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Advice For Healthy Chickens In 1888: Hot Meals And Weekly Foot Rubs

Hill Country Living
By Coulter Fussell

It’s a Wagner Week and here is one of my favorite letters from the collection. Whenever I get a hankering to get some backyard chickens I just read this letter and it sets me straight pretty fast. By the end of the letter I always conclude that I’m just not at a point in my life where I’m willing to fix a chicken a hot meal and give it weekly foot rubs.

The Red Company
Growers and Shippers of Early Fruits and Vegetables
Humbolt, Tenn
March 3, 1888
J.H. Wagner, Esq:
Dear Sir: 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 as good blood (strain) and young and rigorous, and attends to his family duties “like a little man”, you will get some high scoring birds out of those pullets.

So, the “scaly leg” will stay, 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, sulfur, and coal oil, about as thick as soft 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 any cock within ten miles of them, as they will with a dog in the same yard as the hens. But, without the 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. Some of mine that were laying in November, and went to the show in December, haven’t begun to lay yet. I’m a little impatient about it, but I know they will lay when they get good ready, and they don’t care a nickel how much I scold them.

Boiled potatoes with table scraps, and cornmeal, 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.
Yours truly,
Cowdery

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