How Pioneer Women Rule the Roost, Yesterday and Today

| By Frances Tacy |

A hundred years ago, women’s magazines (as well as farm magazines) offered ‘beau coup’ poultry advice, and women were often able to earn a little ‘pin money’ by raising chickens and selling eggs. The history of chicken production itself is much like one would expect. A trade practiced lovingly by individual farmers to nurture their families and small communities was rapidly replaced by innovation and ‘bigger is better’ methods. Today on Franny’s Farm, we practice the traditional methods of raising Heritage poultry in the way our ancestors would have undoubtedly loved. Here is where it began.

Owner Franny Tacy and Karissa Cook, Farm Manager

Owner Franny Tacy and Karissa Cook, Farm Manager

In 1900, farming ranked sixth in a national list of employment for women. In the June 1911 issue of National Food Magazine in an article entitled ‘Are Old Methods Best?’ Paul Orr argued that the “old ways” of raising chickens were superior. Prior to 1910, chickens were raised primarily on family farms and served on special occasions, like Sunday dinner. The primary value in poultry keeping at that time was eggs, and meat was considered a byproduct of egg production. Butcher shops involved heartfelt displays of the trade behind meat counters, not just sad, colorless hunks of meat wrapped in plastic and worse, Styrofoam. Folks would regularly order organs, bones (mmm, bone broth), or a specific breed of chicken, depending on how they intended to cook it. Supply was less than the demand, which made poultry an expensive delicacy.

In 1922, the major milestone in poultry production was the discovery of Vitamin D, which made it possible to keep chickens in confinement year-round. Before this, chickens did not thrive during the winter due to lack of sunlight, making egg production, incubation, and meat production in the off-season very difficult. Prior to this revolutionary discovery, poultry was a seasonal and expensive proposition. With the advent of the vitamin regimen, the poultry world grew rapidly and eventually became an expected norm in many households.

By the late 1950s, poultry production had changed dramatically and widespread refrigeration was common. Large farms and packing plants could grow birds by the tens of thousands, radically impacting labor practices. Poultry could be sent to slaughterhouses for butchering and processing into prepackaged commercial products, either frozen or shipped to markets or wholesalers.

Barred Rock chicks

Barred Rock chicks

The commercial poultry industry has developed into a science with extreme efficiency in meat and egg production. Meat-type chickens currently grow to market weight in six to seven weeks whereas only fifty years ago it took three times as long. Today, due to genetic selection and nutritional modifications (and not the use of growth hormones, which are illegal to use in U.S. poultry), poultry weighs in three to four times heavier. Commercial poultry, regularly found in grocery store markets, are part of the most genetically manipulated of all livestock, being forced to grow 65 times faster than normal and the industry continually seeks to increase their growth rate. Both turkeys and chickens make up to 99% of meat processed in the United States yearly.

Today on Franny’s Farm, we breed and grow certified heritage poultry (turkeys and chickens) that are like those breeds of long ago. These heritage birds can naturally reproduce, forage, have genetics pre-dating 1950, and are slow growers. The growth to processing time for our ‘pioneer’ poultry is 20 weeks for our Barred Plymouth Rock chickens and 6-7 months for our Heritage Bronze turkeys. For a modern twist, predator protection, animal husbandry, record keeping, and efficiency, our poultry runs in bottomless pens, AKA chicken tractors, that move easily and every day to allow 24/7 pasture access.

Mix one part Tennessee, one part New York, 18 acres of raw land, shake well for a few decades and you get one heck of an urban pioneer farm that is always growing! Our goal is to balance old school practices and Heritage poultry breeds with modern demands to return to our roots. The soul of Franny’s Farm is about raising and providing sustainable, healthy, and happy poultry for us and for you. We monitor the entire cycle for quality; we breed, incubate, hatch, raise, process, and sell heritage poultry right here on our farm in Leicester, NC. You can get Franny’s Farm poultry either as chicks to start your backyard flock, or to enjoy the art of nutritious cooking with some love. Karissa Cook, our Farm Manager, is also a culinary trained chef that provides recipes, cooking tips and demonstrations on how to cook heritage poultry as well as the preparation of garden grown produce.

farm3Farm work has been a part of the woman heritage for centuries, including the raising of chickens for meat and/or eggs, milking cattle, and tending edible gardens, which pulled in a steady flow of income for selling and trading with other members of the community. Here at Franny’s Farm we strive to be the urban pioneers of the future, bringing centuries of knowledge to a new-age land. We provide a great opportunity for anyone from 7 to 70 to experience, educate, and support mind and body as nature intended.

People are invited to come visit Franny’s Farm and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, participate in the upcoming Sustainable Poultry Conference, or start a new family tradition by participating in the Heritage Farm Trail Holiday Tour on November 20th.

You can get your Thanksgiving turkey and produce from our farm, and pick up your Christmas tree, wine, and special gifts as you take a tour of the surrounding farms. Sign up for our email newsletter to keep in touch as we learn and grow! We can’t wait to share our farm with you and your family.

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Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker