Hnilicka
Hnilicka

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Raising chickens was common practice for families many years ago. The practice wasn’t confined to the rural communities. Before ordinances were enacted, chickens were allowed in cities like Marinette and Menominee.

Selling baby chicks was a big business in the 1920s. Advertisements were scattered about the pages of Cloverland Magazine, a publication of the Menominee Herald-Leader when hard-driving Roger Andrews was at the helm as publisher and general manager.

Talk about movers and shakers in a community. Andrews was a symbol when it came to getting things done. His savvy business skills propelled him for a stint with one of Detroit’s largest daily newspapers. But his heart and soul was in Menominee and the opportunities that were available in the 15-county Upper Peninsula.

He launched the Cloverland Magazine, which was circulated in most counties of the U.P. The magazine published well-written stories that focused on life in the U.P., from the manufacturing and mining interests in the peninsula, to farming of all types, including raising sheep and chickens.

In 1922, a lengthy feature story was published about Edward Hnilicka of rural Menominee and how a beginner made poultry a profitable business.

World War I had ended on Nov. 11, 1918, but it takes time before troops come home. There’s still business to be accomplished when a war ends. When Hnilicka did return home from military service he went back to the family farm, which consisted of several hundred acres in Menominee County. His father, mother, brothers and sisters were involved in the large operation.

His father had purchased the land because it was cheap and with the intentions of developing it into productive farm land. Like many of the young men returning from the war, Edward realized he needed a partner even closer than his family ties and married. He also realized it was time for him to strike out on his own. Another crucial question for him and his bride was whether the two should remain in the family farm enterprise or break away and begin a new life.

Edward’s father always had maintained a sizable flock of poultry on the farm, which appealed to the former soldier. He especially was attracted to the products hat came from the flock. Furthermore, he had spent a considerable amount of time reading and educating himself on the scientific and business part of raising poultry. He envisioned a lucrative business in raising poultry in Menominee County.

He figured it was better for him and his bride to invest in poultry on a full-time basis and not as a sideline of farming. He made his decision.

His father gave him 80 acres of cutover land about a mile from the family homestead. He and his wife then laid out the foundation for the future. They named their newly developed enterprise the “Twin Valley Poultry Farm.”

By spring of 1921 the poultry farm was up and running. Edward purchased 400 English type S.C. White leghorn baby chicks which were selected from a heavy egg-laying strain.

On the home farm was a 60-by-14-foot poultry house with a basement and scratch room. The young entrepreneur cut off about 30 feet of the upper floor for a brooder room and improvised a brooder room which was heated by a stovepipe running lengthwise the room and two feet, six inches from the floor. The stove was in the basement.

It was a different task for Hnilicka to maintain the brooder at an even temperature, but he met the challenge by giving the stove close attention night and day.

Sour milk was placed before the chicks who were given rations of cooked oatmeal for the first seven days. When the chicks were large enough to eat dry mash and green stuff, they were taken to the orchard and placed in colony houses where they were housed until fall.

Edward gave the chicks such tender care that not a single one was lost, a remarkable record for the 1920s.

When summer arrived, Hnilicka built a house on his 80 acres of farmland and in the fall constructed a 40-by-14-foot poultry shed-type shelter, seven-feet, six inches on the high side, and four-feet, six inches on the low side with six large windows facing the south. The building was designed and constructed so that modern equipment of the time could be added in the spring.

The baby chicks ran about 50-50 roosters and pullets. In July and August, Hnilicka killed all the roosters except the best 10, which were selected for breeding purposes. When the first snow arrived at the start of winter, the flock was transferred to its new home with the roosters separated from the pullets.

Two pullets began laying at the age of 4 and a half months and for the next three months Hnilicka was collecting seven to eight dozen eggs per day. The production increased in November, December and January. 

Hnilicka didn’t rest on his early success. He was smart enough to realize he needed to market his product more. He contacted a marketer in the city of Menominee, about 13 miles from his poultry operation. He posted a five-dollar bill for every egg from his farm that would not be found to be fresh and palatable. He told merchants that their customers would be willing to be a premium price for his eggs. 

The marketing strategy worked. The first merchant to take on Hnilicka’s brash move charged five cents more per dozen for his eggs and paid the poultry farmer five cents above market quotations. Hnilicka’s reputation spread and he soon found himself unable to supply the demand. He didn’t believe in selling his eggs on a door-to-door basis because of the time it consumed. His market was strictly retailers and wholesalers. 

The young poultry entrepreneur, who launched his business at 29, was soon heralded as smart and savvy poultry farmer. His business grew and expanded its market territory. To keep up with demand, he ordered 1,200 more baby chicks of the same breed and egg strain and two brooders, one with 800 capacity and the other with 500 capacity. His goal was to increase his flock to about 2,500 laying hens. 

Edward Hnilicka proved at a young business age that he could make a handsome profit in the poultry business. He credited his success to studying and education himself on the business venture before testing his ambition with hard work and solid marketing skills.

He was 96 when he died at a Peshtigo nursing home in 1989.