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Raising chickens was common in North Country

November 27, 2012 - Don Williams

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? This question has tantalized mankind for generations and, to this date, I have not found the answer.

I do have some knowledge of chickens and eggs, however. They were a major part of my younger years. You might say that I “went to bed with the chickens” and grew up with them.

Living on our small farm on the outskirts of Northville provided the opportunity to raise chickens. We had a well-designed chicken coop, probably built by my Uncle Arnold Whitman, complete with orange-crate nests, rustic pole roosts and a fenced-in chicken yard.

The chicken entrance/exit door could be closed at night to keep out fox and skunks. The coop was built with a split-level roof, creating a row of windows for solar heat, light and ventilation. We raised egg-laying hens and setting hens to hatch little chicks, and one ugly rooster. I also had some miniature pet Guinea chickens which often flew over the fence and escaped to the woods.

The 4-H organization gave away 100 chickens to 4-Hers who would agree to raise them each year. It was a real treat to go to the post office on the day the chicks came in and to hear them all peeping behind the mail boxes. Baby chicks can go without food for a period of time after they hatch. The 4-H chickens not only got me involved with the chicken raising but it gave our family a source of income — we would sell them fresh as broilers.

Many Adirondackers sold eggs for needed income in my day and/or bartered them at the local general store for needed groceries. Eggs were graded by weight, and most 19th and early 20th century kitchens had egg scales to weigh them.

The Acme Egg Grading Scales, patented June 24, 1924, were, according to the early literature, the most popular model. They were made of aluminum on a sheet-metal base. Many were “japanned,” that is, covered with lacquer or varnish, usually black. Some were made of tin and most had a grading scale imprinted on the sides.

The egg scale in my collection of some dozen kinds of scales is not labeled by a maker but it appears to be a real antique, showing its age. It is of tin and has the old yellow coating flaking off, possibly some form of that “japanned” process. The scale gives the weight by the “dozen,” “the point,” and/or “each.” Eggs are still sold today by weight, usually small, medium or large.

The price of eggs can fluctuate, depending on the producers — those chickens who “manufacture” and lay those dietary delights. In my estimation, only chickens can make good chicken eggs. Fifty years ago, eggs sold for 55 cents a dozen; today, eggs sell for four to six times that.

Somewhere around 6000 B.C., domesticated chickens and their eggs became part of our diets. (There is a theory that the chickens are related to the dinosaurs, if they had lived we would have had a “chicken” that would feed a whole village and an egg that would feed a whole family.) Eggs became a definite part of the American diet in the 18th century. At that time, they were more a part of dinner and supper than for breakfast. Deviled eggs, eggnog, boiled, poached, egg ball and other concoctions appeared in the recipe books.

Egg separators, poachers, beaters, and boilers appeared on the market. And fancy egg stands and eggcups were part of the table setting. Eggs thus became a part of our lives, and the chickens we have today serve us well and, it appears, will continue to do so for years to come.


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