Three Seventy is Dead

Frankly, this is the story of a hen – a prize-winning, fine big hen. I am glad to have bred and owned her. Please notice that I did not say “proud” to have bred her – the word was “glad”. And the reason why I am glad is because she has taught me something, which has made me a little more wise as to what is what, and what is not what, in poultrydom.

Three Seventy has taught me something, and I’m not going to be selfish and keep it to myself, but write it down here, just as it all happened, hoping that you, too, may get the benefit of my lesson, wrote Harold F. Barber

On the 12th day of May, 1922 there arrived in this world a fluffy chick, which, although she came from some unidentified mother, was given the dignity of a little band around her little leg, which was later changed to a larger band reading “370” and by that name she was always known. She developed into an uncommonly large pullet, by the time she was five and a half months-old, and at that time, I find a notation on her card reading “October 28, Very big hen. Not very near laying, Beefy.” The desire for prophecy is strong upon us all. As a matter of fact, she laid her first egg November 20, when she was six months and eight days old.

Taking “early maturity” as a guide to future egg production, then, she would neither be a crackerjack, nor would she be a poor layer – rather above the average than below it – perhaps. Maturity, 192 days. So much for that.

Now there was a local show coming on, a pretty good little show, and there was to be a “Utility Class” just as there had been the previous year. I had entered two entries the year before, and was pretty proud of them, but the judge placed the awards otherwise; so this year of course I had to show the rest that my birds were the “real goods” when it came to production qualities. In 1921 each entrant had chosen his birds for competition by any method he chose, and the judging had been done by the county poultryman, according to a different method from that used or known of, by any contestant; that made a good alibi for every loser, of course. The judge had done a good conscientious job, marking each quality, as it seemed to me, accurately; but combining them on a peculiar score-card. So this year, the same man was to judge, but the method of judging was to be published beforehand, so contestants would have some sort of “Standard” before them, and could pick their entries to win by the judging method which would be used.

The judge was honest, reliable and conscientious; and the method of judging was to be the latest and most improved system devised by the Instructors and Investigators in Poultry Husbandry; published in advance to every contestant. The night before the show, I went to my pullet pen and chose two pullets: No. 336, because she had laid sixty-two eggs in the traps from August 21 (this was the night of November 20, she was hatched March 4, so matured in 170 days) and No. 370, because she seemed to me to just about fulfill the requirements the judge was to look for. I had no information as to her actual laying, because she had just laid her first egg that very day.

For some reason there were only five entries in the Utility Class for American breeds, of which my Nos. 336 and 370 were two. I think there were a couple of Reds and a Barred Rock against my two Whites. When wife and I visited the show the first evening, there was the “blue” all right, on the coop of 370, while poor little 336, which had laid all those eggs for three months, was last in the class of five. The judge was capable and conscientious, and the system of judging was the latest product of science, so evidently I had a wonderful layer in my first prize bird, and those other exhibitors had been doing some fine work in their breeds, to get birds which were all better than little 336; with her record of sixty-two eggs from August 21 to November 20.

Three Seventy seemed to take it all in, and just to prove how right the awards were, the next day, during the show, she laid two eggs in her coop. Everyone was talking about the wonderful utility pullet which had taken the prize, and laid two eggs in one day to prove her worth. Those two eggs are shown, on November 21, on the reproduction of her trapnest record sheet, which is shown below – those, and all the other eggs which she ever laid.

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Now, we value and care for all our birds but don’t consider them as the keepers of “pet chickens” as some do, although of course we are happy to enjoy their eggs whenever we can. So when in the first part of March we had orders for a chicken a week from a good customer, we continued our usual process of getting rid of the drones at the best returns possible. I made a note for six or seven pullets to be killed, at the discretion of the official chicken-killer. On the night of March 8, I got a slip saying that No. 370 had been killed, weight eight and one-half pounds without blood or feathers, which at sixty cents came to $5.10; and on referring to my cards, to remove “370” to the “Dead birds’ ” file. I was amazed to find that she had been the first prize utility pullet at the show last November. I had forgotten the fact, and would have preferred to have trapped her a full year, for the annual record.

I had her winter record, however, and they say that is a pretty good indication of what she would have done throughout the year. Look at the photograph of how she laid from her first egg, November 20 to her last February 25 – from first to last – a grand total of nine eggs, including the two laid in one day at the show. I’ll say she was worth more dead at $5.10 than alive at any price, won’t you?

No, I’m not proud to have bred this bird, but I am glad to have bred her, because had I not done so, and had I not trapped her I should never have known how absolutely worthless that judging could have been. I wouldn’t have believed that it could be so wrong – and the judge knew how to handle birds, too; don’t forget that. It was the system used that has to take the blame. And the system was the latest, most improved system, that had been devised up to last November. The judge went strictly by this “Standard”.

Now why was it that with the “rectangular shape when viewed from any angle,” and with the “clear, bright eye,” and all the other good points which this pullet undoubtedly possessed, she didn’t show up in the traps as the “dope” said she ought to? Nobody knows; the secret died with her; she lived a lie; and once again prophecy, based on physical characteristics, was confounded.

I still believe, nay, I know, that you cannot tell how many eggs a pullet will lay by the rear elevation of her, when viewed from the stern end, or from the thinness of her pelvic bones; but neither can this be foretold by the “rectangular shape when viewed from any angle,” nor by the length of her keel bone, nor by any other physical characteristics, or even combination of characteristics, when observed at any one time of year.

The only basis for prophecy is past performance. There is good in Hogan, there is good in the other “dope”; but if you apply the tests at one time only, they are of little value as applied to the individual bird.

Now don’t think for a minute that the reports you see of the good effects of culling are not true. They are, without much doubt, and every one ought to cull their flocks, at least once a year. More if you possibly can. If you are to breed your own birds for production, then cull as many as six times a year, if you want the best results. If you will make it a point to go over your flock the first of every other month, beginning with November 1, and will keep some sort of record on each bird, you’ll know just about how well each one does for you – not as well as trapnesting would tell you, but pretty well, at that. You won’t throw out a single one of the excellent layers as being poor, nor will you keep poor layers because they have a large and luscious “capacity” for at least a part of the year. It isn’t hard to keep records on this. You can number-band each bird and keep your records on paper, or you can color-band them at each testing.

Furthermore, even if you can’t cull more than twice, or even once a year, your flock will be a better flock for so doing. What I said was “If you apply the tests at one time only, they are of little value as applied the individual bird.” But they are good for the flock as a whole. Do you say that “The flock is only a collection of individual birds”? What I mean is this: that applying your culling to your flock once a year, whenever that time may be, will make some mistakes in some birds. If the system works in eighty per cent of the cases, say, then your flock will show a better profit for the culling. But you will have been wrong in twenty per cent of the birds, and if you are to breed your birds, you cannot afford to breed from even one poor producer, and more than one poor one you are pretty sure to get in the twenty per cent, or whatever the incorrect percentage works out to be.

Evidently Nos. 336 and 370 both happened to fall in that minority twenty per cent. That does not disprove the value of the results of culling on the eighty per cent, but it does show that there is a minority on which the tests do not work out satisfactorily.

If you are running a commercial egg plant, you do not need, probably you cannot afford the time, to cull frequently; but if you are going to try to make progress in breeding for production, then either use trapnests, or make frequent (six times a year) production tests by physical characteristics.

Production breeding is a large and noble aim. Also it is a he-man job, taking all the care, and skill, and brains a man wants to put into it, together with trouble, and expense, and plenty of good ground, with lots of “paper work” – as they say in the army – thrown in. But there is a tendency to go to extremes in some things connected with production. Like judging at shows by physical characteristics, for instance.

Some may take issue with me there, and say it is a fine thing, and that it has been done successfully, that it makes for interest in the show, etc. Perhaps it may have been done successfully, I don’t know (do you know?) and perhaps it does make for show interest. But allowing that it is interesting in the show, if it isn’t sound, then it ought not to be there, to fool the people who don’t know any better. It certainly fooled a lot of folks last November 21-23 that I know about – and I’ll swear it on the card of the dear departed 370.

Down in Texas at a show they had a six-day laying contest that they said was a great hit. A feature, certainly, but what did it teach? It taught nothing, except that perhaps the man who won could pick laying birds, by trapnest or some other way. It gave a false impression, because the uninitiated would suppose that the pen which laid the most eggs on those particular six days, was the best-laying pen in general, and this might or might not be so. Three Seventy laid two eggs in one day at the show; by that she was the world beater the “dope” said she was. Talk production all you want to, and production-breeding, but with all your talking, talk sense. And the only sensible egg records are trapnest records of what a hen has done in the past – not guesses as to what she may do in the future.

Speaking of nonsense, how does it strike you to have a Utility Class for male birds? No, I don’t really suppose that the judge tries to say how many eggs the cockerel will lay – nothing so simple as that. He tries to size up the bird, as to what his daughters may be able to do – all his daughters, out of all hens with which he may become acquainted, of whatever breed or breeding. He doesn’t have the bird’s pedigree before him to help in this job of sizing up the production of the large family he is going to found – nothing but the bird himself. The experiment stations tell us – Mendelism tells us – Atavism tells us – that the only way to size up the value of a male bird as a breeder, is to wait until he has done it, and then say what it is like. In other words, you can tell little until the actual production of all his daughters is known. But of course he is much more likely to be a good breeder of the egg-laying habit, if that quality is inherent in his blood. “Blood will tell the egg story,” so to know anything at all, practically, about the production-breeding-value of a cockerel, you must know his pedigree: the records of his dam, sire’s dam, and all the family relations for as far back as possible. How does it strike you to have a Utility Class for male birds, to be judged by physical characteristics alone?

Let’s talk production, but let’s talk sense, too. The place for records is in a Laying Contest or in the home traps. The contest is the same thing to a production-bred bird as a big show is to an exhibition-bred bird. If a qualified poultry judge were to tell you that he had in his yards a bird which scored ninety-six that would be like a breeder telling you he had in his yards a bird which had laid 270 eggs in the traps. If you had confidence in the judge or the breeder, you’d believe their stories. If you were suspicious of either, you’d hesitate to put up your money for either of the birds in question.

But if the exhibition-bred bird is there in the show room at Boston, or Madison Square, or Chicago, or Heart of America, or somewhere else, you know just what the bird is, you can see the bird for yourself; and if Storrs, or Vineland, or Western Washington, or some other official contest certifies the record of a pullet, or a hen, you know then that there can be no question of just how good she was during the days under their supervision. There are circumstances which make her record poorer than it would probably have been, if made for her pullet laying year, and in that respect the record is not an accurate index of the bird’s worth, but at least it never fakes on the side of too high records. You may be sure of that.

The show room is the place for the exhibition-bred specimen; and the trapnest is the place for the production-bred bird. No more beans-in-the-bottle-eggs-in-the-hen guessing contests for me.

If you want your blue ribbon bird to show she is a good layer too, fine and dandy; and if you want your heavy layer to be of good show type, fine and dandy too; my hat is off to you on either count. But don’t, please don’t, tell me there is any sense in trying to tell the future production of a bird by putting her in a show room for some one to handle.

Because I bred and owned Three Seventy, and I’ll never believe you.

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