Part of the 2%

I just realized how we, with our bitty bank acount, can become part of the “2%” in the U.S.  Here’s some fun history on chickens, with the answer at the bottom:

* For centuries, cock fighting was one of the main reasons for keeping poultry.

*Prior to about 1910, chicken was served primarily on special occasions or Sunday dinner. Poultry was shipped live or killed, plucked, and packed on ice (but not eviscerated). The “whole, ready-to-cook broiler” wasn’t popular until the 1950s, when end-to-end refrigeration and sanitary practices gave consumers more confidence. Before this, poultry were often cleaned by the neighborhood butcher, though cleaning poultry at home was a commonplace kitchen skill.

*In the 1930′s to 1950′s, 1500 hens was considered a full time job for a farm family.  In the 1950’s egg prices plummeted, so farmers began multiplying the numbers of birds in the same space to maintain profits.  They put 3 hens in cages where there used to be one, then they started stacking them. Chicken meat and egg prices dropped making them common rather than luxury items.  Many family farms left the chicken business.  This began the transition away from family farms to the modern corporate farm.

*A back yard hen can lay eggs for up to 3 years.  A commercial hen house hen lays for only one year before slaughter. In 1900 a hen produced about 85 eggs/yr.  Since then hens have been bred intensively for egg production, nutrition has been scientifically formulated, and living conditions tightly controlled.  In 2000 she laid about 300 eggs.

*There used to be two kinds of chickens available: roasting or “spring” chickens (young roosters) and stewing hens.  They were byproducts of the egg industry and gave value to the full spectrum of production.  Roasting chickens are now a whole breed of chicken (the cornish crosses) and stewing hens are only occasionally available from small farms.

*In 1900 the U.S. population was about 76 million.  33 million (44%) were involved in agriculture, with about 5 million farms producing eggs.  In 2000 the U.S. population was about 280 million.  5.6 million (2%) were involved in agriculture.  In 1900 90% of the eggs were from flocks with 100-300 hens who foraged for most of their food.  In 2000 90% of the eggs produced in the U.S. were from commercial “battery” hen houses.

You can be part of the 2%!  Raise a few hens in your own backyard, or buy eggs from someone with a small, well tended flock.  Come see how!


Thanks to Wikipedia, United Egg Producers,  and The Chicken Handbook for these tidbits.

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