They should be carefully packed and handed to the express company in first-class order. Breeders often agree to replace eggs which have failed to hatch either at a reduced price or at no cost. The principal facts to be taken into consideration so as to arrive at a fair judgment of any case, are the results secured from similar eggs at home and the reports of customers in general. If these are not satisfactory, the breeder should do his best to satisfy his customers. Indeed, it would be to his own interest to do this, but he should strive to find out why the hatches are poor and rectify the defects, if possible. If he cannot make things right he should, for his own best interest, as well as that of his customers, decline to fill orders for stated reasons. This question will be discussed in the chapter on breeding. When hatches run from seven to ten chicks to a setting, the breeder may be considered to have done well by his customers and he should be under no further obligation, because so much depends upon factors beyond his control.
When a breeder has sufficient stock to warrant his advertising, his advertisements should begin to appear preferably during January and certainly not later than February. This is not to fill, but to list orders, because high-priced eggs should not be shipped during inclement weather since there is great danger of their being chilled in transit and because results at that season are much more problematical than when the breeding season is at its height. The object of early advertising is to encourage inquiries and book orders for delivery during March, April and May. As to what and how to advertise, the following paragraphs will be found helpful.
Good and Bad Advertising: A study of poultry advertisements in any poultry or farm paper will bring out many points which will interest advertisers of poultry. One of the commonest errors is to contract the names of fowls. The evident thought is that the advertiser will save some money by so doing. Usually he will not, the rate being the same whether for an initial or for a whole word. This false economy cannot help but prevent the advertiser from getting orders.
For instance, the man who advertises "B. Leghorns" does not tell whether he has Buff, Black or Brown Leghorns, and the prospective purchaser in haste to secure eggs or stock would most likely pass over such an advertisement, and correspond with the man who spells out the word. The advertiser should always put in the style of comb for the same reasons. Another objection to using initials is that every spring there are people just entering the poultry business who don't know what these initials stand for, and they will be influenced by the directness and plainness of an advertiser's words. It always pays to be definite.
One of the worst features of advertising where contractions are used is that the advertiser is almost sure to conclude that the paper in which he advertises is not as good a medium for selling stock as it really is; whereas, the trouble arises in his indefinite wording or use of initials.
Nothing but what will interest the purchaser should be included in an advertisement. The great majority of readers of farm papers are interested more in business poultry than show birds and, therefore, are not attracted nearly so much by statements that the birds are prize winners, as they are by the fact that the fowls are good layers or of heavy weight. The buyer is looking for good stock or eggs, and naturally concludes that advertisers sell such. If scores, pedigrees and show records are desired they can be learned through correspondence, since most readers are interested from the market standpoint and people who seek such fowls are much slower in deciding to buy than farm readers generally are, and do not look for these items. Of course, with fancy fowls advertised in poultry papers the case would be different.
Another common error which tends to reduce advertisers' sales is the practice of mentioning some other man's strain. The prospective purchaser is almost sure to conclude that the advertisers' stock is not as good as that of the man whose strain he advertises, and will make effort to discover the address of the man whose strain is mentioned. When a poultry raiser buys fowls from a well-known breeder he does so to improve his own strain, and from the moment the birds enter his yards they become a part of his manufactory, and help to turn out his improved product. He, therefore, should advertise his stock as his own, and not as that of another man.
The following sample advertisements are characteristic. They are taken from a farm paper and will serve as samples of good and bad advertising:
"Eggs that hatch big, strong chicks from my prize-winning Barred Rocks. $1.50."
"Single Comb White Leghorns, 23 years, 5-pound hens, large eggs. Best for everybody. Only kind kept. Eggs, $1 for 13. Electrics pass farm. Write, telephone."
"Reds, Rocks, Wyandottes, Leghorns, eggs $1 a sitting."
"For sale. Little chicks, P. Rocks, R. I. Reds and Leghorns."
In each of the first two there are directness and definiteness which attracts the buyer at once, and in the latter of these two the advertiser shows that he is a progressive man living in a thriving community, for he can be reached by phone and by trolley. Moreover, he must have good stock, for he has specialized for 23 years, now keeps no other variety of fowl and has brought up the weight of his hens to 5 pounds and increased the size of the eggs. In the second two the faults are very apparent. The prospective purchaser cannot tell whether the man who has "Reds" has Buckeye Red or Rhode Island Red fowls, nor what variety of "Rocks," etc., he has. The same is true of the second, where no price is mentioned. If you, reader, were looking over such advertisements which would you choose?
Day Old Chicks
During the past few years the shipment of day old chicks has grown greatly in popularity. Much that has already been said concerning the sale of eggs for hatching applies to this branch of poultry raising -- all that relates to quality of stock, advertising, etc. Next in importance to good stock is ability to secure large hatches of strong chicks in incubators at times when customers are in need. Until the poultry raiser has become proficient in artificial hatching he should not attempt to branch out in this line, nor should he begin to advertise widely until he can care for a considerable volume of business. The development of a local business will usually pay well enough and with less risk and expense than an advertised business of this kind. Where he has worked up a good utility strain of fowls he can thus probably do much better himself as well as be of far greater help to his neighborhood.
The wide increase in numbers of a specially good strain of utility fowls that are doing well for him should be a source of greatly increased income to any locality. Far from working against the owner, as some may suppose, such a development should help. It might easily be the foundation of a special trade for the district in dressed poultry or eggs, or both, a trade that could command higher prices in the market.
Crate for chick shipping. Each tray in four partitions. Burlap lined and surrounded when in use.
The monetary advantages of selling day old chicks, only the man who does the hatching can decide. Some of the items he should consider are the original cost of the eggs, the price at which he could sell these for hatching, the percentage of chicks he can reasonably count on, the cost of hatching the individual chick, and the reasonable amount he should add to the producing price to give him a fair return after deducting the cost of advertising, correspondence, packages, etc. Some men can sell at even less than 10 cents a chick, others charge 15 cents or more. Much should depend upon the character of the strain of fowls, a really superior strain of egg producers selling for higher prices than chicks of ordinary caliber. It seems customary to charge two and one-half times the price of the egg used for hatching, since it is not safe to figure on more than one chick for every two incubated. This leaves only a small margin of profit.
From the buyer's standpoint the plan has much to commend it. This is the only method whereby the buyer can count his chickens before they are hatched.
If the shipper understands his business as he should the chicks should reach their destination even a thousand miles away in first-class shape. A distinct advantage claimed for the method is that express employees are far more careful of chicks than of eggs for hatching. As to the chicks themselves, they seem to stand the journey better than if even only a few days older. This is because they have not yet digested the yolk which seems to be Nature's provision for the early days of chick infancy.
The hatching egg business, in a great many instances, has been unsatisfactory to the seller as well as to the buyer. With the introduction of this somewhat novel branch of the ever-increasing poultry industry, many of the objectionable features of the hatching egg business are removed. The purchaser can know he is investing in realities, whereas, when he purchases hatching eggs he is buying prospects. This branch of the poultry business has, therefore, come to stay and present indications are that it will become more popular as its advantages become better known.
Elevated water can. Wire spring holds can in place.
As a general proposition, no one should plan to go into the broiler business. This branch of poultry raising, as a branch, is not profitable; but where broilers are looked upon as a by-product of the egg farm, or the general poultry business, they should be profitable when sold early enough; that is, before they have "eaten their heads off."
By the term "broiler business" is meant the hatching of February-laid eggs to supply a demand for chickens in May when prices are high. This is costly, first, because the eggs which are scarce at that season command high prices; second, because the number of chicks that can be counted upon to live does not generally average more than 25 per cent; and, third, because young cockerels from the farms can be so easily held over in cold storage from the previous summer. These come in competition with the winter-raised broilers, and people will buy them in preference because of their low prices, the difference in quality not being enough in general estimation to warrant the higher figures. It has been estimated that more than 90 per cent of the chickens sold as broilers come from poultry produced either on egg farms, fancy yards or general farms where they are a by-product and must be gotten rid of quickly to prevent loss.
Cockerels may pay more than the cost of feeding, but unless they can have free range they are not likely to pay the whole cost of their production, counting the value of the eggs, the cost of hatching, the labor and the feed, etc., up to the time of their being marketed. Unless the poultry-man has facilities for fattening and thus disposing of his cockerels as roasters or capons, it would be more economical to sell the broilers as soon as they are of marketable size.
What is known in the market as a roaster is a fairly matured fowl large enough, either alone or with another roaster, to supply a family dinner. Such fowls are sold when four or five months old, depending somewhat on the breed. The popular American breeds go to market at the earlier age; the Asiatics at the later. These fowls are most profitably raised by being allowed free range of the stubble fields, pastures, meadows, orchards, etc., where they pick up a large share of their living between the time that they can leave the brooder or the mother hen and the time they are sold. Frequently they are fattened for two weeks or so before going to market so as to add a pound or more to their weight. They can be considered more profitable, as a rule, than broilers raised in the ordinary way on the farm; and generally it is better to allow the cockerels to have the run of the fields and orchards where this can be conveniently arranged. The pullets should be kept by themselves since their role is to be egg producers. If cockerels must be fed in limited yards, they will usually not pay very well as roasters because of the cost of feeding and care.
Compact house for small space.
Hens that are not to be kept for laying the following fall and winter or with old roosters to be kept for breeding, should be disposed of as soon as possible after their season of usefulness has closed. They may often be profitably fattened for a couple of weeks prior to sending to market, but should always be sold for what they are; namely, old fowls. Their chief use is for fricassee and soup. The packing houses take large quantities for these purposes and small markets also use a great many where there is a good home demand.
Along the south shore of Boston Bay has grown up a very profitable branch of poultry raising for the Boston market. The fowls are marketed in spring and early summer when they have reached the heaviest weights and before their flesh hardens. They command prices ranging as high as 30 cents a pound, but the bulk of the stock is marketed at about 25 cents. The district has a present output of 75,000 to 100,000 roasters annually. This industry, while it employs much the same equipment that the special broiler business requires, is, in the main, more successful and profitable than broiler raising. It is the only line in which pullets have been used for market instead of for producing eggs.
In the production of these roasters, the incubators are started in early autumn and kept busy until spring. The chicks are kept in brooder houses until past the critical age, when they are moved to colony houses and fed from hoppers. They also have more or less green feed, beef scrap, etc. The cockerels are generally caponized but not marketed as capons. The early hatches are generally of Light Brahma fowls; later ones are of Plymouth Rock. It is the opinion of dealers and growers that the Brahma has been decreasing in size until the fowls no longer average larger than the Plymouth Rock, which is a better layer and matures quicker, the White variety of which is even more popular than the Barred.
Barred Plymouth Rock hen.
Many of the growers buy their eggs of farmers and cottagers who make a business of producing these eggs for hatching. The ruling price is 50 cents a dozen. As the medium sized Light Brahma cockerels are more active and vigorous and the medium-sized hens are better layers, the size has not been kept up by the breeders. The roaster growers are, therefore, confronted with a necessity of keeping their own laying stock or largely giving up the Brahma. Few Wyandotte or Rhode Island Red fowls are used. The former weigh fully a pound less than the Plymouth Rock and lay smaller eggs. The Rhode Island Red is not liked because, after the chicks pass the broiler age, they quickly become narrow breasted and the flesh is not of as good quality as that of the White Plymouth Rock. This last breed will lay more eggs than any other suitable for the purpose and will produce the best color and quality of meat.
The young chicks are fed five times a day at first, but soon get only three meals. The brooder house floor is covered with an inch of sand. Second growth hay is cut into short lengths and a basketful strewn through the pens each day. The feeder goes through the house with a pail of chick feed and throws a small scoopful or two in the litter. He then gives a mixture of dry ground grains, consisting of two parts wheat bran and one part corn meal by measure, after which the chicks get a good feed of beef scrap. Enough feed is given so that while they have food constantly before them, they will eat it up clean once a day at least.
Generally speaking, the return from these roasters is from two to five times as much a head as from broilers. The main difference in cost of production lies in the feed. Roasters which would sell at the maximum price, 30 cents, should cost 10 cents a pound above the cost of raising them to broiler age. Thus an 8-pound roaster would cost 30 cents up to broiler age and 80 cents to market size, or $1.10. It would sell at the above price for $2.40, so there would be $1.30 margin.
Among the principal advantages of this branch of poultry raising, are the extended period of incubation and brooding, which permits the expense for eggs to be distributed over a longer season. Thus a grower may have five to eight hatches between October 1 and April 15. He will thus require a much smaller number of incubators to hatch out a flock of profitable size than if he were raising broilers during the winter. He can also keep sufficient hens to supply his own machines, a thing he cannot do were he raising broilers, unless he employed an unprofitable amount of assistance.
Whether this system will pay in other sections of the country cannot be stated positively, but in all probability where there is a large market such as New York, Philadelphia or Chicago, there should be good opportunities in this direction. The business as managed in Massachusetts is in a certain sense co-operative, for though the market is controlled by only a few dealers, the brand commands the highest price paid for chicken flesh and every fowl raised can easily be disposed of. Nowhere else in this country is there so good an example of co-operative poultry flesh production. The industry is not likely to prove profitable in a small way among farmers who have not a specially good market close at hand and who cannot raise sufficient numbers to make a strong impression upon that market. Still, where a man has suitable environment, it might be worth while to take this branch experimentally and enlarge as experience indicated was wise.
Coop for brooders. Slatted bottom and fresh air dampen broody ardor. Pegs in front for feed pan.
The practice of caponizing is steadily growing in favor in the United States, especially in the Eastern and middle Northwestern states. In the Eastern markets, capons are quoted from December to May at prices ranging from 20 to 30 cents a pound. The larger the bird, the higher the price, as a rule.
As to whether the practice is profitable or not, the individual poultry raiser must decide. Doubtless it is most profitable where grain is cheap. On this account, it is more popular among farmers than among specialist poultry raisers, because the poultry raiser is obliged to buy most of his feed and cannot profitably keep large numbers of fowls which are not paying the running expenses of their keep with a more or less constant income. Such men find it more profitable to direct their energies toward egg production.
On the other hand, the farmer who cannot handle large numbers of early chicks can dispose of surplus cockerels as capons better than as broilers or ordinary roasters. The feed required is with him a much smaller matter than with the poultryman, because a large quantity can be picked up by the fowls themselves and even the grain which he would otherwise sell can be disposed of as poultry flesh at a higher figure than as grain. Such being the case, cockerels which at 5 to 6 pounds would sell for $3 to $5 a dozen can be caponized, made to weigh 10 to 12 pounds and sold at much higher prices. They should thus net the grower from 10 to 16 cents a pound or about half the Eastern market prices; figures that would mean high value for the feed consumed as well as paying liberally for the work. There need be no fear that the market will be oversupplied because the demand for well-grown, well-dressed capons is annually increasing.
The object of caponizing is not primarily to increase the size of the fowl, but to heighten the quality of the flesh. Since capons do not quarrel or worry one another, they can be kept in large flocks with assurance that they will fatten easily and more economically than other classes of fowls.
Light Brahma cock.
Only the large breeds are suitable for caponizing; small capons, while salable, do not command highest prices. For this reason, the Mediterranean and most of the other European breeds are not suitable for caponizing, though, perhaps, the Faverolle, the Orpington and the Dorking may be large enough, if well bred for size. These varieties, however, are not very widely popular in America. Unquestionably, the American and the Asiatic breeds lead in their value for caponizing. Well-bred Light Brahma cockerels, with proper attention and enough time, will usually make the finest as well as the largest capons; but the Cochin, the Langshan and the Indian Game are also good. All of the Plymouth Rock and Wyandotte varieties may also be used, since they are large enough to make good-sized carcasses.
The production of layers is unquestionably the most important branch of the poultry business. This is shown by the fact that egg farmers would be glad to pay higher prices for pullets than they can sell their cockerels for when of broiler size. Pullets, as a rule, cannot be expected to lay before four months old among the Mediterranean breeds, five months among the American, and six months among the Asiatic. On this account for egg-laying purposes they should be hatched early enough in the spring to commence laying during October. If hatched too early they are almost sure to molt before very cold weather comes and not to resume laying before February or March, thus cutting them out of profitable egg production.
Since the first four to six months is the most costly time in a hen's life, there should be a considerable period of egg laying to balance up this expense. On this account hens that have produced well should be kept over for another year; at least until the following winter when the pullets are laying well. By proper management hens may be kept in, or brought back to laying during the summer and fall, except, perhaps, during the molt, and even during this period some eggs may be expected. These remarks apply more particularly to the Leghorn and Minorca varieties which are pre-eminently the laying breeds. The fleshier breeds, such as Plymouth Rock, Wyandotte and Rhode Island Red are less likely to be profitable as layers the second season unless they have been specially bred and selected for laying. The Plymouth Rock especially is apt to become too fat to lay well after the first year. On this account the general opinion is held that fowls for ordinary egg production should not be kept more than one year. Of course, for breeding purposes, this should not be considered.
Lice preventer. Cup under roost filled with oil on stout fence wire support.
Breeders for Sale
Every raiser of poultry for whatever market purpose should keep only pure-bred fowls. These should always be selected and bred with great care, so as to get the highest possible efficiency in each bird and in the flock as a whole. The man who follows this plan is sure to have a valuable strain of fowls for sale, a strain that should command high prices, whether sold as eggs for hatching, as day-old chicks, or as full-grown birds for breeding purposes. Whether it would be to his advantage to strive for the points that breeders of fancy or standard-bred fowls emphasize so much, is a matter which he alone can decide.
It may be taken, as a general rule, that to start in poultry keeping with the object of making money from fancy poultry is an unwise thing. There are so many hundreds of people already in that business and there is so little profitable sale until the breeder has made himself more or less conspicuous, either by winning prizes at fairs and poultry shows or by advertising, that it is much wiser to follow one or more of the market poultry lines where the demand is constant, and to select breeding stock of standard requirements as a side line. Unquestionably there is plenty of money to be made in raising fancy poultry, but there is better opportunity for the beginner, within reasonable time, in the market branches. Whoever goes into poultry raising for profit will find it to his best interest to begin with market stock, to breed and select toward a high ideal of production and let the combination of fancy poultry for exhibition, etc., follow as a postscript, if it follow at all.
As a general thing it will not pay the ordinary farmer to go into duck raising on an extensive scale. If his local market, however, is not oversupplied he may raise from a few score to a few hundred, provided his place is adapted to raising ducks. But duck farming, as a branch, is a business for the specialist, and unless carried on very extensively, is not likely to prove profitable. To be sure, there are numerous duck farmers who are making money, but the margin of profit in green ducks, that is, ducks sold at about ten weeks old, is very small. The business demands skilled labor in feeding and dressing. Ducks not economically fed cannot be profitable, nor can poorly dressed ones be sold to advantage. These two facts make the duck business particularly advantageous to the specialist and disadvantageous to the general farmer.
Only one breed of ducks, the Pekin, is popularly grown for American markets. In England the Aylesbury is more in demand. Duck eggs are in small demand in some markets, and there is also a market for breeding stock, but these demands are insignificant in comparison with those for chickens. If one has suitable environment and good local markets for ducks, it may be worth while to take up this branch of poultry raising experimentally on a small scale and develop it as experience is gained. The demand for good ducks, when such are produced, is likely to increase in the local markets, and the grower may find it profitable to enlarge even considerably.
In big duck-growing establishments the cost of raising is estimated at 7 to 10 cents a pound. Here, practically all the feed is purchased, as a rule. The profits range from 10 to 25 cents a duck, depending largely upon the time of year the birds are sold. In order to be profitable, therefore, a farm should produce not less than 10,000 ducks. Such farms can be developed only after several years of conservative growth, because though the duck is amenable to machine methods of management, the grower must become acquainted with the business and in a sense grow with it. If this way of development is followed the margin of profit should increase as the volume increases, because when managed on a small scale the cost is usually greater and the margin of profit smaller. Where chickens and ducks can be grown on the same place upon a less extensive scale, the ducks will generally be found to pay better than the chickens, provided the demands of the local market are not exceeded. This applies especially to private trade.
Geese require considerable room to be made profitable. They cannot be economically raised in confinement. Where farms have waste, marshy lands or meadows that do not pay taxes, such lands can frequently be made profitable by means of geese. The birds will practically feed themselves most of the year. All the breeding flock needs is a dry place to sleep and moderate feeding in winter. Geese are not raised in America in large flocks. They are pre-eminently farmers' fowls. Many more could be kept profitably than are now raised. The supply does not equal the demand. It would not be profitable, however, to attempt goose raising without the adjunct pasture; the cost of feeding would be too great. Therefore, unless pasture can be had, geese should be left alone.
The cost of raising market geese is variously fixed at 7 to 10 cents a pound when much feeding is necessary; but on pasture these figures can usually be cut in half. Goslings sell at five to six weeks for fattening in New England for $1 to $1.20, but such prices are by no means general throughout the country.
A special industry has its center in Watertown, Wis., where geese are fed noodles by hand at two-hour intervals. These geese are raised in the usual way until they attain ordinary market weights, when the special feeding begins. They are sold mainly to the Jewish trade at prices in the final market the same as their weights; that is, a 20-pound goose will sell at 20 cents a pound, a 25-pound goose at 25 cents. Often these geese will sell for $5 to $10. This branch of goose growing, however, would be a good one to avoid unless the would-be grower can learn the methods in vogue by actual contact.
The turkey presents a case exactly opposite to that of the duck; it has not yet been raised in a commercial way. For farm conditions, however, it is better adapted than the duck, because of its ability to shift very largely for itself and to convert into profitable flesh large quantities of food that would otherwise go to waste. Turkeys have been and still are grown in limited areas, but always in small numbers. They do best where there is unrestricted range. The great demand for turkeys and the best prices come between the middle of November and the middle of January, a time which suits farmers best.
Another point that favors farm turkey raising is that hatching can be done at the natural season, so that the poults will grow to salable size in time to reach the markets already mentioned. Nothing perhaps argues so strongly in favor of turkeys for the farmer than these two facts. Another thing that favors turkeys for the farm is that farmers' wives and daughters usually take kindly to this branch of poultry raising, even more than to chickens, ducks or geese. Probably this is because of the extra money that the turkeys seem to bring. It is questionable whether they actually do yield larger actual net returns than chickens raised either for meat or egg production. But the money seems to be mostly profit, especially as a larger sum is brought in by the sale of individual turkeys than by that of individual chickens.
Another point in its favor is that turkey production does not interfere with other poultry work, because the turkeys get along well with the chickens and because they cover a wider field in their foraging. In general, therefore, it is highly desirable that every farmer's wife should keep a flock of turkeys in order to utilize waste food profitably.
Since it has been discovered that the guinea fowl has a game flavor and can be sold as various kinds of more valuable flesh, it has been used in the large city restaurants as a substitute for various kinds of game as well as being sold under its own name. This fact has encouraged the growing of guinea fowls to supply the demand. Broiler size guinea fowls are often sold as quail on toast and larger ones for prairie chickens, pheasant or grouse, and prices for these have run very high, often at retail $1 to $2 a pair being paid. Like the turkey the guinea fowl thrives best where there is ample free range, and unless one is sure of securing at least 50 cents each, the guinea had best not be raised with the market in view. The reason for this is that guineas are probably even more exacting in their demands than turkeys, but where one has the range and is sure of a good market it may be well to make a venture in this direction.
Much has been written concerning the production of pigeon squabs in recent years and doubtless many people have been induced to go into the industry. It must be said, however, that while there are successes in this line of poultry production, yet the demand is practically met by the present supply and the price is about fixed, so that it is not advisable for the farmer to go into this branch of poultry raising. The business, like the raising of green ducks, is a specialist's line, and not adapted for ordinary farm conditions. There is no reason, however, why a home supply of squabs should not be raised. The pigeons are easily kept and will afford a table delicacy at small cost.
Systems of Poultry Raising
At frequent intervals, so-called systems of poultry raising are advertised in magazines and weekly periodicals, circulated widely not only among poultrymen, but especially among people not posted in poultry production. The usual design of such advertisements is to sell some so-called secret or a book said to give directions for making more money out of poultry than by the ordinary methods. As a rule, those who answer such advertisements are disappointed with the information they receive. There is nothing specially new about the feeding of sprouted grain, and there is no reason why the practice of feeding such material should be called a secret and sold as such; yet this has been done. There are probably no better ways of preserving eggs than by the water-glass method and the lime-salt mixture, yet almost annually some one advertises to sell a secret recipe which usually turns out to be one or other of these two.
Where a really meritorious system has been worked out, it usually reaches the public in a legitimate way and through natural channels. The experiment stations and agricultural colleges have done a great work in testing many so-called systems and even in originating others. No poultry raiser should send money for advertised secret systems until learning through one of the experiment stations whether such a system is feasible or not. Of course, these remarks are not leveled at anything legitimate in the way of a system. For instance, the application of the principles of breeding to improved egg production, etc., emphasized in this book are partly the result of investigation by the late Prof. G. M. Gowell of the Maine experiment station. Professor Gowell published the following statement in a booklet which he sent to inquirers:
"For more than 25 years I have bred Barred Plymouth Rocks for producing good brown eggs, by selections from the general stock. While that system of selection gave birds that laid eggs of good size, shape and color, there was no means of knowing whether the eggs incubated came from the hens that were good or poor layers, and it was reasonable to suppose that as many chickens came from mothers which had laid poorly through the winter as from those that had laid well. Indeed, recent investigations have convinced me that the eggs from hens that have only just gotten well under way laying at the commencement of the incubating season, yield more chicks than do those from hens that have been laying well since early fall.
"Thoroughy believing in the principle of breeding performers to performers to get performers, I determined to cull out rigidly all non-performing hens and breed only the good layers to the sons of all good layers to get good layers. In order to do this, in 1898 I devised and constructed at the Maine experiment station 52 trap nests and commenced selection of the best laying hens for foundation stock.
"At the end of the year all birds that had not laid 160 eggs were rejected, and those that had laid above that number were retained for breeding. They were bred to sons of hens that had laid 200 or more eggs in a year."
This system practiced by Professor Gowell has been widely adopted by the more progressive poultrymen and has given excellent results. With various modifications it has been followed by a prominent firm of egg producers who have published a book giving figures, drawings, half-tone illustrations and descriptions of their poultry plant and its prowess. The essential features of this so-called Corning system are embraced in the present volume. The system, as has been said, has proved highly satisfactory with a large number of poultrymen, and while the figure of nearly $6.50 annual earnings for a hen may seem exceedingly high to poultry raisers, especially in the Western states, yet where a poultry yard is so favorably situated with respect to market as that of the Corning's, and where the eggs produced by hens specially selected, according to the Gowell method, are managed in a rational way and the eggs sold at an annual average of nearly 50 cents a dozen, it may be readily seen that money returns would probably be exceedingly high. This is the very point that the present volume seeks to emphasize; namely, that good breeding, good management and business marketing will enable the poultry raiser to make far more money out of his poultry than by keeping scrub hens in a haphazard way and marketing in slipshod manner.
Another very widely advertised system has been prominently before the poultry world for the last few years. Its object is to raise a far larger number of fowls on a given space than has been possible by any other system. The plan is to keep the chicks in confinement and force their precocious development, especially for the meat market. The system does not seem more humane than the practice of feeding geese to produce pate de foie gras. Doubtless many people have succeeded with this system, and the present writer does not desire to sit in judgment upon them. He believes that it is everyone's privilege to appeal to his own conscience as to what is right and wrong, humane or the reverse.
Next: Chapter III
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