Appalachia Appalachian Food COVID-19

Selling Chickens

chickens in chicken yard

“When Storekeepers Handled Live Chicken”

Country Folks no longer take live chickens to the store to sell. But back in the days before frozen foods hit the market, they looked to their chickens when they needed a few store-bought supplies.

With the money the chickens fetched at the store, they bought coffee, sugar, salt, flour, cloth, or whatever they needed. The store-keeper in turn, sold the chickens to folks that didn’t raise chickens.

Usually, he sold them live. But if a housewife was squeamish about wringing a chicken’s neck or taking an ax and chopping off its head, he killed it for her.

Glenn Hughes, the 72-year-old part time county commissioner who now raises beef instead of chicken, grew up in that era.

“Me and my younger brother,” he recalled a couple of days ago, “carried many a chicken from down here at Cane Creek to the store up at Cullowhee to sell. Back then all the folks out in the country kept chickens. We always kept a good-sized flock. They came in hand when unexpected company showed up at mealtime. All my mother had to do was step outside and flag down a chicken and wring its neck. And when we needed a few store-bought supplies, she would say let’s sell off some of them young roosters. Called’em pullets. Me and my brother would gather up four of’em. Have one each hand. Then we’d set out for the store up at Cullowhee, about three miles up the river.”

—John Parris – “Mountain Cooking”


I believe chicken raising is making a comeback. Our local grocery stores have been short on a few items other than toilet paper—one of them is eggs. With a quick google I discovered wholesale eggs have increased by over 100% in the last few weeks and baby chicks are becoming harder and harder to find. It makes sense, lots of folks have suddenly found themselves at home with time to take care of baby chicks and hopefully get some eggs and/or meat out of the deal as well.

We’ve had our backyard chickens for about eight years now. As happens with chicken raising, we’ve lost a few along the way and gained others. For the last several months we’ve been down to three hens and one rooster. Amazingly, two of the hens are from the very first chickens we had and they’re still laying eggs.

Re-doing the run of the chicken house has been our our to do list for well over a year. We kept thinking once we had it completed we’d get a few more hens to add to our dwindled flock. With things changing on almost a daily basis, and with Chitter’s urging, we have six chicks on the way even though the run hasn’t been redone.

Actually, Chitter took the reigns on the whole chick buying process, from researching which breeds lay the most eggs to thinking about where we’ll put them until they’re big enough to be put in the big pen she did it all. And on top of all that she paid for them herself. I’m proud of her.


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  • Reply
    Deanna Ammons
    April 6, 2020 at 8:55 pm

    My father was born and raised in Franklin, NC. He enjoyed telling the story about a country store where folks exchanged live chickens for staples such as flour, sugar, salt, etc. One day a traveling salesman drove by the store in his old car and accidentally ran over one of the hens that had managed to escape the chicken pen in back of the store. The salesman felt terrible about running over the hen so stopped and ask the lady behind the counter if a dollar would be enough to cover the loss of the hen. The owner said, “Yes, a dollar would be plenty except she was now worried about the rooster because he thought a lot of that little hen!” I can still hear Dad laugh as he told that story!

  • Reply
    Garry Ballard
    April 2, 2020 at 2:46 am

    I notice the author uses the word ‘pullet’ to describe young roosters back in his day. It’s interesting that not even spellcheck recognises it any more. We still use it in Australia but the actual meaning is a young hen in her first year of laying. The colloquial term here for what you call chickens is Chooks while chickens are baby chooks. Even here though our old words and phrases are being lost and so many people don’t use the word anymore. It seems with the advent of television local accents and colloquialisms are steadily dying out just like in the Appalachias.
    I think that’s what attracts me about your music and culture, it’s still real and recognisable.

  • Reply
    March 31, 2020 at 1:11 pm

    I love this post Tipper . I just live chickens and the eggs. They are better than store bought ones. I remember when daddy would kill a chicken and we got to eat it, i thought that was something special. It was to us because we didn’t get to do that much. Maybe on a Birthday or Christmas. As a little girl I did feel sorry for it but boy it sure did taste good.

  • Reply
    March 30, 2020 at 10:58 pm

    My two hens, Agatha and Eloise, provide me with plenty of organic eggs – enough that I can give away a dozen every couple of weeks. I’ve always let my hens roam loose during the day but not these two because there has been an increase in predator activity here recently: hawks and fishers and maybe something else I haven’t identified. I’m sorry they have to be penned up, but I’d really like to keep them alive.

  • Reply
    March 30, 2020 at 9:41 pm

    I remember my mother wringing those chicken necks and cutting their heads off. Gruesome sight, but that fried chicken for Sunday dinner was awesome. Those chickens ran all over the yard til finally they died.

  • Reply
    March 30, 2020 at 4:09 pm

    I remember as a small child taking live chickens to the “peddler” (kind of a rolling general store, a bob truck w/ a big box bed) who made a weekly route. Don’t remember what we traded them for, seems it was some kinda treat.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    March 30, 2020 at 1:56 pm

    We had chickens when I was little and I remember seeing Granny wring one’s neck. I can even remember the exact spot she was standing on! The chicken rolled off down a little incline and that’s the end of my memory. I’m sure it was eaten but I don’t remember that part. I do vaguely remember the “chicken ‘house” that was in the back yard.

  • Reply
    Sue McIntyre
    March 30, 2020 at 12:49 pm

    Growing up, we had caged chickens for their eggs, and free range chickens to eat. My job was to gather the eggs. When it came killing time, I always managed to find something else to do. Often, when a hen left her nest after hatching some chicks, there would be an abandoned chick. Sometimes the chicks would become orphans. I would gather the culls, as daddy called them, under my wing and raise them up. The thoughts of my baby chicks becoming Sunday dinner was hard but necessary at the time. Daddy preferred Game hens to free range. They were fierce mothers. Moma got some ducks to raise. Some thing killed the babies almost right away. Daddy decided to put the duck eggs in one of those fierce Game hens’ nest to hatch out. That hen hatched 9 ducklings. She would attack anything in the barnyard if it got too close, including the milk cow. Funniest thing in the world, was that hen walking around trying to teach those ducklings to scratch and forage. I remember the first time the ducklings found water. They took off and dove right in. That moma hen was upset. She ran around from one side of the water to the other dragging her wing on the ground and calling to her babies to no avail. She was even flogging at the water. What a sight!!! She raised everyone of those ducks. They always tolerated each other well even after she raised many more bonnified Game chicks. Daddy would slip Guinea eggs, and once, Turkey eggs under her to hatch and raise. LOL We are what we are by the hand of God. The Psalms 139:14 says we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Thanks for stirring up those precious memories of my youth. That is what I need to get through these troublesome times. Love and prayers to all, coming your way.

  • Reply
    March 30, 2020 at 11:45 am

    We had chickens years and years ago, and boy, did they produced eggs. Jumbo size with the brightest yellow yolks! I was working in an office at the time, and I used to sell any extra eggs I had. Mama’s mother raised chickens when she was growing up and they always had fried chicken on Sunday. My grandmother could really fry a chicken! The Southern States store here has baby chicks in the spring and they are so cute!

  • Reply
    March 30, 2020 at 11:41 am

    Chitter sure is an enterprising young lady! I love to see the younger generation take an interest in what sustained their forefathers. I was amused to read about something that went so far back that I had not witnessed it in my lifetime, and that is taking chickens to the store for trade 🙂 However, I have participated in every other aspect. I have raised baby chicks, gathered eggs from flogging chickens, and witnessed chickens getting necks wrung. Even I could not have done that ,although I participated in dipping them in boiling water and plucking them. We raised a lot of chickens growing up, but they kind of got phased out, and it may have been nobody had time for them. I remember my Dad having three jobs at one time, and one of them was just driving one of those trucks with money on board every Sunday.

    I am still very amazed when I think about a dear Aunt who lived in a very old house in the country. She could get the chicken from pecking around in the yard to a pot of chicken ‘n dumplings on the table in no time flat. There was a very long table with many children, and she set a cup of coffee at each place setting. That was the only time I was allowed to drink coffee, and that memory of that wonderful aroma might be why I love coffee still today. She had lots of kids and we all slept upstairs in that old house, and we would beg my older cousin, Bertha, to tell us one ghost story after another at night. Bertha later became a grade school teacher. Good memories, and now the only time I see her is at funerals.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    March 30, 2020 at 10:11 am

    Daddy raised chickens by the thousands for several years. Mostly they were Cornish roosters and White Rock hens (or maybe the other way around) which produced eggs that would hatch out into Cornish Cross chicks. Both breeds were about like most other large chickens but when they were crossed the result in a faster growing, meat producing bird. The flock had to be culled to eliminate off-breeds and excess roosters. The eggs had to be cleaned and sized and kept at an even temperature. Small, jumbo, double yolked, odd shaped or cracked eggs couldn’t be sold to the hatchery so we ate them or sold them to the local market. The same applied to the culls! We ate them or sold them to locals. Daddy would sell them live or dressed.
    When killing chickens Daddy always chopped their heads off and let them flop. While their head was gone their heart was still pumping which eliminated most of the blood. The guillotine was quicker and more painless than neck wringing. Daddy would hold the chicken by its feet under his arm until it calmed down then gently lay it across the chop block. I remember seeing dead chickens laying all over the yard.
    Next the chickens were dipped in boiling water to loosen their feathers. Then the kids function came in. We were the chicken pickers. Now that is a mess when adults do it. Imagine a bunch of children! There were more feathers on us when we got through than the chickens had to begin with.
    Mommy’s job was to keep a steady stream of hot water coming and of course take care of the baby. There was always a baby. She couldn’t be there for the killing part. She fainted at the sight of blood. Any kind of blood. How she managed to suffer through all the cuts and scratches of six children and still somehow she kept us doctored up I’ll never know.
    Daddy singed the birds and cleaned out the innards. He passed off the carcass to Mommy to cut up while he cleaned the gizzard, liver and heart. Livers were my favorite part of the chicken. I liked them best when Mommy included them in her chicken and dumplings. I called dibs on what I called brown dumplings and usually got them. Nobody else seemed to like them. Gizzards were good too as well as the eggs that were waiting to be laid in their various stages of development. Yum!

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      March 30, 2020 at 11:11 am

      I left out the chickens that were sick and dying or already dead. Since they weren’t to be kept as food, Daddy would wring their necks and drop them in a covered disposal pit he had dug. One time the whole flock contracted a disease and had to be killed. It was in the dead of winter and the ground was frozen. They had to use dynamite to break up the frozen layer of soil so they could dig a hole deep enough to bury them. They dug two big holes and covered them up. It was way up into the night before they were through. My job in all that was to stay out of the way and keep a fire going so they could get warm.

  • Reply
    March 30, 2020 at 9:21 am

    A group of folks around here gather at the entrance of the fairgrounds every weekend to exchange and sell chickens. That’s where my grandson bought about 10 various breeds. He built his own coop that was securely surrounded by chicken wire. It didn’t take long for the critters to come looking for a free meal. He has no idea how an animal could dig under the fence he worked so hard to secure. He hasn’t replace the chickens yet, but I hope he does soon. I was shocked to see the price on Happy Eggs at Kroger. Chitter needs to start thinking of a catchy name for the eggs she will sell. Who knows? She could be on the way to a very profitable hobby.

  • Reply
    March 30, 2020 at 9:16 am

    I didn’t get a chance to comment on yesterday’s post “You Need A Savior,” and just wanted to say Pap sure wrote and sang the Truth in words!
    I have noticed more people have chickens now. I certainly remember how fast my grandmother could wring a chickens neck. When I was growing up in town, I always had a baby chicken or duck in the spring of the year but since I named them they never ended up on our dinner plate. Somehow they always disappeared as they got older and I heard later that they went to my dear Aunt who had no problem wringing their necks.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    March 30, 2020 at 9:09 am

    I don’t remember any country stores still buying chickens when I was a boy but do remember some buying eggs but Dad told me that he had sold chickens to the store when he was growing up.
    On the tv show the Walton’s they had a chicken thief named Yancy Tucker and I guess there must have been chicken thieves in many communities during the depression. Dad also told me there was a chicken thief where he was raised and everbody knew to watch out for Little George Porter.
    I was in the army with a boy that worked for a large hatchery in MN. He called himself a chicken sexer, dividing the chicks into two groups.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    March 30, 2020 at 8:53 am

    We never took chickens to trade but we did have them when I was small. Ours were penned and had a nice house. They were mixed breeds. I recall Rhode Island Reds and ‘Domineckers’ and some plain white ones that if I ever knew the name I have forgotten.

    Our daughter thinks she would like to have chickens which means, I think, she would like to have her own eggs. They live in the city. I wish she had a mini-farm. I have thought about getting her the book “Five Acres and Independence”. Maybe Chitter would like it. We’ve gotten away from it now but in both WWI and WWII people were urged to grow their own food. It is a good thing to do for a wide variety of reasons.

  • Reply
    Roger Greene
    March 30, 2020 at 7:36 am

    Mr. Parris’ quote made me do some Googling to make sure I hadn’t been confused for the past 60+ years:

    “Pullets, the immature female chicks, are separated from the immature male chicks, called cockerels. Pullets are typically more expensive than either cockerels or straight run chicks, since they’re the ones who will grow up to lay eggs.” —– › difference-between-pullets-straight-run-chickens-5663

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    March 30, 2020 at 7:29 am

    Daddy was the smartest man I’ve ever known. Ever since I can remember, we had a bunch of chickens. On the way back from Church, daddy noticed that our neighbors had Killed a couple of domineckers, and daddy just laughed and said, “they got to eat too.” Ray Southard and his wife, Geneva, had 3 girls, but I didn’t know anyone but Carolyn and she was about Harold’s age.

    We had about 75 chickens and Roosters, and one time Geneva blowed a Copperhead to Kingdom Come with her .410 gauge shotgun. A fiest dog had gotten bit by that ole Copperhead and she sent the snake to the Happy Hunting Grounds. She was a Good Shot.

    Ray worked with two of his brothers for Hitckok Corporation near Atlanta. It was a Rock Quarry, where Ray and his brother ran a Drop Ball. That whole Family was about Half-Indian, they were alright. Pap knew Ray’s cousin, he called him Indian John. I was playing with his boy, Johnny when his daddy got killed. That was a Bad Time. Johnny had twin sisters, Myrel and Peral. I rode pasteboard boxes behind their house along the side of the railroad on vines wlth them. That was Fun! …Ken

  • Reply
    Jim k
    March 30, 2020 at 6:59 am

    I think you are right. I noticed at the local tractor supply I went to Sat several were buying those rich man prebuilt chicken coops.
    I remember as a child it was my job to run down the chicken when mom would wringtheir necks. It always amazed me how far they would run.

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