by Robert Hanaford Smith, Sr. Weirs Times Contributing Writer
Why did the chicken cross the Rhode? Rhode Island, that is. The answer: To get to New Hampshire to experience a transformation . It has been described as a recent addition to the breeds of chicken, but its origin goes back to at least 1910 though it was not officially added to the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection lists until 1935. It is the bird named after New Hampshire, which was first, and sometimes still is, referred to as the New Hampshire Red, but now more commonly simply called the New Hampshire.
Initial development of the New Hampshire from the Rhode Island Red was possibly done by experimenters in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, but it was New Hampshire poultrymen who apparently made it feasible to market the bird commercially and establish its name. According to the book “New England Comes Back” by Lawrence Dame (1940) it wasn’t until around 1917 that Professor A.W. “Red” Richardson of the University of New Hampshire “did a large-scale development start.” New Hampshire researchers worked to eradicate the disease named pullorum to make such large-scale production possible. Lawrence Dame reported that at the time he wrote his book New Hampshire boasted “…that its flocks are the cleanest in the world.” The New Hampshire Department of Agriculture has said that from 1930 to 1950 New Hampshire led the world in poultry production. Poultry farming seems to have continued to be strong into the fifties and sixties based on information I found in an undated press report by extension poultryman Richard Warren.
Warren, from the University of New Hampshire, released a statement concerning the 10th Annual Agricultural Tour by bankers in Belknap and Merrimack Counties in a cooperative effort between the bankers and the agriculture community which took place in the month of June. One of the poultrymen, Clifford Eastman is quoted as saying “… that the bankers were overcautious in their poultry loan policy, and expect repayment in too short a period of time.” Eastman was the owner of one of the farms that the group visited. I do not know the breed of his laying hens, but he had 11,000 of them. He modernized his operation by installing bulk feed handling, mechanical feeders, a central hot water brooding system, belt egg collecting, and other labor saving features. He sold his eggs to local stores. The bankers also stopped at the farm of Joseph Russell in Tilton who grew 14,000 chickens at a time for roasting purposes on a contract basis. He also used a central hot water brooding system in insulated buildings. The third stop was at the farm of Roland Langlois, who ran a part-time poultry operation with 4,000 laying hens which he hoped to expand. Working day and night, before and after his regular work, Langlois was assisted by his wife and mother-in-law. I do not know if the chickens were New Hampshires or something different, but the bankers were reportedly impressed with what they observed. According to UNH spokesman Richard Warren the poultry business at that time was “…New Hampshire’s largest agricultural enterprise, accounting for over 40% of the state’s agricultural income.” A poultry woman, Miss Julia Coolidge from Sandwich, provided a noon meal for the bankers, no less than barbecued chicken. Mr. Warren was the teacher of a team of teen poultry judges from New Hampshire which included my brother, Charles Bradley Smith, which placed second in a judging competition held in Boston between teams from ten states.
A little earlier, around 1940, the State’s poultry industry was considered close to or equal to dairying among the state’s agricultural enterprises with five million dollars worth of poultry products. The New Hampshire Poultry Growers Association had a thousand members.
Returning to the importance of the New Hampshire chicken, I want to emphasize that it provided qualities that other breeds, including the Rhode Island Red lacked, qualities that made it popular in other sections of the country such as the Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia area. The New Hampshire chicken was considered a multi- purpose bird to be used as both an egg-producer and a meat bird as well as for show. The young chicks are quick to gain feathers, and are known for their quick growth and early maturity. The hens lay large, brown eggs. Incubated eggs produce a large percentage of chicks with a low mortality ratio, and hens that are allowed to raise their own babies are considered to be good mothers. They may not produce as many eggs as some varieties but lay efficiently enough to satisfy the demands of many growers. Though not the largest of meat birds they were used as broilers as far back as the 1920’s when they were not yet officially recognized as a separate type than the Rhode Island Reds. Roosters have been listed as weighing from 7.5 to 8.5 pounds and hens from 5.5 to 6.5 pounds. The New Hampshire chicken also found favorable acceptance in its home state because of its winter hardiness. These days it also is available in bantam size.
You may not much care about the type of chicken that lays the eggs or provides the meat you eat, but maybe you should know that the chicken has in the past made a significant impact upon our state economy, and maybe you’d like to remember that New Hampshire is one of the few states, as far as I know, that has a chicken named after it. You may refer to it just as a New Hampshire or by the original name of New Hampshire Red, though I have been advised that some that are sold as New Hampshire Reds may have some Rhode Island Red mixed in; but then, that helps to trace its ancestry back to the initial development of the Rhode Island Red (their state bird) in the mid 1800’s , though it wasn’t entered into the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection until 1904.