Delaware February 25, 2017
This Is The Single Craziest Thing You Never Knew Happened In Delaware
Everyone knows that Delaware (and Delmarva in general) is famous for its chicken. We have chicken festivals, chicken farms, poultry plans and evidence of our love for birds scattered throughout the state. What most people don’t know is how we got to this point. It was actually a gigantic misunderstanding – and a bit of fowl play.
Delaware has always been an agricultural state, and many homesteaders had their own chicken coops.
Cecile Steele of Ocean View, loved fresh eggs from her hens, and ordered a group of 50 to compliment her flock in 1923.
A few weeks later, she got quite the surprise!
Instead of 50 chicks, the delivery company dropped off ten times that many, and Cecile Steele had 500 birds tweeting at her while she tried to figure out what to do.
FIVE HUNDRED CHICKS, hopping around what would become Steele's Farm. Can you imagine her reaction when the delivery truck showed up?
Cecile was either very laid back or quite the entrepreneur, because she decided to keep the little birds on her farm.
Can you imagine making that decision? One day, you're a simple farmer who loves fresh eggs. The next, you're raising hundreds of little peeping Delmarva chickens. A few hen houses later, she was ready to go with her new unplanned chicken raising business. Four months later, she had over 380 birds ready to go to market. She ended up selling them for for 62 cents a pound which was a high price for chicken at the time (equal to over $8/lb today!).
Cecile decided to continue with her chicken farm, and ordered 1,000 chicks for the following year.
By 1926, just three years after her first accidental flock, she was caring for 10,000 chicks. Ten thousand! In three years!
Steele's Farm, shown below, quickly became the leading farm for boiler chicken.
When people throughout the state realized that Delaware was the perfect spot to raise chickens, and that the market demand was there, Delmarva became a hotspot for boiler chickens, which weren't even popular for eating at the time. The majority of birds were raised to lay eggs, and old hen meat was tolerable, but tough. The industry developed slowly, but better breeding and development of farming techniques turned Sussex County into the biggest chicken supplier for the entire east coast.
There were plenty of reasons that Delmarva chickens became world famous.
Delaware's mild climate, sandy soil, and pine forest for lumber made the establishment of poultry farms simple and inexpensive. At the time, Delaware's peach industry was still a world leader, so there was plenty of experienced labor. To top it off, the location of such rural land so close to major metropolitan areas made shipping inexpensive and easy.
A lot has changed in the chicken industry since Cecile Steele decided to dive in, head first, but Delaware’s reputation for delivering quality poultry has only gotten stronger! And this was not the last strange thing to happen in the First State, either. Check out our list of some of the
unusual moments in Delaware history.