Livestock and Poultry on the Train: The Journey of the Cow, the Pig, and the Chicken

Pastoral Scene with Cows

This oil painting was created in 2009 by Dennis Caverly and depicts a pastoral scene in Yellow Breeches Creek, not far from Boiling Springs PA.   Courtesy of the Cumberland County Historical Society, Carlisle, PA.

Until the rise of railroads in the mid-to-late Nineteenth century, farms in the Cumberland Valley were highly diversified.  In addition to grains, farmers raised livestock and poultry as part of a system of crop rotation.  To avoid unproductive fallows, grass was grown on specific fields in off years as feed for livestock and poultry.  At the same time, the manure produced by the cows, hogs, and chickens was used as fertilizer, replenishing soil that had previously hosted corn, wheat, and oats.  Without a speedy way to transport perishables, most of the products derived from farm animals and birds remained for use on the farm. 

Because railroads provided access to larger markets, faster transport, and later, refrigeration, farmers could realize greater margins of profitability through specialization and commercialism.  In the 20th century, they began focusing on dairying, cattle, hogs, or poultry rather than all four.  The sizes of local herds and flocks increased, the layouts of farms changed, and advanced equipment and supportive organizations were created to assist in these new enterprises.

Livestock and Poultry on the Train: The Journey of the Cow, the Pig, and the Chicken