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Continuing the chicken story
Egg grader
Above, an egg grader shows the size of an egg. - photo by Photo provided

Our discussion of chickens continues with breeds. There are a great many breeds of chickens but now hens are bred for a purpose. Some are bred to produce eggs and some for table food. In addition to regular chickens, there are ornamental chickens, game chickens and smaller chickens known as bantams (a smaller sized version of a common breed). The bantams are popular backyard breeds which are usually calm hens that they lay slightly smaller eggs. There is also the breeding of sport roosters for cock fighting that is illegal in many places.

Some of the more common of the many breeds are: Leghorn (white, dark brown, light brown, buff, silver, black or red), New Hampshire or New Hampshire Red (light brownish red), Rhode Island Red, Rhode Island White, Easter Eggers (lay colored eggs), Wyandotte (Silver laced, gold laced, white, buff, partridge or silver penciled) and others. Generally the lighter or white hens lay white eggs which are more desired for supermarket sales and the darker hens produce tan or brown eggs.

Most commercial breeders tended to have Rhode Island Reds or Leghorns. A popular choice is also a Sex Link. This is a cross breed where the color at hatching easily differentiates chicks from roosters. They were bred for laying eggs often producing 300 eggs a year. The Black Star Sex Link is a cross of Rhode Island Red or New Hampshire rooster with a Barred Rock hen. The Red Star Sex Link is a Rhode Island Red or New Hampshire rooster crossed with a White Rock, Silver Laced Wyandotte, Rhode Island White or Delaware hen. We commonly see Sex Links available in our local places that sell chicks.

Although every farm had chickens, a few in our area raised a good many more as a commercial endeavor along with farming. Several names that come to mind that had large chicken houses and sold in volume were: the Pound family at Pineora; brothers John Henry and Bartow Zipperer at Blandford; Hubert Dasher in Berryville and my uncle Barnard Exley in Clyo.

Uncle Barnard had about 1,000 to 1,500 chickens at the time. He sold to a hatchery shipping eggs for some time and also took eggs to market in Savannah. He picked up other farmers’ eggs on his way to market on his “egg route.” Hens and roosters had to be fed and watered and vaccinated on a regular basis. They had to be protected as much as possible from the heat and cold. Some farmers used fans in extreme weather after electricity was available. The eggs were gathered daily, cleaned and graded in the egg house (shed for working with eggs). Eggs were collected in large padded wire egg baskets.  When filled, the baskets were placed into a commercial washer where you set the basket down in the open tub of the apparatus.  Water bubbled up through the eggs washing away debris. After hanging and drying in the baskets, the eggs were graded using a scale such as the one pictured. Each egg was candled (a process looking through light into the egg to detect blood or spots) to discard those cracked or not suitable to market. Dry graded clean eggs were placed in cartons and egg crates to ship. Uncle Barnard had chickens from the 1940s up into the early 1980s.

Chickens have contributed to the well being and economy of the farmer for many years.  Nothing tastes as fine as a fresh brown egg that has been cooked to your liking or baked into a tasty dessert. 

This was written by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact Susan Exley at 754-6681 or email her at: