Poullry-farming.-Poultry-farming in a practical sense is now carried on somewhat extensively in various ways, understanding that term to include any case where poultry-culture is carried on for substantial profit, or as an important interest of the holding, beyond the mere breeding of prize birds for exhibition. The difficulty never had been, as some have stated, in ground getting tainted or rent costing too much. It is now well understood that in the English climate 100 birds per acre must not be exceeded, though it is far better to confine them to one-half or one-third of the space, while some crop is got off the remainder when they go yearly to absolutely fresh ground. The mere rent of an acre is not much for 100 fowls, but the real difficulty was and is that a fowl is such a small unit, entailing constant liability to small losses and wastes, and necessity for labour and oversight out of proportion. Hence at a time when 100 eggs per annum was thought a fair return for each bird, and there was but a poor and uncertain market for them, this difficulty was insuperable. A very different average production would now be worked for; while, on the other hand, the greater crowding into cities, and growing appreciation of eggs as an article of diet, have caused a market for “ new-laid ” eggs at good prices which previously did not exist. It is these changes which have altered the conditions.
The chief development in England at the beginning of the 2oth century was a very large increase in the poultry kept upon farms. Formerly very few were kept, looked after casually by the mistress or a boy, and only expected to provide for the household and occasionally a few shillings in cash, while any food expressly fed to them was grudged. It has now been taught all over the country, by lecturers under the county council technical instruction committees, that poultry pay best of any branch upon a farm. It has become generally known that, provided they can be run over the farm by using detached houses, and not huddled together, a dozen hens per acre can be kept upon a holding without interfering with any other stock; indeed, the curious fact is observed that horses and cattle prefer to graze over grass that might be thought soiled by the fowls. Where the statement was once derided, it is now a commonplace of county council lecturers, that the additional manure thus made is really worth to the farm from sixpence per bird per annum for small breeds to as much as one shilling for very large ones. O'ut of a large number of similar instances collected in 1900, one specimen may be given. In Worcestershire 210 fowls had the run of ioo acres, lots of 20 to 30 being kept in detached houses. From 20,000 to 25,000 eggs per annum were marketed, and 150 to 200 chickens, the food averaging about £40, and the cash return £90 to £IOO. The almost universal opinion is that the manure pays for the labour, and that the annual profit averages from 4s. to 5s. 6d. per head. Poultry-farming on a larger scale than this is also carried on in connexion with the Sussex fattening industry, presently described. That was until recently a separate business, chickens being bought from neighbouring small rearers, or imported from Ireland, to go directly into fattening cages; and it has often been stated that rearing and fattening together were incompatible. This was so far true that the manure made by numbers of fattening poultry was very considerable, and had to be used upon a small holding kept in order to use it; such a holding, therefore, received as much as it could possibly bear, and was thereby “ sickened ” for live poultry running at large. But with an extra holding or larger holding this is not the case, and increasing competition and the desire for the two profits have led to a large amount of rearing and fattening combined. In 1894 one of the officers of the agricultural commission found 8000 chickens being reared and fattened annually on one farm of zoo acres, and this proved only a pioneer: in 1900 he found (amongst many such instances) 4000 reared upon So acres, ISOO upon 22 acres and 5000 upon an extra holding (taken for the purpose) of 40 acres. In most 'cases the main cereal crop was oats, to be fed to the fowls; and some cows were kept, the skim milk from which was used in the same way; but the poultry was the controlling interest of the whole., On any such scale as this the manure becomes of great importance. About 1880 Dr Augustus Voelcker, chemist to the Royal Agricultural Society, made the following analysis of two samples, one moist or fresh dropped, the other freed from much moisture by storing under cover for four weeks:-
Fresh Partially Dried
Moisture ......... 61-63 41-06
Organic matter and ammonia salts. . 20-19 38-19 Tribasic phosphate of lime . . . 2-97 5-13
Magnesia, alkaline salts, &c ., .. 2-63 3-13 Insoluble siliceous matter (sand) . 12-58 12-49 100-oo IGO-OO
Containing nitrogen ...... 1-71 A 3-78
Equal to ammonia ...... 2-09 4-59
Valued in the usual way, Dr Voelcker found that the moist manure was worth £2 per ton, and the drier stored manure £4 4s. per ton; but though the figures were indisputable, for many years such manure was practically unsaleable. Gradually in Sussex it became saleable at 6d. per bushel, and in 1900 some of the smaller fatters were selling it at prices varying from 4s. to ISS. per load; the larger men either used it themselves or obtained higher prices.
Really large poultry-farms are few in England, and to give quite recent facts would be to run the risk that they might prove ephemeral. It has been supposed that the common experience is failure after two years' trial, but this is unduly pessimistic. Even in 1901 two farms in Berkshire were selling eggs from over 2000 and 3000 laying hens; and' there was one farm in the west of England, occupying 300 acres with the poultry (besides a shorthorn herd and other branches), which had a stock of 5000 pullets for laying, and had been in existence four years, a large capital amounting to thousands of pounds having been sunk in it. The owner explained that two years was the critical period, simply because for about that time there were practically no returns, and that in his case he had only “ turned the corner ” after three years. Though a practical man already, he had begun in a small way with one incubator and training one man; gradually extending, building up his own market, organizing his own selling agency, and building a mill to grind his own grain. Only such gradual extension by practical men can ever lead to success.
Besides the breeding of prize poultry, the changes mentioned in the early portion of this article have led to another class of breeding directed to the supply of pure races from good stock, but bred mainly for purposes of utility. The demand for such stock, at fair prices, though far below those for prize stock, is a good index of the development of the poultry industry. The establishments which supply it furnish eggs for hatching, or stock birds, or newly hatched chickens, which are now hatched in incubators and sold by thousands when only one day old, at which age they travel without needing food. Some of such establishments are quite large. One in Yorkshire occupies 43 acres solely devoted to this business.
Poultry-farming has reached its fullest development in the United States, owing no doubt to the apparently inexhaustible market; butcher's meat being far less eaten than in England, and poultry and eggs to a large extent replacing it as national food. More especially is there an enormous demand for small chickens, known as “ broilers, ” weighing from 1% lb to 2 lb only, destined to be split in half and broiled on gridiron. These birds being unfastened, and ready at ten or twelve weeks, give a quick turnover with less expense and risk than older fatted birds; and this peculiar demand has largely dominated American poultry-farming, a great deal of which runs in the direction of great “ broiler-plants ” solely devoted to the hatching and rearing of these broilers, while large “ brooder-houses, ” similar to those used in that business, are prevalent on more miscellaneous farms. The broiler business started at Hammonton in New jersey about 188O'1885, when plant after plant was rapidly erected, some of which have since shut down; but many others