There were now on hand more than 1300 pullets and hens, and I instructed Sam to run his incubator overtime that season, so as to fill our houses by autumn. I should need 800 or 900 pullets to make our quota good, for most of the older hens would have to be disposed of in the autumn,—all but about 200, which would be kept until the following spring to breed from.
I believe that a three-year-old hen that has shown the egg habit is the best fowl to breed from, and it is the custom at Four Oaks to reserve specially good pens for this purpose. The egg habit is unquestionably as much a matter of heredity as the milk or the fat producing habit, and should be as carefully cultivated. With this end in view, Sam added young cockerels to four of his best-producing flocks on January 1, and by the 15th he was able to start his incubators.
Breeding and feeding for eggs is on the same principle as feeding and breeding for milk. It is no more natural for a hen to lay eggs for human consumption than it is for the robin to do so, or for the cow to give more milk than is sufficient for her calf. Man’s necessity has made demands upon both cow and hen, and man’s intelligence has converted individualists into socialists in both of these races. They no longer live for themselves alone. As the cow, under favorable conditions, finds pleasure in giving milk, so does the hen under like conditions take delight in giving eggs,—else why the joyous cackle when leaving her nest after doing her full duty? She gloats over it, and glories in it, and announces her satisfaction to the whole yard. It is something to be proud of, and the cackling hen knows it better than you or I. It can be no hardship to push this egg machine to the limit of its capacity. It adds new zest to the life of the hen, and multiplies her opportunities for well-earned self-congratulation.
Our hens are fed for eggs, and we get what we feed for. I said of my hens that I would not ask them to lay more than eight dozen eggs each year, and I will stick to what I said. But I do not reject voluntary contributions beyond this number. Indeed, I accept them with thanks, and give Biddy a word of commendation for her gratuity. Eight dozen eggs a year will pay a good profit, but if each of my hens wishes to present me with two dozen more, I slip 62 cents into my pocket and say, “I am very much obliged to you, miss,” or madam, as the case may be. Most of my hens do remember me in this substantial way, and the White Wyandottes are in great favor with the Headman.
The houses in which my hens live are almost as clean as the one I inhabit (and Polly is tidy to a degree); their food is as carefully prepared as mine, and more punctually served; their enemies are fended off, and they are never frightened by dogs or other animals, for the five-acre lot on which their houses and runs are built is enclosed by a substantial fence that prevents any interloping; book agents never disturb