On Nebraska’s small farms in the 1930s, nearly all families raised several kinds of animals. Horses and mules pulled farm equipment in the fields. Other animals were a source of money and food. Cows provided milk and meat. Chickens provided eggs and meat. Farmers raised hogs and cattle to sell for money and butchered a few animals to feed their families. Many small family farms were nearly self-sufficient until the drought made it hard to raise crops and feed and water farm animals.

poultry parade

Helen Bolton says their family never went hungry because they butchered their own hogs for meat, grew potatoes and other vegetables. They had milk and eggs from cows and chickens, and she baked her own bread. Danish-born Carla Due says the money her family earned from selling eggs and cream was a big part of their income. “That was the money flow that came in all the time. Otherwise it would just be when you sold wheat or whatever,” she says.

ApetzDelbertDelbert Apetz tells a story about a farmer who had a five-gallon can of cream he was taking to town to sell. He planned to use the money from selling the cream to buy groceries. On the way to town, the car hit a bump and spilled the cream. Delbert says the farmer “turned around and went home ’cause he didn’t have a dime to buy any groceries.”

Walter Schmitt says farms were much smaller than they are now, and there were many more farmers coming to town. He says almost every farm had chickens and milk cows during the drought and Depression years. Many farm families lived on money from selling cream and eggs. He says, “Once or twice a week, they’d come to town with their cream and their eggs.” That’s what Herman Goertzen’s family did. He says, “We had our cows … and a chicken house full of chickens.” Their family went to town on Wednesday or Saturday nights to sell their cream and eggs and to buy groceries.

Written by Claudia Reinhardt and Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.

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