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Ten Acres Enough
Chapter XII.—Pigs and Poultry—Luck and Ill Luck


Very early after taking possession, I invested twelve dollars in the purchase of seven pigs of the ordinary country breed. They were wanted to eat the many odds and ends which are yielded by ten acres, a good garden, and the kitchen. I did not look for much money profit from them, but I knew they were great as architects in building up a manure heap. Yet they were capital things with which to pack a meat-tub at Christmas, saving money from the butcher, as well as much running abroad to market. They shared with the cow in the abundant trimmings and surplus from the garden, eating many things which she rejected, and appropriating all the slop from the kitchen. In addition to this, we fed them twice a day with boiled bran, sometimes with a handful of corn meal, but never upon whole corn. This cooking of the food was no great trouble in the kitchen, but its effect on the pigs was most beneficial. They grew finely, except one which died after four months' feeding, but from what cause could not be ascertained.

The consequence was, that when October came round, the six remaining ones were estimated by Dick to average at least one hundred and fifty pounds each, and were in prime condition for fattening. In the early part of that month their supply of cooked mush was increased. I am of opinion that farmers leave the fattening of their hogs too late, and that a month on corn, before December, is worth three months after it. By the tenth of December they were ready for the butcher, and on being killed, were found to average two hundred and twenty-four pounds, or nine hundred and forty-four in all. This being three times as much as we needed for home use, the remainder was sent to the store, where it netted me forty-nine dollars.

I am quite certain there was a profit on these pigs. They consumed quantities of refuse tomatoes, and devoured parsnips with the greatest eagerness. One day I directed Dick to cut up some stalks of our green sweet corn, by means of the fodder-cutter, which delivers them in pieces half an inch long, and mix them with bran for the pigs. I found they consumed it with great avidity. Ever after that they were served twice daily with the same mess. It seemed to take the place of stronger food, as well as of grass, and was an acceptable variety. In this way the money cost of food was kept at a low figure, and the labor we spent on the pigs showed itself in the fine yield of prime pork, which brought the highest price in the market. The yield of rich manure was also very satisfactory, all which, at intervals through the season, was removed from the pen and put under cover, for manure thus housed from the sun and rain is worth about double that which is exposed all the year round. This was another item of profit: if the pigs had not manufactured it, money would have been required to pay for its equivalent.

After these six had been killed, I purchased seven others, some two months old, having abundance of roots, offal cabbages, and a stack of the sweet-corn fodder on hand. These seven cost the same as the others, twelve dollars. As Dick was found to be a good, trustworthy fellow, he was to be kept all the year round; and as he would be hanging about the barnyard during the winter, when the ground was wet and sloppy, looking after the horse and cows the pigs would help to fill up his time. The cooking of food for both cow and pigs was a great novelty to him. At first he could not be made to believe in it. When I ventured to insinuate to him that it would be anything but agreeable to him to eat his dinners raw, the force of the idea did not strike him. So much is there in the power of long-established habit. Yet he did condescend to admit that he knew all pigs throve better on plenty of common kitchen-swill than on almost anything else. I told him there was but one reason for this, and that was because all such swill had been cooked. "When the improvement made by the first lot of pigs became too manifest for even him to dispute, he, together with the pigs, acknowledged the corn and gave in.

When out-door operations for the season were over, Dick undertook the whole business of cooking for the pigs and cow himself. In fact, on one occasion I succeeded in getting him to curry down both cow and pigs. They all looked and showed so much better for near a week thereafter, that coming on him unexpectedly one day, I found him repeating the operation of his own motion, and so he voluntarily continued the practice during the whole winter. The pigs seemed delighted with the process, and had very little scratching of their own to do. Their backs and sides were kept continually smooth, while their whole appearance was changed for the better. As to the cow, she took to being curried with the best possible grace, and improved under it as much as the pigs; but whether it increased the flow of milk I cannot say, as no means were taken to solve that question. But as Dick's devotion to the currycomb excited my admiration, so there was abundant evidence that both pigs and cow were equally captivated.

This business of raising and carefully attending to only half a dozen hogs, is worthy of every small farmer's serious study and attention. The hog and his food, with what is cheapest and best for him, is really one of the sciences, not an exact one, it is true, but still a science. One must look at and study many things, and they can all be made to pay. The propensity to acquire fat in many animals seems to have been implanted by nature. The hog fattens most rapidly in such a condition of the atmosphere as is most congenial to his comfort—not too hot, nor too cold. Hence the months of September, October, and November are the best for making pork. The more agreeable the weather, the less is the amount of food required to supply the waste of life. It has been found by some persons that a clover field is the best and cheapest place to keep hogs in during the spring and summer months, where they have a plenty of water, the slop from the house, and the sour milk from the dairy. All sour feed contains more nitrogen than when fed in a sweet state. The first green herbage of the spring works off the impurities of the blood, cleanses the system, renovates the constitution, and enables the animal to accumulate a store of strength to carry it forward to its destined course.

Many object to beginning the fattening process so early in the season, as the corn relied on for that purpose is not then fully matured. But, taking all things into consideration, it is perhaps better to feed corn before it is ripe, as in that state it possesses more sweetness. Most varieties are in milk in September, when the hogs will chew it, swallow the juice, and eject the dry, fibrous matter. During the growing season of the year, swine can be fed on articles not readily marketable, as imperfect fruit, vegetables, etc. When such articles are used, cooking them is always economical. Most vegetables, when boiled or steamed, and mixed with only an eighth of their bulk of mill-feed or meal, whey, and milk left to sour, will fatten hogs fast. In this state they will eat it with avidity, and derive more benefit from it than when fed in an unfermented state. Articles of a perishable nature should be used first, to prevent waste, as it is desirable to turn all the products of the farm to the best account. Another quite important advantage of early feeding is the less trouble in cooking the food. Convenience of feeding is promoted, as there is no cost nor trouble to guard against freezing.

The more you can mix the food, the better, as they will thrive faster on mixed food than when fed separately. In feeding, no more should be given at a time than is eaten up clean, and the feeding should be regular as to time. It is of the greatest importance to get the best varieties, those that are well formed, and have an aptitude for taking on fat readily, and consume the least food. As to which is the best kind, there seems to be a great diversity of opinion, some preferring one kind and some another. The Suffolks come to maturity earliest, and probably are the most profitable to kill at from seven to ten months; but others prefer the Berkshire. The pork of both is excellent: they will usually weigh from 250 to 300 pounds at the age of eight or ten months. The better way is to have the pigs dropped about the first of April, and feed well until December, and then butcher.

From a variety of experiments, I am satisfied it is wrong to let a hog remain poor twelve months of his life, when he could be made as large in nine months as he generally is in fifteen; and I conceive it a great error to feed corn to hogs without grinding.

It has been proved by the Shakers, after thirty years' trial, that ground corn is one-third better for hogs and cattle-feed than if unground. In the case of another feeder, he ascertained the ratio of gain to be even greater than that of the Shakers. Others assert that cooking corn-meal nearly doubles its value. A distinguished agriculturist in Ohio proved that nineteen pounds of cooked meal were equal in value to fifty pounds raw. If pigs are well kept for three months after being dropped, they cannot be stunted after that, even if the supply of food is less than it should be.

It is desirable that hogs should be provided with a dry floor for eating and sleeping only, and the whole pen completely sheltered, to prevent any washing or waste of the manure. The common­wealth of the piggery should be furnished with plenty of straw, potato-vines, leaves, sawdust, and the like, with an occasional load of muck, and almost any quantity of weeds, all of which will be converted into the most efficient supports of vegetable life. Hogs are the best composters known, as they delight in upturning any such article as the farmer wishes to convert into manure for the coming year.

There can be no question as to its paying to make pork, though men differ on this as widely as their pork differs when brought to market. The poorer the pork, the more the owner complains of his profits, or rather of his losses; and the better the pork, the more is the owner satisfied. There can be no profit in raising a poor breed of hogs, that have no fattening qualities; nor even a good breed, without convenience or proper care. A good hog cannot be fatted to any profit in mud or filth, nor where he suffers from cold. His comfort should be consulted as much as that of any other animal. It is a great error to assume that he is naturally fond of living among filth. On the contrary, hogs are remarkably neat, and those which fatten the best always keep themselves the cleanest. One farmer assured me that he had made his corn bring $1.25 per bushel by passing it through the bowels of his hogs, besides having the manure clear. Another did much better by cooking his meal.

As no farm is pronounced complete without poultry, and as both my wife and daughters were especially fond of looking after chickens,—at least they thought they would be,—so, to make their new home attractive, I invested $7 in the purchase of a cock and ten hens. They were warranted to be powerful layers, and would hatch fifteen eggs apiece. It struck me that this sounded very large, but on my wife observing it would be only a hundred and fifty chickens the first season, I gave in without a word. The fact is that chickens were not my hobby. I did not think they would pay, even after hearing my wife dilate on the luxury it would be to have fresh eggs every morning for breakfast, for pies and puddings, and various other things which she enu­merated, and, as she expressed it, "eggs of our own laying."

I could not see how this circle of wonders was to be accomplished by only ten hens, and insinuated that it would be a good thing if she could make a bargain with each of her hens to lay two eggs a day. In reply to this, she astonished me by saying that Americans did not know how to make the most of things, but that the French did. She said that a certain Frenchman, mentioning his name—he was either a marquis or count, of course—had recently discovered the art of making hens lay every day by feeding them on horse-flesh, and that he feeds out twenty-five horses a day, which he obtains among the used-up hacks of Paris. She said he had a hennery which furnishes forty thousand dozens of eggs a week, and that it yields the proprietor a clear profit of five thousand dollars every seven days. After hearing this I felt certain she had been reading some modern poultry-book. But as she did not speak of requiring me to furnish horse-flesh for her pets, nor contemplate the establishment of a fresh-laid egg company, but only suggested the consumption of a little raw meat now and then, I volunteered no objections. Her enthusiasm was such as to make it unsafe to do so. Why should not she and the children be gratified? The hens came home, and were put into a cage in the barnyard, to familiarize them with their new home. But they did not lay so freely as she had expected, while some did not lay at all. Worse than that, as soon as let out of their cage, they got over the fence into the garden, where they scratched as violently as if each one had a brood of fifteen to scratch for. They made terrible havoc among the young flowers and vegetables, and tore up the beds which had been so nicely raked. One of the girls was employed half her time in driving them out. I thought it too great an expense to raise the barnyard fence high enough to keep them in, and so they were marched back into the cage. It happened to be too small for so many fowls, which my wife did not suspect, until one day, putting her hand in to draw forth a sick hen, she discovered her whole arm and sleeve to be swarming with lice. Here was some­thing she did not remember to have been treated of in her poultry-book. But the nuisance was so great, as well as so active, soon extending itself all over her person, as to compel her to strip and change her entire dress, and to plunge the lousy one in a tub of water.

I confess the difficulty was a new one to me. My experience in poultry had been limited. My knowledge of them was exclusively anatomical, obtained by frequent dissections with the carving-knife. On calling Dick, however, it appeared that he knew more about this trouble than the whole family together. When my wife described her condition to him, and how she had swarmed with the vermin, the fellow laughed outright, but said they wouldn't hurt—he knew all about them, for he had been full of lice more than once! He said he expected this, as the fowls had been kept up too close: they would neither lay, thrive, nor keep clear of vermin, unless allowed to run about.

But he took the case in hand, clipped their wings, saturated their heads with lamp oil, provided abundance of ashes for them to roll in, and then turned them loose in the barnyard. He then obtained poles of sassafras wood for them to roost on, as he said the peculiar odor of that tree would drive the enemy away. I presume his prescriptions answered the purpose; at all events, we discovered no more hen-lice, because the whole family were careful never to touch a fowl again.

I think this little catastrophe took all the romance out of my wife touching chickens. I rarely heard her mention eggs afterwards, except when some of us were going to the store for other things, and she was careful never to purchase chickens with the feathers on. She never referred to the hundred and fifty she was to hatch out that season; nor have I ever heard her even mention horse-flesh as a sure thing for making hens lay all the year round. That winter Dick fattened and killed the whole lot. My wife did not seem to have much stomach for them when they came upon the table. I was not sorry for it, except that she had been disappointed. Her knowledge of keeping poultry had been purely theoretical, and her first disappointment had completely weaned her of her fondness for the art.

But this brief and unlucky experience of ours should by no means operate to discourage others. Money is undoubtedly made by skilful men at raising poultry. It cannot be a losing business, or so many thousand tons would not be annually produced. Volumes have been written on the subject, which all who contemplate embarking in the business may consult with profit. As an incident of farm life it will always be interesting, and with those who understand the art it ought to be profitable.

Foreigners must be more experienced in the business of raising poultry than Americans, judging by the vast quantities they annually produce for market. The quantity imported into England is so enormous, that it is impossible to determine its amount. Into only two of the principal London markets there is annually brought from France and Belgium, 75,000,000 eggs, 2,000,000 fowls, 400,000 pigeons, 200,000 geese and turkeys, and 300,000 ducks. In addition to these, the large amount sent to poulterers and private houses must be considered. The Brighton railroad alone carries yearly 2,600 tons of eggs which come from France and Belgium. Yet, with all these immense supplies, the London markets are frequently very meagrely supplied with butter and eggs. The trade is shown by these figures to be one of great national value. Americans have strange­ly neglected its cultivation with the method and precision of foreigners. We can raise food more cheaply than they, while none of them can boast of possessing our incomparable Indian corn.

There are several of my neighbors who are highly skilled in the art of raising poultry. One of them is quite a poultry-fancier, and, by keeping only choice breeds, he realizes fancy prices for them. Another confines his fowls in a plum-orchard, and thus secures an annual crop of plums without being stung by the curculio. In general, the female portion of the family attend to this branch of domestic business, and realize a snug sum from it annually. A brood of young chickens turned into a garden, the hen confined in her coop, will soon clear it of destructive insects.


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