Making Ends Meet

In the 1920s and 30s a farmer’s wife often had to pay the household bills by her own efforts. Cash was almost non-existent. It was well known that some farmers left one large stack of corn in the farmyard as long as possible, so that they could tell their creditors that they would get paid when it was threshed.

My mother made butter every week and sent it in a basket with a few dozen fresh eggs on the Friday morning bus to Lincoln Market. It was the one and only bus to pass along the narrow river bank by the farmhouse.

The driver delivered the goods to the same stallholder and called on his return journey with the welcome cash.

Flatching chicks was another way to help fill a yawning chasm. It was a delight to see a proud broody hen emerge from her secret nest followed by a dozen babies, but more were needed.

In an outhouse stood three wooden incubators on legs and each had a glass drop-down ‘door’ in front. They were set up at weekly intervals to avoid a mass hatching, and each held about 100 eggs.

They were kept at the right temperature by paraffin heaters which had to be trimmed and filled daily. The eggs were turned twice each day, by hand, for three weeks.

At night, a lantern was used to light the way to the incubators, and as a small child I felt very important when allowed to hold the lantern while the eggs were being turned. At the end of the week I might be rewarded with a halfpenny to fritter gleefully on ten aniseed balls at the village shop.

Mother would hold an egg up to the light, spin it round with expert fingers and say: “That’s a clear one.” It would be discarded as infertile. For three days before the due date the eggs were sprinkled twice a day with warm water and the excitement began. The next day peck-holes could be seen, and in ones, then twos, little helpless chicks appeared, until the final day when the incubator was full of cheeping yellow fluff.

They were transferred in shoe boxes to a small hut in the orchard. In it was a prepared ‘brood mother’ — a pyramid-shaped contraption with a lantern in the middle and flaps of green felt arranged around the gap at its base to keep away any draught. The chicks were warm and happy inside.

Flere they were fed and cherished until they were big enough to be moved to other quarters and, at eight weeks old, sold to waiting customers. Pullets were bought for the eggs they would produce, and cockerels for fattening to eat

Sometimes there were disasters. For no known reason the lanterns would go out during the night. In the morning, it was devastating to find all the baby chicks dead, and a great loss financially when every penny was needed.

Hazel Gill