Move the Hens

Early November marked the annual migration of the young laying hens (pullets) from their brooding house to their permanent hen house on the Scheckel farm near Seneca, in the heart of Crawford County, in the 1940s and 1950s. Baby chick resided in the brooder or chicken coop all summer. After five to six months, a few eggs appeared as young pullets became layers.  We always looked for those first small white eggs.

The red hen house needed to be readied. First, we’d haul off any manure. Then scrape the roosting 2 X 4’s clean with a paint scraper, disinfect the walls and roosts, with that smelly liquid, clean the metal feed troughs, put fresh straw in the laying bins, wash out the earthenware crock that held water, and finally, wash the windows.

Transfer day meant catching all the pullets from the white brooding house and carrying them by hand to the red chicken house. This kidnapping took place after dark, when the chickens supposedly when to bed for the night. Mom and Dad would catch the birds, quietly as possible, with no need to arouse the colony and spread the alarm. Each of us kids would take two or three chickens by the legs and carry them from the white brooding house to the red hen house. I would guess we made about ten trips each to haul the 500 birds to their new digs.

The life span for a hen on our farm was 18 months.  A baby chick in the spring became a layer at 6 months and transferred from the white brooding house to the red hen house in October or early November. The hen laid eggs during the winter, spring and through the summer. Then it was sold off as a stewing hen. The bird became tough and refused to lay its normal one egg per day. A good laying hen is expected to produce an egg a day. “You don’t lay, you don’t stay”, was the Scheckel motto.

A few lucky chickens won a reprieve from the cooking oil. We’d feel the chickens behind. If it was soft and spongy, the hen was a producer and continued to lay eggs. If the butt was hard and tough feeling, that bird was on welfare and not carrying its weight. To track the reprieved birds and differentiate them from the newly arrived in the chicken coop, we resorted to banding.  A round, wooden or plastic colored band was put on one leg of the laying hen. That hen won another six to nine months of life.


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