By Coulter Fussell
John Henry Wagner, son of Daniel Wagner, was a privileged and popular young man. During his younger days, his hobbies seemed to be exclusively limited to socializing, ordering tailored clothes, and collecting thoroughbred animals. He got really into mastiffs for a time.
While I think John Henry was a very nice guy, and in reading his letters I have come to like him a lot, he was always very quick to complain when something he bought was, in his eyes, not to standard. Here is one of my favorite responses to one of John’s (many) complaints, wherein a chicken seller explains the birds and the bees. Or the chickens and the bees, as it were. Also included is an interesting recipe for homemade chicken leg lotion.
The Red Company
March 3, 1888
J.H. Wagner, Esq,
Yours of Feb. 29th to hand and contents noted. I am sorry that you are disappointed in your Pullets. I don’t see why you should be. I did not sell them to you for high scoring birds, but I sold them for good blood and no disqualifying marks, and if you have mated them to a cock, that is a good blood (strain) and young and vigorous, and attends to his family duties “like a little man” you will get some high scoring birds out of those pullets.
So, to the “scaly leg”, will say, I have it among my stock, and I never saw a flock of chickens that was entirely exempt. If you want to be entirely rid of it, and have something to brag about, make yourself an ointment of fresh lard, sulphur and coal oil, about as thick and soft as butter, and rub their feet and legs with it once a week all summer, and pour coal oil on the perches once a week, and you will be ahead of any fancier I ever saw, in that respect.
Now, about the laying — first, how do you feed and how about their water? Hens do not require a cock to lay eggs, they will lay as many eggs without a cock within ten miles of them, as they will with a dog in the same yard — but without a cock the eggs will not hatch. The feed, and water, and a dry comfortable house is essential — just the right kind of feed, a good variety, and pure water, and a quiet, place to live, away from children, dogs, hogs, and other stock, and you will get eggs.
Those pullets are not yet a year old, and just as the flock were about to begin laying, you sent for them — moving chicks always breaks them up from laying for a while.
Boiled potatoes with table scraps and corn meal and wheat bran, cooked together with plenty of ground pepper and fed hot, in a trough, will stimulate egg production, but the eggs will not hatch as well. The more you pet your birds, the better they will do for you.