How a New Jersey Woman Breeds Squabs
by Edith M. Burbank
an excerpt from Squab Library Issue Number Three circa 1926
Editor’s Note: This fascinating testimonial story from long ago contains many obsolete details and valuations. Obviously, it reads in part like an advertisement for a long gone company, Plymouth Rock Squab, but in these brief two pages you can get a real sense of these two women enjoying their own measure of unqualified success with a small farm venture. I have elected to reprint it in its entirety, unedited, because it spoke to me of issues, concerns, and possibilities that may be applicable today. Squab is a young domestically raised pigeon, customarily one month old, considered by certain ethnic groups and epicureans as a rare delicacy. The word is thought to be of Scandinavian origin; the Swedish word ‘skvabb’ means “loose, fat flesh”. Something about this tale makes me feel like I am in an old W.C. Fields movie, trading stories about squab We have known. Hope you enoy it, I did. – LRM
I was formerly a sewing machine operator in Minotola, sewing blouses in a factory there. I was born in Connecticut, then moved to Maryland. My father died fifteen years ago. Our family came here to New Jersey on this farm twenty-five years ago from Maryland. My mother and I have lived here since father’s death and have done all the work on the place. We have not only our pigeons but also White Leghorn fowls. There are seventeen acres on the place. I first got the idea of the squab business from a gentleman who boarded with us who used to raise pigeons. Then I happened to see Mr. Rice’s advertisement of the Plymouth Rock Squab company in the Philadelphia Inquirer and answered it. After receiving his free squab book I sent him two dollars for his instruction Manual. I wanted to know just what I had to do to raise squabs for market before I purchased any birds. I hardly knew what a pigeon was and had never seen a squab. After carefully reading Mr. Rice’s Manual I decided to give the business a try. I started April 1, 1921, All Fool’s Day. We thought we were a little foolish too.
I STARTED WITH TWELVE PAIRS EXTRA PLYMOUTH ROCK HOMERS
I bought of the Plymouth Rock Squab Company what they call their special offer number three, consisting of twelve pairs Extra Homers and some nest-bowls, fountain and net. We put the birds, when they arrived, into a small building six feet by nine feet. The birds looked good. They were good size, with a variety of plumage of pretty colors, and they went right to work. We were glad to see them get to work so quickly because we bought them to make money and we needed the income. By September I found we had one hundred ten pigeons. We kept all the young ones. I saved all the squabs. Since then I have learned that it is not best to save the squabs hatched in the summer time. They do not seem to have so much vitality when grown up as squabs raised at other times of the year, nor do they breed so well. The loss of squabs which we have had from death has come from birds which we saved in the summer. The squabs which we saved in the winter and spring months developed into hardier stock.
We had to put up a new building that first fall to house the first six months’ increase. The new building was twelve by fourteen. I had a carpenter erect it and it cost me two hundred dollars altogether. By the time it was complete I had seventy-five pairs of birds to go into it. They went along breeding at about the same fast rate as the first flock in the first house.
KEEPING RECORDS IS A HOBBY WITH ME. I HAVE EVERY ITEM OF RECEIPTS AND EXPENSES DOWN IN BLACK AND WHITE FROM EVERY YEAR I HAVE HAD THE PIGEONS
I have kept an accurate record of every expenditure in connection with the squab business from the time I bought Rice’s Manual. January 1, 1921. I have the items all down in a small account book, even including postage, cost of money orders, express charges, freight, etc. From January 1, 1921, to the end of the year, I spent $275.27 for instruction book, pigeon supplies, lumber, wire netting, nails, leg bands, etc., and one hundred forty-four hours of hired labor at seventy-five cents an hour.
During 1922 I got along with an expenditure for such items amounting to only $10.85.
In 1923, I built a new house according to Mr. Rice’s unit plans, starting the building January 2 with four thousand feet of sheathing. I have that house now filled with breeders, giving me three houses with one hundred fifty pairs of working birds, which are earning me a profit of twenty dollars to twenty-five dollars a month. I think this is a good showing for a flock of this size, considering also that I sell the squabs alive at lower prices than the market for killed squabs. I am planning now to extend the unit house and double the size of it.
MY FIRST SALE OF SQUABS
I sold my first dozen squabs April 12, 1922, one year after I started, to Mr. Louder in Newfield, for six dollars, alive. They weighed nine pounds. The following winter and the next winter I shipped the squabs to C. A. Jones in Philadelphia Reading Terminal Market, killed and dressed. This work was done for me by a man. I received as high as $1.03 a pound in the winter for these squabs. The summer price at that market was sixty cents a pound. I sent them to Philadelphia by insured parcel post, the package leaving here Thursday afternoon at 5:30 and Mr. Jones would get it Friday morning. I did not use any ice nor special delivery stamp.
For several months I have not bothered to have the squabs killed and plucked but have been selling them alive out of the nest to a buyer who comes over from Egg Harbour City in a fliver. I go around my houses with him and we pick out the squabs and he pays for them on the spot and he takes them the same day to Atlantic City, twenty five miles away, where he sells them alive to the Hebrew trade to be killed by a rabbi.
I thought I would experiment with some White Kings to see how they would go, and bought fifteen pairs of this breed in Vineland. My experience with these White Kings was not favorable as compared with the work done by Mr. Rice’s Plymouth Rock Extra Homers. The squabs were a little larger but they were longlegged and did not look so good as the Homer squabs and the rate of breeding of the parent birds was not so fast as the Homers.
THE SQUAB BUYER COMES IN AN AUTOMOBILE FOR MY SQUABS ONCE A WEEK
The buyer from Egg Harbor City comes here once a week generally, either Tuesday or Wednesday. On his last trip here he found ninety=eight squabs in my nests ready for market. He has taken as high as one hundred twenty at a visit. This shows you how these Homers do turn out the squabs.
When I started I found the grain dealers in this part of New Jersey were not very particular about the kind of grain they delivered to me. Some of it was quite poor and, as you know, pigeons require wholesome grain which is not musty or mouldy. I solved my grain problem by buying it in Camden of a well-known firm there specializing in pigeon grain. Camden is about thirty-five miles from my town and the grain comes down here by freight from my storekeeper, who charges me only ten cents a bag for handling it. I buy the separate grains and do my own mixing. I get wheat, cracked corn and Canada peas and that is about all I feed. During the first year I bought some hempseed and fed it but I do not buy it now as I do not think it necessary. I also find kafir corn unnecessary. At the beginning I used to buy kafir corn but I found the liberal use of it would produce squabs with dark skins so I cut it out altogether.
WHAT I HAVE LEARNED ABOUT FEEDING
I mix four pars of cracked corn to one part of wheat and put this mixture in the grain troughs late in the afternoon. They eat then and have enough left over for their morning meal at daybreak. When I am busy getting breakfast and clearing away the breakfast dishes I do not want to work with the pigeons. Having fed them liberally the previous evening I know that their breakfast is all right.
At noon I find it best to feed the Canada peas. I go around from pen to pen and feed nothing but peas. As I say, I feed them only at noon. Before feeding the peas I fill the water fountains. I notice that after they have eaten the peas they immediately want a drink of cool water. If the water has been standing and is stale they do not seem to care for it or will take a sip of it and shake their heads at it as much as to say that the water is not good. I am buying these Canada peas at a reasonable price, $4.80 per hundred pounds, delivered here.
MY BIRDS KEEP IN GOOD HEALTH ON THE GRAIN I AM FEEDING THEM
I have no sickness among the old birds. Sometimes I would have a squab with canker, but not enough to amount to anything. In January of 1925 I lost only six squabs from death. All of the others were raised and marketed. In February I lost twelve squabs. Nearly all of my losses of squabs have been in pen number 1. Up to September 1, 1925, fifty-eight squabs died after hatching, and the parent birds in this pen were the birds that I saved in my first summer. In pen number two where I had hardier birds I lost in 1925, up to September 1, only eighteen squabs, and in pen number three only twelve squabs, so you see I have a very good reason for preferring to save for breeders squabs that I do not hatch in the summer months. I do not want you to think that these losses are of much account to me because up to September 1, 1925, I marketed as follows: From unit number one, containing forty-six pairs of breeders, I have sold four hundred twenty-one squabs. From pen number two, containing fifty pairs of breeders, I have sold four hundred eighty-four squabs. From pen number three, containing forty-five pairs of breeders, I have sold four hundred sixty-seven squabs. From the pen in the small house containing nine pairs I have sold forty-one squabs, total 1,413 squabs sold from January 1 to September 1. For these 1,413 squabs I received, at the wholesale prices at which I have been selling, $640.98. I paid out for grain and grit $333.45, leaving me a profit of $207.53.
I HAVE FED THE PLYMOUTH ROCK HEALTH GRIT TO MY PIGEONS EVERY DAY SINCE I BOUGHT MY FIRST BIRDS
Although I have got along with a small variety of grain, I regard much of my success in feeding and producing plump squabs to the use of Plymouth Rock Health Grit. The purchase of two hundred pounds of this grit from Mr. Rice appears as the first item in my book at the head of the feed list February 3, 1921. From that time to the present this Plymouth Rock Health Grit has always been in front of my birds. When my supply gets low I immediately order a new lot to be shipped me by freight. I have this Health Grit in every pen, keeping it in cigar boxes, one box to a pen.
I have the take-apart water fountains and fill them three times a day in hot weather. The pigeons like cool water and do better when they have it. I have one of Mr. Rice’s take-apart fountains that I have used every day, summer and winter, since April 1, 1921, and it is in good condition now.
My mother woks with her White Leghorn fowls and also enjoys taking care of one pen of the pigeons. We have two automobiles to do our errands to town and enjoy our life here on the farm very much.
I KNOW I SELL MY SQUABS CHEAPER THAN MANY OTHERS DO BUT STILL AT THE LOW PRICES I SELL I AM ABLE TO SHOW A PROFIT WHICH IS SATISFACTORY TO ME
People tell me that I have been selling my squabs too cheap, and although I am showing a good profit by my squab work I expect to market my squabs to better advantage and take that additional profit which others are making. My knowledge of the Hebrew trade in live squabs is that such buyers are inclined to pay low prices, but I believe they sell them for at least $1.00 apiece after the rabbi has taken his five-cent fee for killing the bird. I believe this is the price.
The figures in my account book show every detail of my squab business for all the time that I have been in it. I have put down all the receipts and all expenditures. I write down the items day by day as they come up.
I find when cleaning out the old nests that if I place a handful of straw in a clean nestbox the birds will start right in and finish the nest and be setting sooner than they would if the nest were left vacant.
In summer for green feed I use sorrel. The birds are very fond of it. I use cabbage in the fall. Last winter my mother dampened alfalfa meal for her fowls. They seem to like it. I have not tried the alfalfa meal yet for the pigeons, but think I will this winter.
I find the Plymouth Rock Extra Homers are fast breeders. My birds average eight pairs of squabs per pair of breeders per year. The squabs weigh from eight to nine and one-half pounds per dozen dressed.
I had one pair of breeders that raised ten pairs of squabs during 1925. I find Venetian red a good cure for canker. I add it to the drinking water. My killing for this week (February 1, 1926) is 75 squabs. I am now receiving seventy-five cents per pound for them at the door, not graded.