By Norman Badger
The Shoreliner Magazine, Feb. 1951
New England's Fastest Growing Picture Magazine
This Is The Second In A Series Of Articles Describing Some Of The Industries Of Our Region -- Industries Which Bring Both Employment and Service To Our People. Productive Organizations Of All Classifications, Which Contribute To The Economy Of The Area, Will Be Included In These Stories.
A little over thirty years ago Mr. Frederick S. Nichols was in the business of raising broiler-sized chickens for market. In those days chickens were just plain chickens and whether a farmer wanted to sell broilers, fowl or eggs the chickens were all the same. But Mr. Nichols was primarily interested in raising birds that would have lots of meat, mature early, have good vitality, and weigh more at broiler age than any of the breeds of chickens that were available. Nobody seemed to be doing anything about his problem so he set out to do it himself. From this determination to breed and raise a better chicken for the American table has grown a specialized business that last year was in a position to supply, through poultrymen all over the forty-eight states, almost one-third of the commercially grown broilers eaten by families from Maine to Texas, from Florida to Oregon.
Mr. Nichols went out of the broiler-raising business a long time ago, for he discovered that in solving his own problems in securing better and better chickens for eating that he was solving the problems of other poultry growers all over the country. As a result, the Nichols Poultry Farm Inc. is engaged almost entirely In supplying eggs and day-old chicks to the hatcheries and breeders of broiler stock.
The original problem was one of selection. That is, the problem of weeding out of each flock the undesirable birds and keeping for breeding those that had the best features of edibility and stamina. There are ten major points that make a chicken the perfect investment according to the Nichols General Sales Manager, Mr. George E. (Jim) Coleman, Jr. These points consist of such things as size and color of eggs, vitality and growth, standard type and color, early feathering and maturity and finally quality meat. The early systems of selecting and breeding those birds that seemed to have a predominance of these qualities worked quite well but there was a lot of trial and error in it. In 1943 when Mr. Coleman came to work for the company, a new method of improving the Nichols flocks was adopted.
Chickens Have "Family Trees"
Progeny testing, as this method is called, was not a new idea. It had been used in the improvement of egg-producing flocks in several parts of the country; but its application to the selection and breeding of birds for meat purposes was brand new. The method, primarily, is one of painstaking research and recording of the performance of thousands of birds whose ancestry can be traced through numbered bands attached to their wings. Each rooster and hen is rated on all the salient characteristics. Families are then organized, comprised of prize rooster and several high-ranking hens. Each family is placed in one of the 142 small pens that are in operation at Kingston. These pens represent the largest application of progeny testing to pure bred chickens in the meat field. Every egg that is laid is credited to the right hen through the use of trap nests, and when hatched, the chick therefrom is, in turn, watched and his development and behavior recorded. By such a method it is possible to determine which roosters and which hens will produce the most promising progeny. As each son and daughter of the many families grows up, he or she is compared with his ancestors for signs of improvement. Those cases which do not show improvement or which show discrepancies are quickly weeded out. As a result, the many generations of birds which have been tabulated and watched since 1943 have shown steady progress toward the ideal state typified by the ten-point standard. The job of supervising this program falls jointly on Mr. Coleman and Mr. Joseph Higgins. The 12,000,000 entries made last year in the records of Nichols New Hampshires, as their breed is called, were made under their supervision.
Maintaining not only the progeny testing procedures, but the usual business of selling and shipping eggs and chicks to points all over the world requires a large and well ordered organization. To assure that every detail of the Nichols operations will have expert attention the various phases have been put under the supervision of specialists. The departments of Finance, Costs, Service, Sales, Production, Flock Supervision, Hatcheries and Public Relations are the individual provinces of Mr. L. J. Swetland, Mr. Walter W. Macomber, Mr. Leslie Cammett, Mr. Alvin Freelove, Mr. Ambrose T. Milbury, Mr: Richard I. Stark, Mr. Everett Carroll, and Mr. Thomas Walling. Working in close harmony and cooperation with these department heads are over one hundred employees, many of them veteran poultry men and all of them well versed in the care and breeding of chickens.
N. E. Weather Toughens Stock
The physical properties of the company are compact and strategically located. The main farm and the location of the 20,000 birds that form the nucleus of the Nichols strain is at Kingston. On a flat plain near the edge of the town, the farm spreads over acres and acres of field and wood land. The buildings which house the aristocrats of chickendom are rather obviously light in construction and exposed to the elements. This seeming economy or disregard for the comfort of the chickens is actually part of the deliberate program to breed strong, more lively birds through the building of resistance to New England weather. A Company publication points out that it has long been the custom to look to the North to the colder climates for stronger stock, whether bird of animal. This custom is a practice in the poultry industry for every year the farms of the south and west look to Maine and New Hampshire for their new stock.
To supply the baby chicks and eggs for sales and breeding, the company has a hatchery and shipping department at Newton Junction, New Hampshire. Here every three weeks 500,000 eggs can be hatched and the baby chicks sexed, packed and shipped by truck, rail or plane to any point in the world.
It is obvious that the 20,000 birds at Kingston can not supply this volume of eggs for hatching and shipping. This function is performed by over fifty allied farms in Northeastern Massachusetts, Southern New Hampshire and Maine. These farms are stocked with Nichols New Hampshires, which are purchased and raised by the individual farmers. These farms are under the constant supervision of the flock service department headed by Mr. Richard I. Stark. The eggs from these flocks, which number 180,000 chickens, are sold back to Nichols at a premium price. These are the eggs that are hatched and sold. In order to collect the eggs from all these farms, a central receiving station has been located at Hampton, New Hampshire. At this station over 15,000,000 eggs yearly are received, weighed, and inspected before routing to the hatcheries of the company or its customers. Also at Hampton is a hatchery where the eggs produced under the progeny-testing program are hatched and the chickens marked for further study and selection.
Mr. Nichols' original determination to do something about the problem of providing specialized chickens for specialized purposes has come a long way. From his realization that to do a thing well is to do it yourself has grown an industry complete with the best of scientific equipment and personnel all carefully integrated to provide for the tables of America a plentiful supply of second helpings at the traditional Sunday dinner. From this Shoreline industry has come a major contribution to the farmers and consumers of the entire country.
THIS 420 FOOT BUILDING contains 100 pens for, the breeding "families" at the home farm. Pens all have same conditions of light, heat and feed and trap-nests permit accurate record of production and selection.
CHARLES LeBARON, Fred Gray, and William George assemble new chick shipping boxes at the Newton Junction Hatchery, part of the seven car-loads required to ship over 6½ million chicks each year.