Tuesday, December 21, 2010

History of poultry housing

I got a little carried away in my research on the history of poultry housing for Homegrown and Handmade, and there just isn't room in the book for all of this information, even though I think it is absolutely fascinating. So, I'm sharing it with you!


A few years ago, some old boards, an old door, and a dozen barrel staves or lath was deemed a sufficient house for poultry, but that day is past.
Poultry World, April 1873, p. 48

The short article that ran with the drawing of Jacob Beier's poultry house praised the beauty, as well as the evidence of well-cared-for poultry that lived within it, as evidenced by the chimney, which provided warmth and cooked food and the windows that could be opened for ventilation.  The article went on to say, "The pains and expense bestowed upon the feathered stock of the country, in the way of improved buildings, is a gratifying sign of progress."

Progress? Only twenty-five years later, there was quite a controversy between farmers over whether the insulated, heated houses were best or the open-air houses. Previously unknown diseases were wiping out entire flocks, because the buildings were breeding grounds for bacteria and viruses. Air quality was horrendous, as many people wrote of the stench. Combs and feet were freezing because of the high humidity in the buildings during the winter.


Once of the most vocal proponents of open-air housing for chickens was Prince T. Woods, M.D., who wrote articles and books for more than two decades. His 1924 book, Modern Fresh-Air Poultry Houses (p. 14) said:

Nature made fowls to live in the open. She provided cock and hen with generous garments of feathers; arranged for constant replacement and repair, heavier underfluff of soft warm down for cold weather wear, a complete new outfit at least once a year, nearly perfect protection against both heat and cold as well as from storms. Housing them is an artificial condition wholly for Man’s convenience and chiefly essential for comfort in care and management and protection against thieves both two and four legged.
Woods received a lot of criticism for his opinion and was called heartless and lazy, but he was not alone. It really looked like the open-air poultry movement was finally gaining speed in the 1920s, but as we all know, it didn't last. Today's commercial poultry farms have put their hens not only in buildings but in tiny little cages where they never see sunlight or fresh air.


6 comments:

Natalie said...

Now I feel even goofier about the five feathered friends sitting in my garage since last night! I suppose it is for my convenience and peace of mind, as we ride out a soaking and messy series of storms.

Nancy K. said...

Fascinating!
I'm cooking up some warm oatmeal, corn and black oil sunflower seeds for my poor, cold chickens today...

Happy Winter Solstice~

Em said...

Yep... my chicas are spoiled... they're in a house which is about 4 feet off of the ground, ventilated, but also with a heat lamp that's turned on any time it's below 30* outside. I wish I had a heated waterer, but that's on the Christmas list for my girls... :)

comedyrocks.com said...

Good luck getting more land - but do you really think that 32 acres is too little?

Deborah @ Antiquity Oaks said...

The problem with our 32 acres is that half of it floods two or three times a year, causing a variety of problems. The possibility of flooding means that we can't use it much at all. If you click on the "flood" tag, you can read about some of our past adventures.

DangAndBlast! said...

I have a farmer cousin whose neighbor switched his chicken housing for a similar reason (they're full-out professional farmers, not homesteaders; done it for centuries, so never thought about things the way someone coming to it from a non-farm lifestyle might). This neighbor had always had his chickens shut up in a huge barn with a fancy mechanical venting system and all that... and at some point the venting system shut down and all the chickens died. That's when he learned that it's often economically sounder, as well as more fashionable, to be able to put "free range" on your chickens and eggs! I think they're much happier chickens now.

(My cousin married a city girl, which has led to a re-thinking of a lot of things in my cousin's farm. Moving from tobacco to soybeans, for example!)

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