I must admit to loving old books, especially those from the Victorian era. The illustrations in these books from the past on keeping chickens and other poultry are beautiful and evocative. The way of writing transports you back to another world. I’m not sure I’d like to live there, but I enjoy visiting.
Do remember that some of the advice is outdated to say the least. For example it is now illegal to feed chickens on scraps in the UK.
Some old books suggest feeding chickens with milk. This used to be common practice but the milk contains lactose sugars that chickens can’t digest. It can give them diarrhoea.
I often think that if everything collapsed then books like this would be what you’d need to survive. Information from a simpler age. Often these old ways are far more sustainable than our modern systems.
Of course, not all the ideas in those old books are right but as the saying goes:
“we see more and farther than our predecessors, not because we have keener vision or greater height, but because we are lifted up and borne aloft on their gigantic stature.”
The Practical Poultry Keeper
One of my favourites, possibly because it is a British book, is The Practical Poultry Keeper by Lewis Wright, originally published in 1867. The language may be slightly old fashioned but there are some real gems to be found in it.
The Practical Poultry Keeper must have been a real bestseller as it was reprinted over 20 times – as the author states in the preface to the March 1899 and following editions:
“Time proves all things, however; and the constant demand for rapidly-succeeding editions has proved that the practical poultry keeper did fulfil its intended purpose, and supply some real want, and was both understood by, and welcome to, the people for whom it was written.”
The Poultry Book – 1853
The Poultry Book by Rev. W Wingfield & C W Johnson, Esq. with pictures by Harrison Weir reproduced using the Leighton Brother’s Chromatic Process. Published in 1853.
“Comprising the characteristics, management, breeding and medical treatment of poultry being the results of personal observation and the practice of the best breeders“.
The Reverend Wingfield was the Honorary Secretary of the Cornwall Poultry Society and Mr Johnson the Honorary Secretary of the Winchester Society for the Improvement of Poultry.
The Poultry Book – 1867
The Poultry Book by W. B. Tegetmeier, F. Z. S. (1816 – 1912) ; with colour illustrations by Harrison Weir Published in 1867.
It is subtitled:
“Comprising the breeding and management of profitable and ornamental poultry; their qualities and characteristics.”
Tegetmeier had been interested in pigeons and domestic fowl since his youth. In adulthood, he was recognised as an authority on both subjects and was a friend of Charles Darwin.
200 Eggs a Year Per Hen: How to Get Them.
A Practical Treatise on Egg Making and Its Conditions and Profits in Poultry. Edgar Warren’s 1899 book reprinted many times with its snappy sub-title!
A modern hybrid layer can almost achieve an egg a day – we’ve seen 350 eggs a year quoted. Yet at the start of the 20th century, 200 eggs a year was a tough target for those keeping chickens.
I’ve copied some interesting excerpts from the text and a few drawings & photographs for your delectation. I’ve seen copies of the whole book available and would caution new poultry keepers that much of the advice in these old books was not sound and you’re better with modern books and advice.
Child with Hen & Chicks
This photograph was copied from Making a Poultry House by M Roberts Conover, published in 1912 in New York by McBride, Nast & Company. I found it so evocative, the little girls’ shift dress and cap says ‘pioneer’ better than a John Wayne western.
The little girl would probably be well over 100 years old if she was still around. I wonder what happened to her, did she have the life she dreamt of? Her parents hopes for her come true? Perhaps she has great, great, great grandchildren who keep hens unknowing of their family history.