When the Chickens Got Sick

Our New Jersey white Leghorn chicken farm often had sick chickens.  Sick chickens make other chickens sick so we would isolate them as soon as possible.  When we first moved to the farm, this meant putting them into a small coop or the brooder-house that we called der shpitol (the hospital).

Mama cared for them just as if they were her children.  Invariably this meant putting an eye-drop or two of cod liver oil down their throats.  Just like children they did not take kindly to this but often they “came around” and were able to be put back into the coop with the other healthy chickens.

Papa wasn’t so kind.  He felt it wasn’t worth the bother and would get rid of them by ringing their necks or banging their heads against a stone.  His response was, “You win some and you lose some.” Today it sounds cruel, but it was a way of life.

As our flock became larger and larger and Mama became older and older, her ability to tend to the sick chickens decreased until it disappeared.  There came a time when we never spoke to Mama about the sick chickens and “the hospital” became just another brooder house.

Papa learned about Dr. Beaudette, the poultry pathologist at the New Jersey Agricultural College at Rutgers University.  This was a free service and Papa brought the sick chickens in to be tested.  By that time it usually was too late and usually we already knew what was wrong with them.

Our major poultry disease problem was Newcastle.  It was first noted in the veterinary medicine literature in the mid 1920’s; in the United States in the 1930’s.  It became a problem for us in the 1940’s, which by then, luckily they developed a vaccine.

Papa didn’t want to bother vaccinating the chickens because of the cost, the time, and the work involved.  It was Mama who forced the issue and Papa gave in because, “I can’t stand the constant nudzhen (nagging).  From then on, it became a regular practice with each new batch of chickens.