Raising chickens – a controversial subject? Who would have thought? Unless, of course, you want to raise chickens within the city limits of La Crosse, Wisconsin in the year 2011. Neighbors have weighed in with varying opinions on that.
But raising chickens was an everyday life experience for immigrant and farm families. A few chickens, whether fenced-in or ranging the yard, were part of every farm operation. They meant eggs and meat for the family – and “egg money” (a little spending money) for the family, perhaps for the woman of the house.
In Homestead, our aunt Clara Cook has several references to raising chickens. Her maternal grandparents Bertinus and Maria Estenson raised them on their Fitch Coulee farm (5) and again on their small farm when they moved into Pigeon Falls in 1904 (6) – and I’ll bet no neighbors squawked about it! Her paternal grandfather Elias Borreson raised them too (30). And her parents too, whose chicken coop was damaged by a tornado in the thirties (pictured below and in the previous post).
This chicken coop was at least partly stone, likely making it (along with the milk house) one of the oldest buildings on the farm. Clara describes it in a paragraph following her siblings’ births between 1900 and 1907, which may be a clue for dating the coop itself. “A stone chicken coop was built and an upper loft was used for hatching their eggs. At night, Gina would take a lantern into the coop to see how the chickens were doing and turn over the eggs. During the winter, the coop was cold and the chickens laid few, if any eggs” (16).
Among the carpentry projects that her father Emil undertook, according to Clara, he built brooder houses for growing young chicks. We even have a picture of one of them.
The man in this photo is not Emil, but, as Sid confirms, is likely Ole Stendahl with whom Emil did carpentry work. Here stands Ole, armed with handsaw and plane and taking a cigarette break. I am left to wonder if the brooder house behind him was a just-completed project for Emil and Ole.
Our uncle Sid recalls this brooder house on the farm. In 1946 when Odell had returned from the army and Sid from out west, they farmed together on the Fitch Coulee home place. For two years they got chicks from their brother Edwin (who was living in Frenchville, I assume). In the two coops on the farm, they raised 1,500 in two years. The coops were very full and needed cleanring every day.
Sid remembers that “the government had set a ceiling of 25 cents a pound. Then it was taken off and the price jumped to 35 cents, so they sold about 800 roasters. Next week the price dropped to 25 cents.” I’ll bet Sid and Odell walked around with smiles for a couple days over that good timing.