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CHAPTER XX - Poultry


Warm, dry, and shining soil, like the sea beach, is best adapted for the rearing of Poultry; and such may be artificially formed, where it is not afforded by nature. A yard or court being pitched upon, the foundation should be laid with chalk or bricklayers’ rubbish, the surface to consist of sandy gravel; and considerable spots of it may be sown with common trefoil or wild clover, with a mixture of burnet, spurry, or star-grass, which last species is particularly salubrious to poultry. The surface must be sloped and drained, so as to avoid all stagnant moisture, and the whole enclosed with a fence, lofty, and so secured at the bottom that the smallest chicken may not find a passage through.

The poultry houses within the court should have a southern aspect, and if the number of stock be large, the houses had far better be small and detached; and should they abut upon a stable, brew-house, or any conductor of warmth, it will be a farther advantage. The floors should consist of well-rammed chalk or earth, so that they may be easily swept clean. In the roof, which must be lofty, there should be only one long and level range of perches; and if in the wall steps be so placed that the poultry may jump from the one to the other, the ascent will be rendered easy to the perches, and also to the nests, for which boxes are the most convenient, when properly constructed. A few railed doors may be provided, to hang before the entrance of those in which hens are sitting. Nests for breeders are generally preferred upon the ground, on account of the danger of chickens falling from those which are placed above. In making the nest, soft and short straw should be chosen. Various beds, or heaps, of sifted ashes or very dry sand, should be placed in the yard, in which the fowls may have the comfort and benefit of rolling and bathing themselves; and a place of refuge should be provided for such hens or chickens as the cock has taken a dislike to.

The feeding-room, at once warm, and airy, and large enough to accommodate twenty or thirty fowls, should have perches in it for those birds that are inclined to perch, which they will not be after they have become heavy. The floor may be slightly littered down; the litter often changed. The greatest cleanliness should be observed, and sandy gravel placed in several layers, and often changed. A sufficient number of roughs, for both water and food, should be placed around, that the stock may feed with as little interruption as possible from each other. This description of feeding room is well adapted for the feeding of young chickens; and it will be found most advantageous to put them up immediately on their being quitted by the hen, more particularly young cocks, and all those which stand high upon the legs.

Under a regular system, it would be preferable to separate entirely the aquatic from the other poultry, the aquatic to have their houses ranged along the banks of a piece of water, with a fence, and sufficiently capacious walks in front; access to the water by doors, to be closed at will.


Is one of the largest of our fowls, and is a plentiful layer; the Polanders are similar, but generally black; they are very ornamental, and one of the most useful varieties – they are sometimes called everlasting layers, and being least inclined to sit of any other breed, their eggs are frequently set under other hens. The flesh of the game fowl is superior to all other breeds of domestic fowls for richness and delicacy of flavour; but from their disposition to fight, they are difficult to be reared. Yellow-legged fowls are often of a tender constitution, and always inferior in the quality of their flesh, a young and healthy fowl may be known by the fresh and florid colour of the comb, the dryness of the eye, and the nostrils being free from any discharge, and the plumage glossy. The indications of old age are, paleness of the comb and gills, fullness of colour, and a sort of downy stiffness in the feathers, length and size of talons, the scales upon the legs becoming large and prominent. Delicate white hens do not lay so many eggs in a cold season as the more hardy coloured varieties. Cordial horse-ball is good to promote laying in cold weather, and also toast and ale.

A hen desirous of sitting should not be prevented by any violent means; allowing her to sit will probably not deter her so long from laying as harsh treatment. Those above the common size of their respective varieties are not preferable as layers or sitters. They are in their prime at three years, and decline after five. The number of hens to one cock from four to six. When a cock is moulting, it should be withdrawn, and one that is known to and familiar with the hens substituted. When a turkey-hen becomes sick, it is found beneficial to pull out the feathers of the tail. It should be a general rule to breed from young stock. A two-year-old cock, and pullets in their second year, provided they have the best food, accommodation, and attendance, may be allowed to sit so early as January. Eggs for sitting should never exceed the age of a month; the newest laid to be preferred, and as nearly of a size as possible; those which have the circular flaw, indicating the double yolk, should be avoided. The number of eggs may be from nine to fifteen, according to the size of the fowl; an odd number should be chosen, that they may lie the closer, and they may be marked with a pen and ink, so that any new-laid ones may be removed. An egg being broken in the nest, it should be cleared away, and the remainder washed with warm water. It is proper to place corn and water occasionally beside the sitting hen, withdrawing them as soon as she is satisfied. Hens sit twenty days.

The chickens first hatched should be taken from the nest, and secured in a basket of wool or soft hay, and kept, if the weather be cold, near the fire. They will require no food for some hours, even for twenty-four. The whole brood being hatched, the hen is to be placed for some days under coop, upon a dry place, and, if possible, not within reach of another hen, nor near numbers of young fowls. The first food split grits, afterwards tail corn. All watery food, soaked bread, or potatoes, improper as first food; hard-boiled eggs, and curd chopped small, is much approved; their water should be pure, and often renewed. There are pans made in such forms, that the chickens may drink without getting into the water; a basin turned down in the middle of a pan of water, will answer the end, the water running round it. They must not be let out early in the morning, or whilst the dew remains upon the ground, far less be suffered to range over the wet grass; and they should be cautiously guarded against sudden changes of the weather, or exposure to rain.

When the hen begins to roost, the chickens may be associated with the young poultry as nearly of their own age as possible, or put up to feed. In choosing full-sized fowls for feeding, the short-legged and early hatched always deserve a preference. There are various modes of feeding, but whether for domestic use or sale, the best method is constant high keep from the beginning; their flesh will in consequence be more juicy and finer flavoured, and they will be always ready for the table, except in the moulting season, which is during the autumn for the old, and the spring for the young poultry. The pullets which have been hatched in March, if high fed from the beginning, will lay plentifully through the following autumn, and in February may be used for the table; about which period their laying will be finished. The fowls will be finest that have the run of the farm-yard; but they will be little inferior, if accommodated and attended to as before directed, and allowed abundance and variety of wholesome food. Barley is the best grain for poultry, but they will thrive well on oats and tail wheat; heavy wheat is generally considered injurious; any light grain ground, together with peas, and made into brose, will be found excellent food; as also potatoes, when boiled, peeled, and made into thick brose with meal, that is, boiling water stirred into the mixture. A cock and two hens, having as much food as they choose to eat, will consume a quarter of a peck of the best barley in a week.


The true black Norfolk turkey is esteemed superior to all others. One turkey cock is sufficient for six hens. The hen will cover, according to her size, from nine to fifteen eggs. Her term of sitting is thirty days, during which period constant attendance, with both food and water, is necessary. The chicks must be withdrawn from the nest as soon as hatched, and kept very warm. The hen and brood should be housed during a month or six weeks, and fed with barley or oatmeal, which may be mixed with young nettles chopped, or garden cressed, and kneaded with water as dry as possible. Their food should be often renewed, as also their drink, which should be water only. In case of the chicks appearing sickly, and the feathers ruffled, indicating a chill from severity or change of weather, half-ground malt may be mixed with the barley meal, and by way of medicine, powdered caraway seeds; also artificial worms, that is, boiled meat pulled into strings, in running after which the chicks have a salutary exercise. This diet is beneficial for every species of chicks. All slop victuals should be avoided; and their being kept dry, warm, and clean, is of the utmost consequence. A fresh turf of short sweet grass daily, cleared from snails and slugs, which will scour young chicks, is very pleasing to them, and promotes their health. After a month or six weeks; confinement within doors, the hens may be cooped for another fortnight; when full grown, they will, in a good range, provide themselves throughout the day, requiring only to be fed at their outletting in the morning, and on their return at even. Sodden barley, or barley and wheat meal mixed, is the proper food for fattening turkeys. The flesh of the young cocks, intended for the table, will become more delicate if the fleshy substance which grows immediately above the bill be taken off when it is about a quarter of an inch long; a worsted thread tied round it will bring it off in a few weeks.


Will probably thrive well on the same food as the turkey. It is seldom reared; but as its flesh has ever been considered most delicious, it appears particularly worthy of the attention of those who aim at variety and novelty.


Are in season when game is going out, namely, from February to June. The guinea fowl assimilates perfectly with the common species in habits and in kinds of food. They are very prolific, and their eggs nourishing and good. The peacock is not only ornamental, but useful for the destruction of all kinds of reptiles; but some are apt to tear to pieces young chickens and ducklings. They are also destructive in gardens. The cock requires from two to four hens. They are granivorous, like other domestic fowls, preferring barley.


The Rhone ducks are of a darker flesh, and more savoury, than the English duck, but somewhat coarse. The white variety of the English duck is never so high-flavoured as the darker colours. The Muscovy and other foreign varieties are kept more for curiosity than use. The white Aylesbury are a beautiful stock. The canvass-backed ducks of America are said to be the finest in the world; they have probably not yet been imported into Europe. The duck will cover from eleven to fifteen eggs, and she sits thirty days. One drake to five ducks is allowed. The duck, when sitting, requires a secret and safe place; but no farther attendance is necessary till the whole brood is hatched, when a coop should be prepared upon the short grass, if the weather is fine, or under shelter, if otherwise; a wide and flat dish of water, often to be renewed, standing at hand; barley, or any meal, the first food. In rainy weather particularly, it is useful to clip the tails of the ducklings, and the surrounding down beneath, that they may not draggle and weaken themselves,. The duck should be cooped at a distance from any other; their confinement to the coop need seldom extend to a fort-night. Oats, whole or bruised, are the standard fattening material for ducks and geese, to which may be added peasmeal, as it may be required; and if they are confined, the house-wash may be mixed with their food. They are very fond of acorns, and will get fat on them alone.


The best geese in England are probably to be found on the borders of Suffolk and Norfolk, and in Berkshire. The foreign varieties are kept only for ornament. Their treatment is similar to that of ducks. Some cooling greens, clivers, or the like, may be mixed with their first food, namely, barley meal, bruised oats, or fine pollards. Hemlock, or deadly nightshade, should be removed from the range of the young geese; and both old and young are often killed by swallowing slips of yew after they are able to frequent the pond. The young geese will obtain their living, and few people favourably situated allow them any thing more excepting the vegetable produce of the garden; but to have fine geese, a little solid corn or pulse may be given morning and evening. Equal quantities of the meal of rye and pulse, mixed with skimmed-milk, form an excellent feeding article for geese and ducks.


The proper place for the pigeon-house, or cot, is the poultry-yard; it should have a south-west aspect. The common barred dovecot is well adapted to every situation, and pigeons do well near dwellings, stables, bakehouses, or such offices. Its situation will necessarily depend on convenience. One general rule must, however, be observed, that every pair of pigeons have two holes or rooms to nest in. Cleanliness is one of the first and most important considerations. They will thrive the better if cleaned daily and thoroughly once a week – the floor covered with sifted gravel often renewed. They are exceedingly fond of water, and when confined in a room should have a pan of water, often renewed, as a bath; and to take their attention from the garden, and to prevent their picking the mortar from buildings, they should be provided with a salt cat, which is a dish of the following composition: - Loam, sand, mortar, fresh lime, bay salt, cumin, coriander, caraway seed, and allspice, moistened with beer, heaped up in the dish, and a piece of board placed upon the summit to prevent the birds from dunging upon it.

It is always injudicious to purchase old pigeons for stocking, as even cutting their wings will not insure their remaining. Squeakers, or such as have not yet flown, will become perfectly, more particularly in seedtime, and towards harvest, and also when the ground is bound by frost, or covered with snow. Tares, and the smallest kind of horse-bean, commonly called pigeon-beans, are both the best and cheapest food, and the pulse is better to be of the previous year.

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