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THE unforeseen obstacles that were thrown in my way, and rendered abortive my attempts to revolutionize the pig industry of the United States, did not abate one jot of my enthusiasm for the noble art of farming and stock-breeding. After all, pigs were but an incident in the life of a farmer. Statistics demonstrated the fact that, while the fowl and egg industry was increasing by leaps and bounds, to be one of the leading industries of the country, the demand was far in excess of the annual supply.
When in the fifties the first Shanghai fowl was imported, the excitement ran so high that it was currently reported and believed that at last an ideal fowl had been found that would lay two eggs a day and give a pint of milk. Hundreds of misguided enthusiasts retired from the business in disgust when they found that the much vaunted Shanghai fowl was a sort of gallinaceous crane or cormorant, with an abnormal appetite, a voice like an ophicleide, a reproductive capacity under most favorable circumstances of about six eggs per year for the first year and of none thereafter, and a steadfastness and pertinacity of incubation that only could be abated by setting fire to the nest and consuming nest, eggs, and hen, and occasionally the adjoining buildings, — in which case, and provided the buildings were properly insured, the owner made money and lived happily ever afterwards.
Yet there remained a steady increase in the business, and of late years the invention and successful adoption of the incubator and brooder had forced the business into the front rank of national industries. When one reflects on the vast scope in the usefulness of an egg, ranging from the tempting of the appetite of a broken-down sport to the assaulting of a temperance lecturer or prima donna assoluta, one cannot wonder at the increasing demand.
In this matter I had no illusions. I knew something about hens, as I had kept them in my boyhood. And I knew also the difficulty of making them lay with any degree of regularity. But they were interesting, if aggravating, and I had no doubt of being able, at least, to have fresh eggs from my own forcing-house, and spurless spring chickens of known and recorded juvenility. The unpedigreed egg is sometimes dangerous to meddle with. Like the little girl adorned as to her forehead with ambrosial locks, —
she was good she was very, very good,
And when she was bad she was horrid."
I consulted skilled artisans, with a view of suitably amending my pig-pen to masquerade as an attractive henhouse; and while these somewhat expensive amendments were in order I cast about for means to improve the fertility of my farm.
I greatly preferred the old-fashioned dressing to manufactured fertilizers, and as the snow was now overdue, I made arrangements to have a large amount of dressing spread over my land whenever the weather betokened snow. By these means I expected to avoid any unpleasant odor by an immediate covering of snow. And so, one chill day when the sky was overcast and gray, the wind northeast, and a few flakes of feathery snow came silently sifting down, I notified the contractor, and before I left for the office, teams were arriving and brawny Milesians were spreading dressing thickly over our premises.
The odor as I left was a bit penetrating, but a brisk snow-storm was beginning, and I reassured my family, who were individually expressing what seemed to me an unreasonable disposition to find fault with our arrangements.
Within an hour the clouds had cleared away, the sun came out, the snow melted, and the temperature rose many degrees. I was so occupied at my office that I did not think much about it until my wife called me up on the 'phone, and the following conference ensued: —
"Hullo," responsively and confirmatively. "Is that you?"
"Well, for goodness' sake stop these men spreading any more of that horrid old manure. It smells so — Hullo! hullo!! hullo!!! Why don't you listen? — dreadfully that we can't stand it. We have shut every window and door in the house, and of course the steam is just sizzling, and — Hullo!"
"Why don't you tell them to stop?"
"I have talked and talked to them, and they said you told them to put it all on to-day and not to stop for any one."
"Call one of them to the 'phone."
"Call one of them to the 'phone, and I will talk to him."
"What in the world are you thinking of? Do you suppose I will have one of those smelly men right off a dump-cart all over my floor? You must come up."
"Well, I'll come in a few moments."
"Now do hurry. It is perfectly dreadful! Oh, dear! I wish the plaguy place had been sunk before you ever bought it. Good-by."
"Good-by." I hung up the receiver, dismissed my client, and started for home.
When I got there — Well, in justice to my wife I must admit that she had not overstated the case. The greater part of the lawn and field was thickly strewn with steaming dressing, the whole atmosphere fairly palpitated, and travel on our street had practically ceased.
There was only one thing to do, and I did it. Before noon several loads of wood ashes were being sifted carefully over my top-dressing, by various men and boys whom I had pressed into service, and by nightfall the annoyance was abated; the neighbors and their families had returned from the hotel accommodation they had hastily engaged down town; my wife had reconsidered her determination to bring a libel for divorce on the ground of "treatment calculated to injure health or reason"; I had paid an extravagant bill for top-dressing and a still larger one for the antidote, and peace was once more secured.
At all events, my land, or a certain part of it, would be fertile next spring, and that was the main thing after all. So I superintended operations on our henhouse and incidentally bought a horse.
I had had considerable experience with horses, and had ridden and driven them since I was very small. I already had one, a nervous, high-strung sorrel mare, an excellent roadster and fair saddler, but too impatient and quick for farm-work, and I knew that in the spring the price would be high.
One day while reading the advertisements of horse-sales in Boston, I found one that attracted my notice. I paid scant notice to the "Lady going to Europe, and who wished to get a good home for her seal-brown trotting mare, Jennie B.," etc.; to the "Administrator of a deceased doctor will sell a fine stable outfit, and will throw in the favorite roadster of the doctor"; to the "Forty Canadian chunks just off a contracting job." The lady had gone to Europe too often, the doctor had departed this life with too much regularity, and the Canadian chunks had appeared in undiminished numbers for too long a period, to deceive even me.
But when I read, "Bay mare of good breeding, in foal to Electric Jim (92.16 1/4), first dam Sukey M. (2.21), second dam Wilkes Jane (2.12 1/2); mare good roadster, sound and kind, had been driven by a lady and used to farm-work, sold for the high dollar," I was interested at once.
Perhaps the one thing calculated more than any other to stamp a modest' farm as a stockbreeding establishment is a brood-mare and colt; and besides, since local farmers had given up the raising of colts, good; safe, well-broken native horses were scarce. Here, at least, was a chance to raise a colt with but very little trouble.
I was on the spot at the date of the sale, and on examination the mare pleased me. She would weigh about eleven hundred pounds, had good clean legs, a kind eye, and an intelligent head. Indeed, when she was led out, she pleased the crowd, and I found myself bidding against several horsy-looking men. However, by perseverance I finally had her knocked down to me for $175.
For a week after her arrival I used her singly, in double harness, on the road, in the dump-cart, and she suited me perfectly. While not as fast as Polly, she was steady and courageous on the road, and was well-mannered and quiet in the stable. I was perfectly delighted with my bargain, and looked to the foal to much more than offset my loss on pigs, and the unusual expense of the double layer of fertilizer. My henhouse had been finished and at no great expense, and I consulted poultry magazines for which I had subscribed, to see which were the best breeds.
But from them I got no reliable advice, for according to all the advertisements and articles I read, all breeds were the best layers, and if the smaller breeds did not have as much meat on them as the larger, their meat was more tender and succulent. All were winter layers, non-setters, and easily tamed, and the handsomest fowl in existence.
Indeed, the number of breeds had so greatly increased, and their names were so unfamiliar, that I was for a long time as one wandering in a foreign land. I looked in vain for Bolton Grays and Rocky Mountains, the two breeds the most favored when I was a boy; I could not find them.
Instead, I found various varieties of Wyandottes, Langshans, Minorcas, Orpingtons, Sicilian Buttercups, Rhode Island Reds, Anconas, Faverolles, and others, of which I had never heard. I doubt if Rip van Winkle on awakening from his long sleep on the mountains was more bewildered than I was after my first hour with a poultry journal.
The journal was full of cuts and photographs of noble-looking but strange fowl, and of extensive poultry plants, which both convinced and astonished me at the magnitude of the business.
I also learned that the Hon. R. Cuthbert Jenkins had purchased of Lady the Honorable Letitia Jane Cholmondeley her entire stock and all rights in her famous strain of Jubilee Orpingtons, which amazed me intensely. But where were the Bolton Grays, and what had become of the Rocky Mountain fowl? Could they have utterly perished from the earth like the auk and the bustard? It seemed scarcely possible. The Black Spanish, the Brahma, and the Cochin were still extant, as well as the Game Fowl and the Sebright Bantam.
I still had some friends and must be content with them. It was not until about a week later that I found that the Bolton Gray and the Rocky Mountain were still in existence, but masquerading under the more pretentious title of Silver-Penciled Hamburgs and American Dominique respectively. And what was delightful, I found I could get some in a neighboring town. So I took a day off, harnessed my new purchase into the farm-wagon in which I had loaded two slatted boxes, donned my heavy overcoat, and started out to purchase the fowls. I had excellent luck, purchased a dozen fine specimens of each breed, loaded them on the wagon, and started homeward.
All went well until I got home, when I met with a slight accident, which, while the results were not very serious, nearly influenced me to sell the farm and return to town. There were two stone posts at the entrance of my driveway, which I could safely negotiate with Polly by day or night, in spite of her nervousness and rapid gait. It was nearly dark when I got home, and I did not realize that I was driving a horse somewhat new to the premises. In fact, I was laying plans for my fowls and only regained my wits when I found myself on the ground under the superincumbent weight of two slatted coops filled with flapping, squawking, clawing hens, while the horse obediently stopped and waited for me to regain my seat and take command.
When the family arrived, all asking questions at once and loudly wondering if I were dead, —an unreasonable assumption in view of my language, — I had righted my wagon, replaced one coop with its prisoners intact, and had stood the other on its broken end, from which half of its occupants had escaped and were wandering round making rustlings in the leaves and bushes. After what was left of my load had been safely secured in the henhouse, I spent the next two hours, lantern in hand, in tracking, chasing, and running to earth the fugitive hens, after which, completely fagged out, I retired.