SPRING OF ’97
Sam began to make up his breeding pens in January. He selected 150 of his favorites, divided them into 10 flocks of 15, added a fine cockerel to each pen (we do not allow cocks or cockerels to run with the laying hens), and then began to set the incubator house in order.
He filled the first incubator on Saturday, January 30, and from that day until late in April he was able to start a fresh machine about every six days. Sam reports the total hatch for the year as 1917 chicks, out of which number he had, when he separated them in the early autumn, 678 pullets to put in the runs for laying hens, and 653 cockerels to go to the fattening pens. These figures show that Sam was a first-class chicken man.
We secured 300 tons of ice at the side of the lake for $98, having to pay a little more that year than the last, on account of the heavy fall of snow.
The wood-house was replenished, although there was still a good deal of last year’s cut on hand. We did not fell any trees, for there was still a considerable quantity of dead wood on the ground which should be used first. I wanted to clear out much of the useless underbrush, but we had only time to make a beginning in this effort at forestry. We went over perhaps ten acres across the north line, removing briers and brush. Everything that looked like a possible future tree was left. Around oak and hickory stumps we found clumps of bushes springing from living roots. These we cut away, except one or possibly two of the most thrifty. We trimmed off the lower branches of those we saved, and left them to make such trees as they could. I have been amazed to see what a growth an oak-root sprout will make after its neighbors have been cut away. There are some hundreds of these trees in the forest at Four Oaks, from five to six inches in diameter, which did not measure more than one or two inches five years ago.
As the underbrush was cleared from the wood lot, I planned to set young trees to fill vacant spaces. The European larch was used in the first experiment. In the spring of 1897 I bought four thousand seedling larches for $80, planted them in nursery rows in the orchard, cultivated them for two years, and then transplanted them to the forest. The larch is hardy and grows rapidly; and as it is a valuable tree for many purposes, it is one of the best for forest planting. I have planted no others thus far at Four Oaks, as the four thousand from my little nursery seem to fill all unoccupied spaces.
Fresh mulching was piled near all the young fruit trees, to be applied as soon as the frost was out of the ground. Several hundreds of loads of manure were hauled to the fields, to be spread as soon as the snow disappeared. I always return manure to the land as soon as it can be done conveniently. The manure from the hen-house was saved this year to use on the alfalfa fields, to see how well it would take the place of commercial fertilizer. I may as well give the result of the experiment now.