My friend and neighbor, Ed Stout, sent me an email recently which contained an excerpt from a 1934 Montgomery Ward mail order catalog. I scanned over it without enthusiasm until I reached the farm supplies section. Man, did this bring back some memories...
In 1934, my mother and father married and settled down here on the Pore Farm. And yes, my parents were actually married. During this time, life down on the farm was quite different from today. The Great Depression had the nation in a death grip, jobs were scarce, and money was almost non-existent. Even if goods were being sold for ten cents on the dollar, this does no good if you don’t have a dime. Folks went to town infrequently, and the infamous Montgomery Ward catalog saw a lot of action.
The farm section of the catalog Ed sent to me offered baby chickens for sale. They would be shipped straight from the hatchery postpaid. Prices (delivered and guaranteed) ranged from $1.90 per 25 light mixed breed chicks, up to $2.75 for 25 Buff Orpingtons. Chicks today cost about this same amount — per chick. Probably most farm folks during that time merely raised their own, allowing a few hens to nest and raise the chicks when they hatched. Grandpa and Grandma Jones had a small rock brooder house in which they raised baby chickens in the late winter and early spring. It had a small stone fireplace to keep the young birds warm. My mom and dad had a similar brooder house in which they heated with a kerosene heater. Since kerosene was 13 cents per gallon, this was a rather pricey operation.
Because our mailbox down on Route One Millsap was nearly a mile from the house, we rarely ordered baby chicks by mail. Instead, we would buy them from Weatherford Poultry and Egg Co. or Gus Vincent Produce on North Main Street. My mother always preferred Plymouth Rocks (Dominickers) or Rhode Island Reds. They were a good compromise for use as both laying hens and eating chickens. Only when we penned them up did we occasionally raise white Leghorn fryers. They grew rapidly and were soon ready to take to the frozen food locker in Weatherford. Although they are also excellent laying hens, white leghorns don’t last long if they are allowed to “free-range” because of all the hawks and owls out in the country.
As part of our daily routine, we would religiously tend the chickens and gather up the eggs each evening. They were an important part of our existence during those early days, and even more important to the earlier generations. They provided a cheap and abundant supply of fresh eggs and meat before the days of refrigeration. Each chicken walking around the farmstead was either an egg factory or a Sunday dinner waiting to be fried.
Many folks today are beginning to see the value of farm fresh free-range eggs, although not too many of our nouveau farmers here in Parker County tend to pluck and fry their pet chickens. If the price of groceries keeps getting higher, some of these folks may have to start doing it the way we did in on the Pore Farm back in the ‘40s. Never name anything you might want to eat.
Larry M. Jones is a retired Navy Commander and aviator who raises cattle and hay in the Brock/Lazy Bend part of Parker County. Comments may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.