Sketches New and Old, Part 2. eBook: Page2

Mark Twain (2004)


  --[Being a letter written to a Poultry Society that had conferred acomplimentary membership upon the author. Written about 1870.]

  Seriously, from early youth I have taken an especial interest in thesubject of poultry-raising, and so this membership touches a readysympathy in my breast. Even as a schoolboy, poultry-raising was a studywith me, and I may say without egotism that as early as the age ofseventeen I was acquainted with all the best and speediest methods ofraising chickens, from raising them off a roost by burning lucifermatches under their noses, down to lifting them off a fence on a frostynight by insinuating the end of a warm board under their heels. By thetime I was twenty years old, I really suppose I had raised more poultrythan any one individual in all the section round about there. The verychickens came to know my talent by and by. The youth of both sexesceased to paw the earth for worms, and old roosters that came to crow,"remained to pray," when I passed by.

  I have had so much experience in the raising of fowls that I cannot butthink that a few hints from me might be useful to the society. The twomethods I have already touched upon are very simple, and are only used inthe raising of the commonest class of fowls; one is for summer, the otherfor winter. In the one case you start out with a friend along abouteleven o'clock' on a summer's night (not later, because in some states--especially in California and Oregon--chickens always rouse up just atmidnight and crow from ten to thirty minutes, according to the ease ordifficulty they experience in getting the public waked up), and yourfriend carries with him a sack. Arrived at the henroost (yourneighbor's, not your own), you light a match and hold it under first oneand then another pullet's nose until they are willing to go into that bagwithout making any trouble about it. You then return home, either takingthe bag with you or leaving it behind, according as circumstances shalldictate. N. B.--I have seen the time when it was eligible andappropriate to leave the sack behind and walk off with considerablevelocity, without ever leaving any word where to send it.

  In the case of the other method mentioned for raising poultry, yourfriend takes along a covered vessel with a charcoal fire in it, and youcarry a long slender plank. This is a frosty night, understand. Arrivedat the tree, or fence, or other henroost (your own if you are an idiot),you warm the end of your plank in your friend's fire vessel, and thenraise it aloft and ease it up gently against a slumbering chicken's foot.If the subject of your attentions is a true bird, he will infalliblyreturn thanks with a sleepy cluck or two, and step out and take upquarters on the plank, thus becoming so conspicuously accessory beforethe fact to his own murder as to make it a grave question in our minds asit once was in the mind of Blackstone, whether he is not really anddeliberately, committing suicide in the second degree. [But you enterinto a contemplation of these legal refinements subsequently not then.]

  When you wish to raise a fine, large, donkey voiced Shanghai rooster, youdo it with a lasso, just as you would a bull. It is because he mustchoked, and choked effectually, too. It is the only good, certain way,for whenever he mentions a matter which he is cordially interested in,the chances are ninety-nine in a hundred that he secures somebody else'simmediate attention to it too, whether it day or night.

  The Black Spanish is an exceedingly fine bird and a costly one.Thirty-five dollars is the usual figure and fifty a not uncommon pricefor a specimen. Even its eggs are worth from a dollar to a dollar and ahalf apiece, and yet are so unwholesome that the city physician seldom ornever orders them for the workhouse. Still I have once or twice procuredas high as a dozen at a time for nothing, in the dark of the moon. Thebest way to raise the Black Spanish fowl is to go late in the evening andraise coop and all. The reason I recommend this method is that, thebirds being so valuable, the owners do not permit them to roost aroundpromiscuously, they put them in a coop as strong as a fireproof safe andkeep it in the kitchen at night. The method I speak of is not always abright and satisfying success, and yet there are so many little articlesof vertu about a kitchen, that if you fail on the coop you can generallybring away something else. I brought away a nice steel trap one night,worth ninety cents.

  But what is the use in my pouring out my whole intellect on this subject?I have shown the Western New York Poultry Society that they have taken totheir bosom a party who is not a spring chicken by any means, but a manwho knows all about poultry, and is just as high up in the most efficientmethods of raising it as the president of the institution himself.I thank these gentlemen for the honorary membership they have conferredupon me, and shall stand at all times ready and willing to testify mygood feeling and my official zeal by deeds as well as by this hastilypenned advice and information. Whenever they are ready to go to raisingpoultry, let them call for me any evening after eleven o'clock.