Poultry Passion


Robert Richard Griffiths arrived in America from Wales in 1884 at the age of ten. His family found employment in coal mining, and eventually, in farming in Central Iowa. He would marry, begin a dairy farm in Des Moines, and have three sons. Each would eventually own their own farms—five altogether. The oldest, Anthony, settled south of the capital city on a farm in Warren County. There he mixed conventional farming with his hobbies, poultry and gardening.

Writer Lawn Griffiths’ book Batting Rocks over the Barn—An Iowa Farm Boy’s Odyssey shares a wide range of family stories, including ones about his Uncle Anthony, who would display his farm’s array of produce and poultry annually at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. He also kept chickens, geese, and ducks of a variety of breeds on his farm. He took them to poultry shows around the Midwest to be exhibited and judged for ribbons. He was dedicated to his horticulture hobby. He ordered his garden seeds from 35 different seed catalogues. At times, he had seven vegetable gardens scattered around the spread.

His passion was poring through those catalogs like a kid with a pack of comic books, getting new and exotic seeds, and poking them into the soil to see them grow and flourish. Each spring, he ordered more seeds than he could ever plant, giving the rest away to friends. His longtime dream was to establish his own mail-order seed catalogue. His daughter, Rosalie, had helped him edit just such a catalog they hoped to get started. He had developed a small yellow tomato variety he called “Laura’s Jewel,” named after his only granddaughter.

There on View Crest Farm south of Norwalk, Anthony went about his own style of farming. His hilltop brick home could be seen for miles. Once a stagecoach stop, it looked down on a farmyard overrun by fowl that found plenty of nesting places amid the acquired clutter that choked the grounds around the buildings. When he was only six, Anthony’s father bought some fancy chickens. In 1916, he took them to fairs and shows for the first time. From there, he would exhibit poultry at the Iowa State Fair for 49 years until his death in March 1979. He had cages and chicken coops around the farm, with a rooster to four to six hens. Daily chicken chores were daunting. Some of the eggs from the mating would be put into incubators. Others would be hen-hatched.

At the state fair, for almost a half century, he showcased his farm with corn, wheat, barley, squash, timothy grass, beets, beans, and so much more in his booth in the Agriculture Building.

Anthony and his two brothers married three nurses from the same graduating class at Des Moines’ Broadlawns General Hospital and all became farmwives.

Once, when Anthony was eating some Buckwheat-brand cereal, he studied the box and decided that it didn’t illustrate the head of a buckwheat. He wrote a letter to the company to set them straight. But all they sent back was a coupon for another box of cereal.

Lawn Griffiths’s book, Batting Rocks over the Barn, details more of his experiences in his youth. Connect with him on his accounts on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

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