Since this will make three consecutive installments having to do with chickens, I promise to change the subject next week before the column becomes known as Diddle Squat instead of Points East. (For those of you who didn't grow up in eastern Kentucky before 1960, the vernacular for baby chickens was diddles as in "One of Mom's big dommer hen just hatched off 19 little diddles." )
A "dommer or dommernecker" incidentally, was what we called the breed of chickens now known as barred rocks that was crossed with another breed. Google barred rock chickens and numerous photos should pop right up. Or visit McMurray Hatchery website and find gorgeous illustrations of most breeds of chickens.
My generation of Blair Branch residents was probably the last one where nearly family on the holler raised and kept small flocks of 15 to 30 or more chickens year in and year out. For the most part, new baby chicks were incubated from eggs we tried to save from the best laying hens and the hens mostly raised and protected them until they were old enough to fend for themselves after a few weeks.
The flocks were mostly a mixture of cross breeds because chickens have absolutely no racial or ethnic bias when it comes to making whoopee. If a Rhode Island Red rooster crosses with a Barred Rock, a Black Jersey Giant or a Buff Orpington hen and the eggs hatch off, there's no telling what color the adult offspring are apt to be. Some families did manage to raise only one full stock breed or another and kept them separated but, for the most part, a flock of chickens was a virtual rainbow of colors and the individual birds might show genetic evidence of several different breeds.
Chickens were kept for both eggs and meat. Most young roosters were butchered for frying chickens when they were a few months old. Mature hens were often "culled" for chicken and dumplings and were replaced with younger "pullets." Many, if not most, families raised some field corn on their farms or in their gardens to keep their chickens fed. Others bought sacks of cracked corn at local grocery stores. My family raised its own chicken feed except for bags of wheat based "starter & grower" used to feed baby chicks for the first few weeks of their lives.
During early sprig of the mid 1950s and early 60s my Mom often ordered baby white leghorn rooster chicks through the mail, in lots of 100 at a time, from Wayne Rainey's nightly radio show at WCKY in Cincinnati. In the early years (1955 was the first that I remember) her chicken growing enterprise centered on selling frying chickens to more than a dozen coal miners who worked within half a mile of our place. In those days, taking a chicken home to kill was simply part of the meal preparation though it was more unpleasant than peeling potatoes or breaking up green beans. (Actually, I considered cleaning a chicken the better job if the other choice was stringing and breaking beans.)
These roosters were actually sold by a commercial hatchery that had developed a breed of fast growing chickens for egg production. They were willing to sell the rooster chicks for scarcely more than the cost of postage and handling because they were not considered to be as reliable for commercial meat production as varieties bred specifically for that purpose.
To this day I never understood that reasoning because the white leghorn roosters we grew were large enough to fry in about half the time it took to grow regular "big stock" chickens to the same size range and they were considerably easier to butcher when it came to getting feathers off.
We always kept at least one big rooster in our flock and he would commence crowing, in the barn loft, about 30 minutes before the crack of dawn.
Early one morning during first year we raised the white leghorn roosters, the big barnyard rooster crowed and the sound he triggered immediately afterward was the stuff of nightmares and had ours and the neighbors' dogs barking their fool heads off.
I was only 6 years old but I can vividly recall the scare it gave me. A young rooster, just learning to crow, makes a sound that is sort of a cross between a scream and a squawk before it learns to perform the proper morning call. A casual observer might think it was in death throes.
Imagine that sound multiplied by 100 young roosters trying to crow at the same time. I woke up thinking the gates of hell had surely just been opened. My parents, already up for Dad's work day breakfast, were laughing uproariously.
Dad told Mom, "Well you wanted to know when to start killing them. There's your answer!"