Milk-fed Hens

In the 1800s, hens were fed rather like the pigs – they were left to forage for what they could find, and fed scraps from the kitchen. They ate what was no longer consumable by people, and there was plenty of it, because without refrigeration food went moldy and staled. I’ve read accounts from women’s diaries of the days and hard work that it took to clean out their pantries. I’ll never complain about wiping out my refrigerator again.

Dairy products were often feast or famine. There was plenty of milk when your cow was lactating, but none when she was “freshened off.” Cheese and butter were ways to store the excess. Often, though, milk would sour. When it did, the pigs and the chickens were fed bucketfuls.

Eventually, when farmers had hundreds, and then thousands of hens, this changed. Animals were confined. Grains were milled for animal feed. But, for awhile there, chickens were still fed milk. Spent laying hens were sold to middlemen, who fattened the chickens on milk before slaughter. Milk-fed hens were considered prime meat for the table.

Although my teenager likes generic 1% milk, I want something better for my morning coffee fix. I splurge on whole milk from grass-fed cows for my morning coffee ritual. (FYI – I make coffee in this machine and froth the milk in this.) Anticipating a week of sitting on a couch and drinking coffee while I recuperated from surgery, I bought a half-gallon of very good, very expensive, local milk. Then, I got that nasty bug and had to drink broth and juice instead. The milk soured. So, I did what women before me have done. I fed it to the hens. I’m glad someone got to enjoy that splurge.


A note on my continuing recuperation: I’m up and ambulatory! My incision site has healed and I’m allowed out to the barn (but no mucking about in manure and kicking up dust.) Lily is getting a much needed walk today.


  1. I am so glad you are better!

    Re the milk – I had not tried that, but they sure love yogurt!

    Aloha from Hawaii,


  2. We don’t have dairy farms around here so we have to buy from the store. I know my hens really like yogurt but I’ve never given them a bowl of milk.

    I’m glad you’re feeling better. Nothing like getting hit with a virus when you’re already in recovery.

  3. Delighted you are feeling better. I know the chickens and goats and dogs are delighted as well.

  4. So glad you’re doing well!

    My girls love anything dairy. When my yogurt or sour cream starts to mold, they get it and go crazy for it. Of course, I throw out the moldy part first.

  5. Glad to hear you are up and about.

    I never thought about giving dairy products to chickens. My first thought was it would lead to scours. I know my hens love mashed tators, never can seem to make just the right amount.

    • Ken, I was sure that you were going to tell me about a farming relative that fed buttermilk to the hens. Surprised you hadn’t heard of this! Re too many mashed potatoes: When they dry out a bit add a beaten egg and a touch of bread crumbs. Form into patties and skillet-fry. Tater-tots, too!

      • My parents and grandparents lived by the waste not want not motto. Me not so much, I’m not happy to admit it. I do like potatoe pancakes. Do you fry with a little olive oil? It’s been so long since I’ve seen them made but I’m sure my relatives used bacon grease, everything was fried in bacon grease!

        • We make potato cheese pancakes, along with the left over mashed, eggs, and throw in some grated cheese. Usually a little basil and such. Bacon bits would be really nice as well.

  6. Very glad you are better!

    Be carefull after this bad virus!

    My best whishes for you

    Gizzy from France

    I just love your animals-I take many-many screenshots-I have a gallerie these pictures:)mostly abaut Candy-my fauvorit, and after the goats:) so sweety animal-gemini; and after the little white chicken and definitly ALL of yours girls:)

    I like very much your two dogs-I saw the video about Lily with toys to the basket:))) It was wery lovely.

  7. Glad you are on way to feeling well again. A great day for a walk.

  8. Glad you are getting better Terry – when is the day for turning on the implant?! Exciting! I love the pics of Scooter in his usual position and Lily ready for action – things as usual in the Golson household!

    • I get “activated” at the end of next week, and then it will take month as my brain transitions. Each individual responds differently to the CI. I’m thinking that along with getting that grey matter that hasn’t had a thing to do for a year going again, that it’s tied to other grey matter that will be excited to be activated. Perhaps I’ll get superpowers of creativity! :)

  9. So glad to hear you are feeling better! We also enjoy local grass fed milk! A splurge well worth making! I’ll remember this in the future for my hens just incase it ever goes bad before we can drink it.

  10. I hope you’re not up doing too much after getting sick so close to your surgery. Sounds like your good company is reeping the rewards of your re-coop-eration. While you’re suppose to be taking it easy could you maybe be up to adding the Gems names to the animal bios? I can’t always keep their names straight. Its more fun to know who you’re talking about. Thanks again.

    • I know I’ve been promising it for awhile, but soon (2 weeks???) I’ll have the redesigned web site up and there will be a bio page with all of the Gems! Promise! Meanwhile, I have a husband reminding me to take it slow. Am about to sit quietly on the couch and sew patches on my growing son’s new Boy Scout shirt. (Who designs those impossible to sew patches anyway?)

  11. Terry, so happy to hear you were out & about with Lily, what a day for it!

  12. Very interesting info about milk. I’ll have to remember that. Very happy to know you’re feeling better, and that it’ll only be a week before you ear gets switched on. How exciting! Perhaps, since you’ve been through this once already, the brain will catch on faster this time. Fast or slow – either way, it’s so wonderful that you will be able to HEAR!

    • I’m told that how one side of the brain responds to a CI is no predictor of the other. Just like we are left and right-handed, so too are we left and right-eared. There’s no knowing which is my dominant ear!

  13. Glad to hear you are feeling better, and that you are able to get around and about know. It’s interesting on feeding milk to the hens. I was wondering since you buy milk locally, are you for or against drinking pasteurized milk ? I know that is a hot topic among organics.

    • It’s not important to me that the milk is unpasteurized. What I care about is getting milk from cows that are well cared for. In MA there are two dairies that keep their cows on pasture and that sell to Wholefoods, so I pick up my milk there.

  14. Hey Terry,

    I am also happy that you are doing well. I was wondering if you could recommend any books about the 18th century women? Thank you

    • Veda, there are many books about pioneer women who lived out west. “Letters of a Woman Homesteader” by Stewart, “A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains” by Bird and “No LIfe for a Lady” by Cleaveland are a few. It’s harder to find stories of the quieter lives of women back east on farms. I’m fortunate to have some in my private collection.