Thursday, August 29, 2013

Isaac Raises Chicks with a Broody Hen

Isaac's design for a new Hennery
After designing an incubator from a wooden coffee box for his first flock of chickens, (See blog "Isaac builds an Incubator," 8/22/2013) Isaac went in search of fertilized eggs among his neighbors' flocks the following year, apparently not willing to depend on his own roosters.  Fortunately, the neighbors on whom he called were not at home, and the second day he found a farmer with more "Broody Hens" and fertilized eggs than he needed.  When a hen becomes "broody," she generally stops laying eggs, becoming busy enough setting the fertilized eggs she has laid.  Because too many hens brooding means reduced production of eggs, farmers are sometimes willing to sell the "Broody Hen" with her eggs and any other fertilized eggs he can spare to tuck under the hen.
Even with hens to hatch the eggs rather than the chore of using an incubator, Isaac found that raising chicks was not always easy.  On August 8, 1886, he wrote in his journal:  "Having 50 little chicks to attend to now, one hen tending 25 of them, many new-comed doing poorly, feeble & die in few days peeping round."
He also experienced another problem in October of that year.  "Skunks & coyote around trying at my chickens. Need an iron Hennery."  He had quickly learned that hens wandered off to nest in trees and hide their eggs from him, so he designed a proper hennery.  Even then the skunks continued getting at his hens.  "Last night a skunk in Hennery.  I after him with hammer.  He killed my young pet chicken of the whole flock..."  In an effort to foil the skunks, he added a new feature:  "I busy at Hennery to make it more 'skunk proof.'  Got 6' x 6' bin up by roosting time for them to feel more safe over nights."
Entries in his journal reveal that keeping the hennery snug and the chickens safe from skunks was an ongoing job for Isaac.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Isaac Builds an Incubator

On March 28, 1885, Isaac wrote in his journal:  "[Doc Dix]...brought coffee boxes down for making incubator."  It was the first of several entries in his journal about using the wooden boxes in which coffee was delivered for Dix's little store at their home, where the local post office was also located.  Finally, on May 9th, Isaac recorded:  "I up to Dix, put plaster into incubator."  From the entries, I assume he used the wooden box for the basic container, creating some sort of racks or trays to hold the eggs, and plastering the interior to allow use of a candle or some other source of heat to warm the eggs.  Perhaps the plastered box was placed on a shelf above the stove, but that seems less likely if Mrs. Dix were incubating eggs in late spring.  Unfortunately, Isaac provided no such details.

Eggs should be incubated at a temperature between 99 and 102 degrees Fahrenheit, with 99.5 considered the ideal.  It is unlikely that Isaac had the means to provide such specific temperature for his incubator.  In addition, eggs should not be kept in a tightly sealed container, for proper aeration and gas exchange between the embryo and the environment outside the shell are important.
Just the right size for 3-yr-old hands!
Chicks will generally hatch after 21 days of incubation.  During that time it is desirable to turn the eggs at least twice a day, more frequently if possible.  This will exercise the embryo and help avoid having the embryo stick to the shell.  It is preferable to incubate eggs with the pointed end down, so turning and tipping should return the eggs to that position unless they are turned more often.  When it gets close to hatching time, laying the eggs on their sides is preferable.  Of course, many modern incubators have mechanical equipment to accomplish the necessary turning, but surely Isaac would not have included such conveniences in his invention.
After 7 to 10 days the eggs can be examined to determine whether embryos are developing inside the shells.  The process involves using a bright light behind the egg in a dark room to get a shadow image of the developing embryo through the shell--or the absence of any such shape if no embryo has developed.  This is called candling, since a candle was the first method of providing the necessary light.  It is not unusual for about half of the eggs to fail to produce an embryo, depending on whether the rooster in the flock provided fertilization for the egg, as well as whether the incubating process has succeeded.
The easiest method for hatching chicks is to have a "broody hen" and let her do all the work of keeping the eggs warm and turned!  Eventually, that is the method Isaac relied upon, but his original flock was acquired by hatching chicks in his self-designed incubators made for himself and Mrs. Dix from wooden coffee boxes. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Farmers Experiment with Co-operative Farming

As the New Year opened in 1891, Isaac Werner had struggled on his farm since 1878, and after a few years of good prices for crops, Isaac found himself overwhelmed by drought, debts with impossible interest rates, and prices for his crops inadequate to cover expenses.  He had matured both his timber claim and his homestead, but he had found it necessary to sell his timber claim to his brother and his homestead was encumbered by mortgages that he could do no more than pay the interest to avoid foreclosure.  He began studying the benefits of co-operative farming, and on January 13, 1891, he wrote in his journal:  "Morning idealized over establishing Co-operative manufacturing [and farming] ...for our neighborhood."

1873 promotional poster


Four days later he had organized a meeting at his home for nearby neighbors to discuss co-operative farming.  He described the evening in his journal.  "Eve had our preliminary Co-operative Meeting.  C.G. Gereke and A.A. Shoop the only 2 present instead [of] the whole 6 or 7 selected as starting members."  In fact, Isaac had also invited William Blanch, George Hall, S.J. Frazee, and W. Gouger.  Despite the disappointing attendance, he wrote:  "We spent a long and interesting evening, reading and expressing views with interest becoming the subject, preparatory before spring work may crowd.  Many realizing the necessity of such steps, but difficult to get full attendance."
Early promotional posters by the railroads and land agents had emphasized the abundance of prairie farms and had made exaggerated claims for how quickly a homesteader or purchaser of railroad land could achieve success.  Many immigrants and homesteaders had relied on those posters to leave their homes and establish farms on the prairie, and many had failed, either moving on West or returning to live with relatives in the East when farms failed and assets were exhausted.  Those like Isaac who remained were willing to try whatever seemed reasonable just to survive.
On February 4, 1891, Isaac wrote in his journal:  "Last evening W. Blanch & Frazee called to organize co-operative club.  We had a literary time by ourselves till midnight--politics, reform and Shakespeare.  Co-operative plans my main study now-a-days.  Seeing the needs to establish an influential County Reform paper on a co-operative basis and then organize County Literary and Reform Club to work as auxiliary to said paper and furnish reform Library at County Seat for editors and club members."
Not all of Isaac's plans for co-operative ventures were realized; however, he did provide several acres on his farm for neighbors to plant, tend, and harvest potatoes.  He believed that theirs was the first cooperative potato farming in Stafford County, Kansas.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Isaac and his "pet" Game Birds

Wild turkey and pheasant at Forestry, Fish & Game Museum
Isaac Werner loved wild birds.  He not only used the flights of ducks and geese to be warned of the approach of winter and celebrate the welcome arrival of spring, he also noted in his journal the return of each type of song bird.  For example, on February 17, 1890, he wrote, "Larks warbling first time for spring.  Birds livening up for spring."

Ducks and beavers at FF&G Museum
He had a flock of quail for which he scattered corn in his peach orchard, and when the Blizzard of January 1886 froze his birds, he grieved for them as if they had been his pets.  You can only imagine his anger when he caught a neighbor poaching game birds along the edges of his property, birds which had become quite tame because of his feeding them.  Times were hard, and neighbors were sometimes hungry for meat, but that was no excuse to Isaac.  On November 18, 21, and 22, 1890, he wrote in his journal:  "...some loafing Scroundrel Stambaugh following my tree rows with buggy shooting my quails."  Continuing:  "...seemingly Stambaugh loafer shooting more quails on timber claim tree rows.  I out after him but he making distance keeping ahead of me.  I penciled 7 board notices 'No Shooting' etc. to nail up at roads and corners."  And finally:  "...nailed up Shooting notice boards, warning tresspassers."  A few years later the Kansas legislature passed laws protecting game birds--too late for prairie chickens but providing protection for other birds Isaac loved.

Bobcat scares up a quail at FF&G Museum
Recently we visited the wonderful museum at the Kansas  Forestry, Fish & Game Headquarters just   east of Pratt, Kansas.  The impressive display of native birds and animals made me think of Isaac and his love for wild creatures.  (Except skunks!)  I hope you enjoy the photographs I took, and perhaps you will want to visit there to see more of the displays at the museum.  Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge them.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Neighbor "Doc" Dix

When I was a girl, I often heard my father refer to "the Dick's Place," at least, that is what I thought he was saying.  As I began doing the research for the manuscript about Isaac B. Werner's journal, I discovered that the land to which my father referred had actually belonged to Dr. Isaac Dix, whom neighbors called Doc.
Dr. I. H. "Doc" Dix
Doc Dix was one of Isaac's best friends.  Doc had not only the local post office but also a small store in his home.  He and his wife Susan had lost three children in early childhood before coming to Kansas to claim both a homestead and a timber claim in the north half of a section a mile west of Isaac's claims.  Their daughter, Mabel, thrived on the Kansas prairie, and the Dix family remained on their land long enough to mature their claims.  Apparently Doc wasn't too handy with tools, as he often hired Isaac to install windows and doors in the family soddy, as well as help with outbuildings.  Isaac exchanged that labor for merchandise from their store. 
With his claims matured and his daughter getting old enough to attend school, Doc began thinking about moving into Saratoga to resume his medical practice.  He believed his wife would prefer living in town with other ladies to visit nearby, and he felt the year-round school in Pratt would offer Mabel a better education than she could get in a country school with the short winter and early spring sessions.  In addition, Dr. Dix thought the Pratt County seat would be a good place to resume his practice, whether Pratt or Saratoga were ultimately chosen.  (Isaac uses Pratt and Saratoga interchangeably as the location of Doc's new home, but it is certain that Doc eventually lived in a house on the north side of Pratt, near the water towers, as an old photograph identifies a house in that location as belonging to Dr. Dix.  When Saratoga lost the county seat battle to Pratt Center, many residents and businesses literally moved their houses and business structures into Pratt, and that might also be the explanation for the confusion about the location of Doc's home.)
Isaac was very disappointed when his friend first mentioned the possibility of moving, but he did understand the reasons Dr. Dix gave for the move.  On December 29, 1887, Isaac made this entry in his journal:  "At 7 degrees I off early to Emerson, Dix decided finally to move.  We loaded up on my hayrack, & women bedded down warm & comfortable.  Back to my place with load by noon, fed & chored.  P.M. at 22 [degrees] & up 32 thawing, but clouding up from S. made it soon colder, we off again.  Roads in places snow in ruts makes hard pulling.  By sunset passed Iuka & by 7 to Pratt Center.  I had to stop twice on road, warm up.  Unloaded our 2 loads of goods into Dix's Saratoga house.  A disagreeable cold S.E. air & wind during night, we all roosted in new house."
Several times I have put out the call to visitors to my blog to search old albums and other keepsakes for photographs and information relating to my research about Isaac and his community.  Imagine what a thrill it was for me when Marsha Lynn Brown at the Pratt Historical Museum sent me a photograph of Dr. I. H. Dix!  Thank you Marsha!!  For the rest of you, keep your eyes open for photographs and information that I might use.