National Geographic : 1927 Apr
AMERICA'S DEBT TO THE HEN BY HARRY R. LEWIS FOR untold centuries the hen has been a companion of man in the on ward march of civilization. In America, where poultry husbandry has attained its greatest development, the hen has become one of our leading national assets, growing in the past fifty years from a neglected side line on the average farm to a position where she is considered by the farmer as a very efficient contribu tor to his yearly income. The hen might be termed a universal favorite, in that a greater number of per sons are interested and actually concerned with poultry than with any other form of live stock. The hen is becoming more and more a source of our food supply. From 1920 to 1924 the increase in chickens in the United States was 43 per cent and the increase in egg production was 20 per cent. In 1923 the farm value of poultry prod ucts exceeded by more than $150,000,000 the value of all cattle raised, by nearly $300,000,000 the value of wheat raised, and by approximately $400,000,000 all fruit and fruit products. The value of our poultry products is exceeded at the present time by only five other agricultural commodities - dairy products, corn, cotton, hay and forage, and swine. The yearly value of the products of the American hen has already passed the bil lion-dollar mark. The great bulk of poultry and eggs produced in the United States comes from the Corn Belt States of the upper Missis sippi Valley. In fact, more than one-half of our poultry population, or approxi mately 200,000,000 chickens, is found in what are known as the North Central States. In this big, general-farming area practically every farm possesses moder ately small flocks, ranging from 50 to 200 or 300 birds to the farm. NEW SOCIAL CONDITIONS For many years a considerable propor tion of our poultry population was kept in back lots of city and suburban com- munities by persons primarily engaged in some remunerative occupation. Poultry was raised largely for pleasure and as a hobby, and incidentally to insure a goodly supply of fresh eggs and meat for the family table. Until the close of the World War, the number of birds so kept num bered hundreds of thousands. Surveys made a few years ago in east ern urban and suburban areas showed an average of one bird to every two people. Such flocks, averaging from o1 to 25 fowls, were usually well cared for and consisted of birds of high quality. The postwar period has witnessed the gradual disappearance of many of these back-lot poultrymen. City and suburban poultry houses have been remodeled into garages to shelter the family motor car, for the average suburban dweller no longer takes his pleasure in caring for chickens, but prefers to go to the movies, listen to the radio, or ride in his car. This change in habits among a great mass of our population has fortunately been accompanied by the development of large commercial poultry farms and spe cialized henneries, which have found pop ular favor not only on the North Ameri can Continent, but in many Old World countries. The owners of such farms give their entire time to the care of their flocks and in many instances employ ad ditional labor, the land areas of such enterprises covering from five to hun dreds of acres. Commercial poultry farms are espe cially successful near large centers of popu lation, where the demand is for a strictly fresh, new-laid egg and fresh-killed poul try. Hundreds of such enterprises are being successfully operated in the Atlantic and Pacific Coast States. The eastern sections produce especially for the New York trade, and the Pacific coast sections, after meeting the demands of the larger Pacific coast cities, ship their eggs to the Atlantic seaboard, where they find a ready market at attractive prices. The production of eggs under these conditions is rapidly assuming factory proportions.