Profitable Poultry Production

by M. G. Kains

Chapter I
The Market for Poultry

Opportunities to make money in poultry raising have never been better nor more numerous than today. Commission men and poultry specialists all over the country agree that high prices of grain have tended to reduce the number of fowls kept, more especially the poorer ones, since none but profitable fowls are worth keeping. They also say that the high prices of meat in the cities have produced an unprecedented demand for poultry and eggs thus encouraging the consumption of poultry and eggs because these have been more economical than beef, pork and lamb. This demand has also tended to reduce the size of poultry flocks and thus to widen the opportunities still more for poultry culture. In short, the outlook for raising poultry is exceptionally good. The greatest demands undoubtedly are for chickens and eggs. What the markets require are plump, young birds ranging from the broiler age up to yearlings. Just as voraciously they demand eggs that are really fresh, not called "fresh" so as to make them sell. So far as poultry flesh is concerned, the breeds most in demand the country over are American. The two most favored are the Barred Plymouth Rock and the Rhode Island Red. These are preferred in New England, in the West and in the South, because their skins are of a popular color; viz., yellow, and their breasts are of good form. The Light Brahma is a popular market fowl in New England because of its large size and also because of its brown-shelled eggs which are locally in greater demand than white-shelled ones. Other breeds are favored in many places, among them the Wyandotte and the Orpington, each in several varieties. There are also other varieties of the Plymouth Rock which are favored in some sections. But, take the country over, the Barred Plymouth Rock and the Rhode Island Red head the list as farm and market fowls of fairly good laying ability under ordinarily good management.

Everywhere, undersized, scrawny or otherwise poor poultry brings low prices, especially if as usually is the case it is not properly plucked and handled for market. Commission men in leading markets report that farmers in some sections are heeding their advice to replace mongrel flocks with American breeds, and annually now they are obtaining larger quantities of good poultry from such sections. But there is still unlimited opportunity to improve the general grades and unlimited demand for first-class stock. Poor poultry is so constantly discriminated against in the markets and the superior birds are so much more profitable that the mongrel is steadily being discarded as farmers become better informed and better poultry takes its place. Everywhere this is the trend.

Fresh Eggs in Great Demand

The egg market offers another illustration of abundant opportunities in poultry raising; whereas fowls properly managed will lay eggs fairly well when prices are high, poorly managed ones will not. During December, January and most of February strictly first-class eggs often sell for 50 to 75 cents a dozen in large city markets and rarely below 25 cents in smaller markets. Even storage eggs of good quality rarely fall as low as 25 cents in the city markets during this period. The demand for fresh eggs is unlimited, but the market for poor grades is flooded at every season. There never has been a time when poultry raisers could do better than at present in egg production.

Inquiry among the New York commission men has revealed the following facts: New York city is short of high quality eggs and oversupplied with lower grades. This condition is neither new nor startling. It probably characterizes every season and every market and will continue to do so as long as eggs continue to be discovered, rather than gathered as a regular crop in judicious farm rotation. Slipshod methods in handling are responsible for the low grades and relatively low prices; careful management produces the high grades and the high prices. There is an unlimited demand for really first-class eggs, but labeling lower grades as first class does not raise either quality or price.

Best Market in Early Winter

At no time of year do commission men find it so hard to get an adequate supply of the best quality eggs as between November 1 and December 31. This is because farmers, as a rule, do not manage their poultry properly. Most of the supply of poultry and eggs in the general market, by the way, comes from the farms and not from the poultry plants -- henneries so called. Well-managed henneries experience little difficulty in securing a reasonable supply of eggs at this season and all the eggs they produce are sold at extreme prices without the slightest difficulty. Such methods are easy to apply in many districts. The only thing is that people have not thought them out.

Eggs which reach the New York market labeled "fresh gathered" are generally of very uneven quality, because shippers have forwarded stock just as collected from the farms. Much of this stock has been held in farm cellars or country stores, sometimes for weeks, in the hope of higher prices. It arrives in the market shrunken and so inferior that it is of slow sale even at low prices. For his own protection the city commission merchant grades very thoroughly. The system, or rather lack of system, in the country is to blame. When fowls are properly managed and eggs are sold as soon as possible after being laid, there are few complaints of poor quality on the part of buyers or low prices on the producer's part. Owing to annually increasing demand they have all stocks cleaned up before the advent of the spring egg freshet.

Only a small proportion of the eggs received are of "strictly fresh" quality. All such are snapped up immediately. This should prove a great encouragement to the producer. Most of the "freshly gathered" eggs come from the South; not many from the West. The Southern stock is very mixed.

Hennery eggs are in a class by themselves. They are white-shelled eggs in the New York market, brown-shelled in New England, produced on comparatively nearby farms. Always scarce and always superior because hurried to market, they command wholesale prices usually about 40 cents during late fall and early midwinter. The final consumer has to pay 4 to 6 cents each for them, the usual late fall and winter price being 5 cents. Most of such stock is sold through private channels, and, therefore, does not figure in the general market. A common price during early winter, not only in New York, but in the large towns and small cities, is 60 cents a dozen for guaranteed fresh stock.

Managing for Eggs

By judicious calculation as to the time of hatching and by proper management and feeding, hens may be brought into laying and kept at it better than they usually are when eggs command highest prices. By careful management of eggs laid when prices are low, a larger return can be secured from hens than from any other farm animal. It has recently been shown that 100 pounds of feed properly fed to well-bred, well-managed hens will produce 30 pounds of eggs. Leghorn and Minorca eggs often weigh two ounces or even more, but suppose the eggs in the 30 pounds weigh only one ounce each, there would be 480 or 40 dozen of them in the 30 pounds. These at the very low price of one cent each would bring $4.80. How can 100 pounds of grain be sold in the raw state for that much money. Is it not evident that with grain even at recent prices the farmer can do better by feeding poultry and selling eggs than by disposing of the grain direct?

The neglect under which poultry has been raised has resulted in scarcity of eggs during the winter when prices are high and abundance in spring when they are low. Formerly hens were regarded as a necessary nuisance, tolerated mainly because they lay the foundation of custards, cakes and other dainties, the enjoyment of which offsets somewhat the losses of grain and garden truck. This is still the case, even now, in many sections. Frequently eggs could be sold or bartered only with difficulty even at the minimum price of 6 cents a dozen. Though prices have risen, there is still complaint of low figures, but this is among those who do not manage their poultry well.

It is little wonder that poultry raising has had difficulty in shaking off the disrepute in which it was formerly held. The whole trouble has been in the mental attitude of the farmer. This has subjected the fowls to systematized neglect. Hens relegated to the stables, wagon sheds, fences or trees for roosting places; to the mow or the manger for nests; to the barnyard and field for feed, cannot do well. With starvation or butchery as alternatives and treated with such neglect what wonder that eggs are few and chickens that reach maturity fewer? This condition of affairs is happily being replaced by better management, because better management pays.

Growth of the Industry

About 25 years ago estimates of the eggs and poultry production of the country were derided, but when the census published its reports these estimates were found to be very conservative. The new figures greatly exceeded the former estimates, even though census statistics were acknowledged to be imperfect. Between 1890 and 1900 the increase in egg production was about 58 per cent, the average rising from 38 to 65 eggs a hen. The money invested in the latter year was $85,000,000, or an average of nearly $17 a farm. These figures are now ten years old, but are the last available that can be considered fairly authentic. If one may judge by the increasing interest taken in poultry shows, in the sale of incubators, brooders and other supplies, and in the prosperity shown by the poultry press, the raising of poultry and the increased productivity of the average American flock will be found considerably greater when the next census figures are published.

Though the figures quoted seem large, they are nothing compared to what can easily be realized. This will be seen by comparing the average number of eggs each hen lays and the prices shown by the census report with figures obtained from other sources. The five states averaging highest in production in the last census were Maine with 101 eggs a hen; Massachusetts and New Hampshire with 96 each; Vermont with 92 and Connecticut with 88. In 33 states the average was below 72; in ten, below 60. The five lowest were Mississippi 42, Indian Territory 41, Georgia and South Carolina 40 each and Louisiana 39. The average prices in only seven states reached 18 cents or more a dozen, in 26 states they were below 12 cents, the lowest five states were Alabama, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Indian Territory, between 9 and 10 cents a dozen and Texas 8 cents.

Australia beats United States in egg production.

While it is probable that in many of these low averaged states the highest average prices may not be reached, yet it is certain that in the neighborhood of large towns, especially in the East, the average can be considerably raised, because of the demand for new-laid eggs. As already noted, clean eggs, guaranteed fresh, are always in great demand and in private trade even higher than market prices can usually be secured. By proper breeding and management it is very easy to increase the number of eggs each hen will lay. If Maine can average 101, why not Louisiana? Proof that this can be done is frequent. Common sense, care in selection, feeding and management have produced whole flocks of hens which average more than 120 eggs a year. Flocks which average 150 or more are occasional and many individual hens, especially in Australia, where great interest in egg production is taken, have exceeded 200. Again, by judicious calculation as to the time of hatching, hens may be brought into laying when eggs command highest prices. This will be explained in a later chapter.

Importance of Good Breed

Well-bred cattle, sheep and swine, are acknowledged superior to scrub stock by all progressive, thinking farmers and every argument that applies to such stock applies with even greater stress to pure-bred poultry, because the money invested can be made to yield returns in so much shorter time. No stock pays better nor even so well, dollar for dollar invested. Mongrel fowls, if cared for as even they should be, require as much time and labor as improved breeds, but almost invariably the returns from them, as generally managed, are less; and this quite apart from the sale of eggs for hatching or of fowls for breeding. To be sure, they are less costly to buy than pure-bred fowls. So are scrub pigs, sheep and cattle, but what thoughtful man deliberately buys them? The cost of a well-bred animal, either bird or beast, looks large at first, but this is more than made up by the value such an animal has as a progenitor. In no line is this so noticeable as in the egg-laying strains of fowls which have become so popular within the last decade. By means of trap nests and other methods of selection, only those hens that have laid more than a certain minimum of eggs in a year are kept for breeding purposes. Their habit of egg production is confidently looked for in their chicks and those who breed and select them are usually successful. It is only necessary to think a little bit to see the advantage of keeping such stock and then only a little action in the right direction is necessary to enlarge the margin of profit on the balance sheet.

Improved Methods of Hatching and Rearing

Improved hatching and rearing methods come next in importance to the keeping of pure-bred fowls and laying strains of hens. The incubator, as we know it, has been a practical machine in ordinary hands for only a little over 20 years. Now it is so simple that any one with common sense can run it. During the early eighties the number of incubator manufacturers could be counted on the fingers. Now about 100 firms put out machines and several of these sell more than 25,000 a year. Such increase, both in the number of firms and the individual outputs, are the strongest possible indications of the practicability of artificial incubation and the prominence and profitableness of poultry raising. Should the farmer conclude his more profitable course would be to rear chicks for market rather than for egg production, he can readily acquire proficiency and an increased income. The business of raising poultry is highly profitable as a rule; far more profitable, pound for pound, than pork, lamb or beef; for chicks of good breed, such as Rhode Island Red, Plymouth Rock, Wyandotte, Orpington and Brahma, can be made to grow about a pound a month until four or five months old.

Floored chicken coop. The canvas top keeps this coop cool; the raised door provides shade.
When dressed they command, pound for pound, even in the local market, prices far higher than those secured for pork, beef or lamb and as the cost of production is less, the margin of profit is still wider.

The Possible Limit of the Market

This can only be guessed at. A hint may be gathered from the growth of certain lines of business in which chickens take a leading part. In late summer enormous quantities of poultry are put in cold storage to supply the winter demand. Only the best grades are treated in this way. At the same time large quantities, usually of poorer quality, go to the great canning factories for making chicken soup and potted chicken. The large packing houses and other establishments have developed the poultry-fattening branch of the business. Besides all these there is a steadily increasing demand for both live and fresh-dressed fowls. So far as the general farmer is concerned, the poultry-fattening industry is probably the most important of these branches. If companies can afford to buy ill-bred, ill-fed farm fowls, pay freight upon them and feed them for several weeks so as to weigh a pound or two more, surely the farmer who does not have to pay city prices for his supplies of feed can do even better.

Double piano box house. Dotted lines show two piano boxes, backs and tops removed to make roof front and back. Cost for boxes, hardware, but not time, about $5.
One of the strongest pleas for well-bred poultry is made by the men engaged in the fattening business. They declare that fowls of even moderate breeding are always more satisfactory to fatten than are mongrels, thus they emphasize what the farmer already knows concerning the fattening of sheep, shotes and steers. What wonder therefore, that in view of these facts progressive farmers are annually devoting increased attention to pure-bred poultry raising for commercial purposes.

Farmers' Attitude Toward Fowls

Where farmers think clearly, act promptly, keep well-bred fowls for a definite purpose and give them adequate attention, as reasonable attention as they give their other stock, they are proving that poultry is the most profitable branch of farm live stock they can keep when the amount, investment of time, value of feed, and other items are taken into consideration. In proof of this, it need only be mentioned that poultry farms and even poultry districts are springing up all over the country. Upon some of these farms tens of thousands of fowls are raised annually for market, or thousands of dozens of eggs produced yearly. In some districts, notably around Petaluma, Cal., where the White Leghorn is the business hen, the output of eggs is several hundred carloads a year.

Every development in the poultry industry has had its origin in the clear thinking and right application of the thought of some pioneer individual. Without exception this man or woman has been jeered at as a crank, but later has had the sincere flattery of imitation paid to him or to her. Then the imitators have benefited and through them the community also.

To sum the matter up. The steadily increasing demand for the highest grades of eggs and poultry should encourage every one to raise better fowls. It should stimulate every one to adopt better methods of management so the market poultry will be well developed and well prepared for the markets, and so the pullets and hens will begin to lay by mid-October and thus catch the late fall and winter markets with a supply of fresh eggs. It should prompt every one to discard the bad method of allowing young poultry to shift for itself and the other bad method of holding eggs in ordinary farm cellars and country stores, thus lowering the quality and the price. It should suggest the advantages wherever possible of aiming either singly or in co-operation with neighbors to supply some special channel with the highest grade of well-developed, well-dressed poultry and new-laid eggs so as to catch the highest prices. There is unlimited demand for the best and unlimited opportunity to improve.

Next: Chapter II

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