Stewing Hens


Larry ScheckelImagine you were a chicken on the Scheckel farm, near Seneca, in Crawford County, in the hill country of southwestern Wisconsin in the 1940s and 1950s. You had a really nice life for one and half years. Then you were asked to retire if you did not produce eggs. You had passed your prime and became a “stewing hen.” Your days on the good planet Earth were numbered. It was simple economics. Let me explain.

Stewing HensThe Scheckels ordered White Leghorn young chicks to arrive by mailman in late March or early April. By late August or early September, the now pullets were laying eggs. In the fall they were transferred from the white brooder house to the red hen house. The ladies would dutifully lay eggs for another 15 months.

In the fall, they had to pass a test. Mom and Dad would find out if the old girl was a layer or a liar. They would go into the brooding house, flashlight in hand, in early evening in mid-October when all the hens were roosting for the night. Grab one bird, flip it over, feel the vent where the egg comes out.

A soft moist vent meant that the hen was laying eggs. This producing lady would be kept over another year. A dry hardened vent placed her on the list of soon to be stewing hens. She had a colored wooden or plastic band placed around her leg.

There were other tests. Feel the abdomen; if soft, the hen was a layer. If hard and firm, the hen had passed her laying prime. The color of the comb was a clue. If the comb has faded in color, she was a layer and a keeper. If the comb is bright red, she’s a liar and her days are numbered.

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