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The Steele family with their broiler operation in 1924. Photo Credit: Delaware Agricultural Museum © US Department of Agriculture

We don’t get the attention we deserve!

What people don’t realize throughout the nation, let alone the Delmarva area, is that we are the reason the world eats so much poultry. Chicken was already being eaten at the time, but it was viewed as more of a “poor man’s” choice of meat. Most people took to the liking of beef and steak. Chickens have traveled a long ways to our bellies. The birds originated in Southeast Asia and was first brought over to America and the New World in 1493.

So Where Does Delaware Come Into Play?

One day, back in 1923, Mrs. Cecile Steele of Oceanview, DE was delivered 500 chicks rather than the 50 that she usually ordered each year. Because she couldn’t return the chicks, Cecile decided to build a bigger chicken house and sell them for their meat a few weeks before everyone else if she could pull it off. Well she pulled it off and quickly became a rich woman. In today’s currency, she received $8.60 a pound! Whereas, nowadays, chicken costs about $3.20 a pound at the supermarket. So talk about a payoff.

The next year, Mrs. Steele ordered double her chick supplier’s mistake, ordering 1,000 chicks. Within two years, she had reached up to TEN THOUSAND chicks… After a decade had passed, she was raising over 25,000 chickens on her farm and selling chicken to every family in town.

People Wanted To Be As Rich As Cecile…

Her family, friends, and neighbors’ farms weren’t doing as well and they all wanted the profits that Cecile was pulling, so they thought to start raising chickens and selling them for meat as well. This spiraled into the “broiler movement.” What we have to acknowledge is, before the 1920s when Cecile started growing her farm, chickens would not generally live long. They were prone to disease and would die off quickly. More so, farmers weren’t educated at the time about the strengths of Vitamin D, which allows farmers to continue farming birds through cold season. Luckily, Cecile Steele, the Oceanview chicken lady, received a blessing at just the right moment, advancing the development of chicken science and studies and making chicken such a popular food choice today.


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