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Hen's and Poultry.

Early farming practices.

Irish farms.

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The hens and poultry on the farm were usually the domain of the women of the house, providing not only food in the form of eggs and meat, but also an added source of income. The hens normally just roamed around the farmyard and surrounding fields, scratching for grubs, insects or seeds, to protect them from the ever present danger of foxes the would have been brought in at night, although if left out their instinct prompted them to roost in trees.

Free range hens tend to look for a secluded place to lay their eggs, bramble thickets and the haggard 'hay yard' were popular with them. It was the duty of the children to watch where the hens layed and to collect the eggs, in order not to dishearten the hen, egg shaped stones were often left in the nest, one or two were sufficient, the hen not being particularly good at arithmetic. In later years it was possible to buy crockery eggs for this purpose.

Every farmyard had its resident rooster who proudly patrolled his domain, watching over his harem, some of the eggs would be kept for hatching. Wise farmers kept only eggs from hens that were large and good layers. The selected eggs would be set under a clocking hen sometimes called a broody hen (One that had decided it had laid enough eggs an it was time to hatch them.)

After 21 days the eggs hatched, the chicks following mum about learning life's skills, and will be diligently looked after by her. When they had grown the cockerel's (males) were either killed and eaten or sold, the pullets (females) if not needed to replace old hens were also sold, at the local market or fair.

A hen's productivity generally begins to decline by the time it is two years old, although it will continue to produce eggs up to the age of five years but as time progresses her production rate declines. Traditionally culled hens would be killed and eaten, their soft feathers would be kept and used to stuff pillows and bed covers.

Today there is something of a resurgence in hen keeping many families are keeping a few fens in a hen ark or coop, these can be fed on household scraps.

The coop on the right would accommodate about three hens which may produce about 18 eggs a week. It is easily moved about the garden, allowing the hens to forage and in effect be free range, while under control, so you have the twin advantages of converting toy household scraps to eggs while the hens deposit their droppings on the ground enriching your garden.