( Originally Published 1917 )
Poultry and the meat supply. The importance of poultry as a part of our national meat supply is appreciated by very few of us. Outside of the poultry trade there is probably not one person in ten thousand who has a true idea of the immense volume of this kind of meat produced and consumed in our country every year. The people of the United States eat annually more than 250,000,000 domestic fowls, such as chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, pigeons, and guinea fowls.
Probably the reason why the importance of poultry is so little appreciated is that the production is to so great an extent incidental. Almost every farmer in America has a flock of chickens which have the run of the farm and to which little attention is paid because they pick up the most of their living. Then too it is.the common practice for the family in the village or country town to keep a few chickens, not as a money-making enterprise, but because the flock consumes the table waste and in return furnishes fresh eggs.
Raising poultry. To a large extent poultry is a by-product of the farm and the village home, and is not produced like beef, pork, and mutton as a means of livelihood, or as a business enterprise. There-fore the magnitude of this food resource escapes the serious consideration of almost everybody.
The very fact that a small flock of chickens can be kept by the village family having only a tiny patch of ground—perhaps just enough for a small henhouse and a little yard—suggests the secret of the enormous total of poultry production. In other words, the army of poultry raisers vastly outnumbers those engaged in raising cattle, hogs, or sheep.
Because the great volume of poultry raising is done in an incidental way, it must not be understood that it is never conducted as an industry in itself. There are thousands of poultry ranches in this country devoted to the exclusive production of table fowls and eggs. Then, too, it must be remembered that millions of city dwellers, especially those living in flats and apartments, are denied the privilege of keeping even a small flock of hens. This public, which is extremely large, must depend upon the feathered flocks of the farm, the village, and the "chicken ranch" for their eggs and poultry.
But the man who raises the poultry does not usually sell his product direct to the consumer, any more than does the man who raises the beef we eat. There are middlemen who look after all the work connected with preparing and marketing these fowls.
Feeding stations. The service of the middleman is sometimes far more interesting than you would suspect. As an instance, take the "feeding station" or "poultry-fleshing factory," as one of the United States government experts calls it:
"The manufacture of chicken flesh is being put on a factory basis and made into a factory proposition, improving the quality and increasing the quantity. In other words, we are learning how to do things.
The farmer feeds his birds on corn, if he feeds them at all. Generally, however, they must forage for a living. These birds when sent to the poultry. packer are far from fat. It does not pay to ship other than plump birds to the market—hence the poultry dresser has installed what he terms feeding stations, but which are, in reality, chicken-fleshing factories.
"These are light, airy sheds, or rooms, holding anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 chickens, or other fowls, at a time. They are kept in what are termed 'poultry feeding batteries,' which are mammoth bird cages constructed either of wire or of wire and wood. The birds eat out of feeding coops, which are kept scrupulously clean.
"Only a few birds are put into each cage, that all may have plenty of air and each may get his full share of feed at the feeding time, which is, ordinarily, twice a day. After being in these cages for fourteen days the birds are killed and dressed. During that time they are expected to gain at least 20 per cent of their original weight. Frequently they gain more. The flesh which is produced under these circumstances is very tender and better flavored than that of the chickens that are allowed to run loose and pick up what feed they can find.
"The feed used in these fleshing factories is a mixture of corn, wheat, oats, and buttermilk, and in some cases meat scrap or alfalfa is added. The buttermilk is by far the most important part of the ration and is responsible for such birds having the market designation 'milk fed.'
"After the poultry is killed, unless consumed locally it is shipped to city markets or cold storage plants. In cold storage it can be kept in perfect condition for several months, and marketed when fresh poultry is scarce. Into these cold storage plants go millions of dollars' worth of poultry every year, and there it is held until the fresh stock is exhausted and the markets call for the reserve birds."
Cold storage poultry. Concerning the ability of American cold storage plants to furnish poultry in season, the same government expert says:
"The poultry which is coming to market in such enormous quantities is going to the storage warehouses very largely, and we have no public reports of the holdings of poultry in warehouses, either public or private, in this country. But we know this: that all broilers (young chickens) for the entire year's supply are produced from July to October. All soft-meated roasters (chickens about six months old) are produced from September to December. There is never a time on any market when one cannot obtain these strictly seasonal types of chickens provided one is willing to pay for them. Therefore, it may be assumed that a sufficient number of broilers and roasters go into the warehouses to supply the demand throughout the nine months during which each variety is not produced."
Wild fowl. While the people of this country each year kill and eat hundreds of thousands of wild fowl of various kinds, mainly ducks, geese, quail, prairie chicken, partridges, pheasants, and turkeys, the volume of our wild game food with each year is fast becoming smaller and smaller. Every state in the Union, as well as the national government, has strict laws intended to keep the killing of game birds within reasonable limits. But in spite of these wise statutes, this branch of our food resources, which might well be called the poultry of the woods, has been steadily shrinking until it is now only a mere fraction of its former volume.
For this reason many states are wisely liberating large numbers of English pheasants, quail, and other game birds that can be successfully hatched and reared in captivity. Where this has been done in a systematic and intelligent way, the woods and prairies have been restocked with game birds as fine and as valuable for food as those upon which the pioneers of our country depended for their "feathered meat." It is well to remember that the early settlers of our country depended upon wild game for meat to almost as great an extent as we do today upon the "poultry-fleshing stations" and chicken ranches.