The old-timers long ago discovered, or at least believed, that chickens which roost in cedar trees are healthy and free from mites and other parasites, so that many farmers periodically cut cedar boughs and put them in their hencoops. A few years ago, when bananas became common in the rural stores, people somehow got the notion that a banana stalk hung up in a ‘chicken house would rid the whole place of mites and chicken lice, and these stalks are still seen in outbuildings occasionally.
Some chicken raisers tell me that it is a mistake to keep chickens near a potato patch, or near a place where potatoes are stored. The smell of potatoes, it is said, makes hens quit laying and want to brood. I have often seen hens with corn shucks fastened to their tails this is supposed to discourage a settin’ hen in a few days. It is generally thought best to set eggs in the light of the moon. Never set a hen or an incubator when the wind is blowing from the south, or mighty few of the eggs will hatch. Eggs carried in a woman’s bonnet, it is said, invariably make pullets.
Mrs. Pearl DeHaven, of Springfield, Missouri, repeats the story that if eggs are carried in a man’s hat, they all hatch roosters.
Unusually long eggs, or eggs with shells noticeably rough at one end, are also regarded as “rooster eggs.” It is said that eggs set on Sunday produce roosters, but one hears also that eggs placed under a hen in the forenoon, no matter what the day, always hatch a majority of pullets. Some hillfolk believe that chicks hatched in May, regardless of how favorable the other conditions may be, will never mature properly.
There are several tricks to protect domestic fowl from birds of prey. Mrs. Lillian Short, of Galena, Missouri, tells me that one of her neighbors used to take a smooth stone from a runnin’ branch, just about big enough to fit the palm of the hand, and keep it in the oven of the cookstove this was supposed to prevent hawks from killing the chickens. Most hillfolk of my acquaintance use a horseshoe instead of the stone, and some think that a muleshoe is even better. It is frequently fastened in the firebox of the stove rather than in the oven. In the old days the muleshoe was hung up in the fireplace, or even set into the mortar at the back of the chimney.
Some chicken grannies pull one feather out of each chicken in their flock and bury these feathers deep in the dirt under the henhouse or henroost. As long as the feathers remain there, it is believed that those particular chickens cannot be carried off by hawks or varmints, or stolen by human chicken thieves. I once saw a large flock of chickens in the Arkansas backwoods, and about half of them had dirty rags fastened round their necks, like collars. “There’s coal oil on them rags,” an old woman remarked, “an’ it cures the roup.”
Mrs. C. P. Mahnkey, Mincy, Missouri, says that a handful of “polecat brush,” put into the chickens’ drinking water, will stop an epidemic of roup or chicken cholera quicker than any other treatment. Polecat brush is a shrub with tiny yellow flowers I have not been able to identify this plant. Some people call it aromatic sumac.
It is very commonly believed that people who raise chickens should never give away a chick always take some sort of payment, even if it is only a matter of form. A neighbor told me that when she wanted to give some chicks to her mother-in-law, the old lady insisted on “paying” her with a handful of wild strawberries, carefully counting out one berry for each chick. The old saying is that if you give away a chick, your luck goes with it. I remember a woman who had two black chicks that the hen wouldn’t own, so she gave them to a little girl from the city. The old-timers predicted ruin for the whole family, and the prediction came true with a vengeance. Before the year was out, my neighbor’s husband was sent to the penitentiary, and her only daughter “went wrong.”
By: VANCE RANDOLPH