Reinhardt Family History

Memories of Eggs and Chickens

Stories from Neil Reinhardt

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of Eggs & Chickens

Memories of Eggs and Chickens

The dictionary defines an egg as a round or oval body laid by a female fish, bird, insect etc. containing within a shell or membrane the germ of a new individual and food for it's development. This is about chicken eggs that go so well with bacon and toast for breakfast, and about the hens that lay them. My attention was first drawn to them when a tornado struck my folks farm, destroying the barn and other outbuildings, and scattering brooding hens and their eggs over the countryside. I was about 6 years old at the time. It was fascinating to me to see broken eggs with chicks in various stages of development, some with chicks ready to hatch in a few days.

At that time every farm had a flock of hens and several roosters, the hens to supply eggs for the household and a few to trade for groceries. They were also expected to replenish the flock. If the flock was quite large and the hens producing a lot of eggs, they were sold for cash and the housewife had money to buy clothing for the family.

The rooster's job was first, to insure that the eggs were fertile, second, to awake everyone at dawn, and finally the supreme sacrifice of being the main ingredient of a big kettle of chicken soup.

In my opinion the best fried chicken is a three pound cockerel that, a half hour before he was being eaten, was busy scratching in the barnyard. The hens in the farm flocks would hide their nests until they had laid 15 or 20 eggs, then sit on them for 28 days to keep them warm, only leaving the nest for a few minutes to eat and drink. When the eggs hatched the old hen took care of the chicks, scratching in the dirt and calling them when she found something for them to eat. At Easter time there were always plenty of eggs to color.

In time the hen lost her job of hatching the eggs. The eggs were put on trays in an incubator. They were kept at a certain temperature and turned every day mechanically. It was a case of machines taking over the hen's job. All she had to do was lay eggs.

At that time, day-old chicks were delivered to the farm by Parcel Post. My dad usually kept 400 to 450 hens. In order to have that many, a thousand baby chicks were delivered in the Spring. They were put in heated brooder houses until they did not need heat. To insure having 450 pullets to put in the laying house, 1000 chicks were bought, half being cockerels. In the Fall they were separated and the pullets put in the henhouse, the cockerels were eaten or sold.

Later the Japanese discovered how to tell the sex of day-old chicks, so if a farmer bought chicks for egg production he only needed to buy pullets. Most of the cockerels were given away or destroyed. There were always some poor layers in the flock, so there was always chicken for the table. The pullets were fed a mash. I remember the trade name was "LAY OR BUST". There were drinking fountains with plenty of fresh water, oyster shells to help make a strong eggshell, and fresh straw. Once the pullets were in the henhouse they did not get out again until the next fall when they were shipped to market. As the days got shorter electric lights were turned on to make a longer day so the hens would eat more and lay more eggs.

Once confined to the laying house, the work began keeping feed and water in front of them at all times. The main job was cleaning the entire henhouse every week, usually on a Saturday. The smelliest job for us kids was to clean out under the roost, and cleaning the straw from the floor. After putting in fresh straw the sound of singing hens as they happily scratched filled the henhouse. With so many hens the eggs had to be gathered several times a day.

My dad, always one to enjoy a joke, saw a nosy neighbor coming across the field for a visit. He had me take a pail of eggs that were laid the day before to the henhouse to put in the nests. After visiting in the house for a while, dad said "I have to gather the eggs". Old Jim went along to see the chickens and to see how they were doing. As the eggs were gathered, he was very impressed. He thought there was lots of money in keeping chickens. I believe there were more eggs in the nests that day than there were chickens. (A hen only lays one egg a day.)

As time changed in my lifetime from the horse and buggy to the automobile and tractors, even the way of raising chickens and producing eggs changed. Chickens are no longer found scratching around the farmyard. They are raised in windowless buildings that might contain as many as 5000 hens, with only a door on each end, the chickens in wire cages. When they want something to eat or drink they must poke their heads through the wire to get at the feed or water which is kept in front of them automatically at all times. There are switches controlling the lights to regulate the length of their day, and fans for ventilation. As eggs are laid they roll to the center aisle for easier gathering. Gone are the days of a nest box with straw for the hen to lay her eggs in and sit on them so she can become a real mother hen.

Early one summer morning, our neighbor called my attention to a car down the road with all four wheels in the air. He had seen it flip over and we went to see if anyone was hurt. The farmer driving the car had lost control on some fresh gravel, and landed in the ditch. Before we got to the car we noticed a woman walking away back up the road, and the driver stood looking at the car. He had been driving to the city with his wife, a lady of generous proportions, riding in the back seat holding a basket of eggs on her lap to insure none would get broken. As more people gathered, some of us got hold of the car and tipped it back on its wheels. Old Bill was very nervous, and as soon as the car was upright he opened the door and jumped in to see if it would start, forgetting about the eggs that were scrambled all over, and were then dripping from the ceiling. The Marx Brothers or the Three Stooges never made a scene as funny as seeing old Bill sitting there with egg yokes and shells starting to drip all down over his bald head and face.