Raising Chickens: Farming in the Great Depression

Reader Contribution by The Mother Earth News Editors
article image

This story is from J.M. Jones and submitted as part of our Wisdom From Our Elders collection of self-sufficient tales from yesteryear.

I would like to share my father’s method of raising chickens when times were tough during the Great Depression in the 1930s. I remember it well, having been born in 1929, but I didn’t really appreciate Dad’s efforts until much later. People could order baby chicks by mail back then and pay COD. When the chicks came in, chirping through the air holes in their cardboard containers, the rural mail carrier delivered them to the customer and collected the charges. If the customer wasn’t home or didn’t have the money, the mail carrier left a note saying they had two or three days to pick them up at the post office. Any remaining chicks would be sold for postage due and Dad would buy them.

Dad built a brooder house, about 12-by-12 feet, with a low shed-like roof. It had a hard-packed clay floor which he covered with sawdust. The front of the house faced the south and had large ventilating windows which had hinged covers that could be opened for summer ventilation or closed to retain winter heat. The door had a 12-inch threshold to step over so that small chicks couldn’t escape when entering. Winter heating was accomplished with a brick heater dad had built, it extended into the front of the building with an old cast iron stove door opening to the outside. At the back of the heater, a stove pipe rose up to the ceiling and out the side of the brooder house for ventilation. This brick heater gave off plenty of heat during cold winters.

Many batches of chicks went through dad’s brooder house; they furnished fried chicken for our family or were added to our flock of free-range chickens. The rear of our chicken house opened into the only place on our 8-acre homestead that was off limits to our 25 or 30 chickens, the 1-acre garden. A removable panel let Dad get to the chicken manure underneath the roost poles, which made excellent garden fertilizer. We kept the chickens out by clipping the wing feathers on one side so they couldn’t fly into the garden.

Photo by Fotolia /Xalanx 

Please send email submissions to Letters@MotherEarthNews.com with the subject line “Elder Wisdom” or send mail to attn: Heidi Hunt, Re: Elder Wisdom, MOTHER EARTH NEWS, 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609