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A Business Hatched From the Henhouse

By John Gould / April 10, 1992



A LOVELY, lucid, literate, and lively letter is lately received from a learned lady in Grants Pass, Oregon, reminding me that I hadn't heard a peep out of that place in more than 60 years. Things seem to be doing fine. The last time I heard, my father almost sold a rooster to a gentleman who lived there.

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My father's hobby was the American Dominique. This is a native American breed of poultry found in older chronicles as the "little speckled hen." My father was president of the National American Dominique Club and sent his pure-strain birds all over the world to compete in poultry exhibitions. Fanciers of Dominiques kept a kinship, like Freemasons, and this gentleman in Grants Pass wrote that his flock of Dominique hens had lately been widowed, and he would like to assuage their grief by finding a replace ment. Did my father have a cock that might respond to this urgency?

My father wrote immediately that he did, indeed, have just the bird required. He was a handsome mature cock who was just back from Melbourne, Australia, where he had taken a blue as best-bird-in-show at the International Poultry Congress. If the gentleman in Grants Pass responded at once, he might have this paragon for only $50, F.O.B. That means the Oregon gentleman would pay the railway express charges.

The gentleman in Grants Pass wrote right back. He said he had conferred with his biddies, and a consensus among the flock seemed to be that the girls were not saddened to an extent that would warrant such an expense, and that he remained yours truly.

My father had long since realized that there was no profit in being an admirer of American Dominiques, anyway, so he accepted this disappointment and the next Sunday our family sat at table, and we ate the rooster. In those days a family could live two months on $10 worth of groceries, so that was truly an expensive Sunday dinner.

It was about that time my father suggested I have my own flock of hens. We had a 10-by-12-foot henhouse up back of the big henhouse that hadn't been used in some time. It was tight, and I could have it for my own. "Everybody," Dad said, "should keep a few hens," and he wanted me to master the stewardship. He got me a setting of Rhode Island Red eggs, and we clapped one of his broody Dominiques on them until she brought off 10 little ones. Now I was keeping a few hens. I had six pullets and a rooster that

first winter, and when snow flew a year later I had an even 25 pullets (with His Honor) that would shortly be layers.

That was considerable of a possession for a lad of 10. Every hen was a pet, and the rooster behaved himself when I was about. Some of Dad's Dominique roosters would fly at visitors and make nasty remarks and demonstrate enmity. But my rooster was friendly.

When I came into the house my pullets would flock about my feet, peck at my boot eyelets, and tell me they loved me. I would come home from school promptly to scatter their corn before the sun dimmed, and I would tip up a bucket and sit down to watch them scratch and eat and make pleasant remarks about the Good Life. It was comical to see the rooster scratch in the litter until he found a kernel, and then stand back and shout for all the girls to come and see what he found! Just before the first pullet g ot there he would eat the kernel himself.

The first egg from new pullets was always a miraculous triumph. They were getting ready, and I had new straw in the row of nests. A day or so before an accouchement a pullet would climb into a nest and see what it was like. So I found some nests had been arranged, and I was eager.

A pullet's first egg is a wee one - a "peewee." It takes two, maybe three, to make a poach. But right away a Rhode Island's eggs get sizable, and I was keeping my daily egg tally on a card tacked to the henhouse door. I had lined up customers, and I was in business. Instead of "keeping a few hens," I was engaged in "poultry management."

Then one day my 25 pullets laid me 26 eggs. I was told this was unusual, but altogether possible. One of my biddies was laying two a day. I didn't know which one, so I never thanked her personally.