Babci Story: Surviving on Milk Soup

by Sandy L on March 28, 2012

If you’ve been  reading the blog a while, it’s no secret to know that the key  to Babci’s thriftiness is in great part due to the abject poverty that she grew up in.  In the winter, when food was running low, there was no meat ever.   The family’s only source of protein came from eggs and milk.  They were so utterly dependent to their livestock that they would have  died without it.   It reminds me of when I went on my honeymoon in Tanzania and we toured some local homes and learned that the people actually lived under the same roof as their cows. The locals had some folklore reason why that was, but in short, it’s because cows are just that important to the survival of a family.

A very common meal that my mom’s family would eat during the lean months was milk soup.  This was very simply warmed up milk with egg drop noodles added for a little texture and flavor.  My mom used to make it for me as a treat when I was little.  She however would put sugar on top of my soup and I’m sure it tasted much yummier than the plain variety she ate for months at a time.

Getting chickens has special significance to Babci and I.  For her, it’s inherently linked to survival.  For me, it represents one of my happiest memories as a child.  When I was 10, I spent a summer in Poland and I had the pleasure of being on my aunt’s farm for several weeks.  This is the same farm my mom grew up in.  It was the 80s and she still didn’t have indoor plumbing at that point.  She did however have a son about my age and the two of us had a blast. There are 5 things I vividly remember about that summer.

  1. Hanging out in the hay loft.
  2. Having a cherry eating contest and eating cherries off a tree until our faces and hands were stained red.
  3. Being locked inside the house and not being able to go to the outhouse and having to pee really badly.
  4. Visiting with a cow and then having it step on my foot and then it just stood there while I was in agony…it just wouldn’t move and it was heavy. It had no idea it was hurting me…stupid cow.
  5. Holding a baby chick and appreciating all the wonder that goes along with a new life.

As a result, I love the smell of hay, I have a cherry tree in my yard (that I wish the birds wouldn’t eat every year), I am not crazy about cows or having a full bladder and last but not least, I want my children to experience the magic of chickens.

Babci’s Chicken Coop Advice Stinks

Since Babci spent half her life living on a farm, I thought I’d get all this sage knowledge about raising livestock.  What I didn’t realize until just this week (and why I have no idea), was that if Babci grew up in an overcrowded malnourished state of poverty, that meant her animals did too. When I stayed at the farm as a kid, the standard of living was much higher, so I just imagined  the animals living on that cheery version of Old McDonald’s farm, not the reality of what it must have been like during WW2.  Well, the real question is…when the family was near starvation, what did the animals eat?  The feed might have been organic because pesticides weren’t invented yet, but it sure as heck wasn’t well balanced.  Apparently chickens can survive on nothing but boiled potatoes, crushed up eggshells and clabbered milk  for long periods of time.

Then come the coop.  Every time I ask her about perches or nesting boxes or space requirements, I get one answer:  Oh, don’t worry about that, chickens don’t need that.   “Nesting box? Chickens don’t need that.  All you need to do is throw a basket or two in your coop or throw some hay on the ground and they’ll make their own nest.”   Space?  “Chickens don’t need that, I had 30 chickens in the size of the closet..and ducks too. The ducks live on the floor and the chickens live above and they work things out between each other.”   Thanks mom, that was really helpful. (I wish there was a sarcasm font). She obviously employs the Darwin method for livestock rearing.  She has absolutely no concerns about overcrowding or stressing out the animals. If they can’t hack it or turn into egg eaters, there is only one solution and that solution is: Chicken Soup.  Mmmm Mmmm Delicious.

Needless to say, I’m going to want to stay somewhat involved so I don’t get a call from the ASPCA, but my gut tells me she’s going to baby her little chooks and feed them all kinds of yummy treats to keep them happy. I did work on the nesting boxes and perch over the weekend. My kids and I went into a friend’s yard and cut down a couple of saplings for the project. Here is the photo below.  Note, I’m trying to spend as little as possible given the cost of the permit, so I will be updating you on my low cost coop ideas shortly.  Can you picture the chickens perching here?

My $0 Chicken Perch





{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Nansuelee March 28, 2012 at 1:57 PM

Great post and thanks for sharing your life stories. Spending a summer on a farm in Poland must have been beyond fantastic!


Linda March 28, 2012 at 6:11 PM

Hard to tell from the photo, but the roosting bars inside the coop should be about 2 inches in diameter. Unlike song birds chickens don’t grip tightly with their feet when the perch or roost. They need the extra width so they can balance/perch and settle their feathered breast over their feet in the winter. This helps them stay warm during the cold nights. I have a roosting bar made from a tree branch, too, and it is about 2 inches in diameter.

As for feeding chickens on the cheap, a neighbor stopped by one day and told me that when he was a boy in Germany after WWII all the housewives had chickens and they fed them potato peels since that was all they had.


Sandy L March 28, 2012 at 7:00 PM

Linda – food scraps does seem more like what they probably did eat. The perch is 60″ wide, so the photo is deceptive in scale. The front perch is about 2″ and the back one is about 1.5.” I was thinking of getting bantams so I wanted a narrower perch for the smaller chickens. Let’s hope they like it. If not, it won’t be too hard to make another one. Thanks again for the continued advice.


ShortRoadTo March 28, 2012 at 7:06 PM

I too am a pure bred Pole. My grandmother on my mother’s side calls my family in Poland every weekend. The town that my family lives in didn’t get telephones until 15 years ago!


Sandy L March 28, 2012 at 9:24 PM

Short road – yes, my aunt did not get indoor plumbing until 1992. I don’t know when she got a phone but it was at least 5-10 years after that. Welcome and thanks for commenting.


The Lost Goat March 28, 2012 at 8:23 PM

How much does a permit for chickens cost?


Sandy L March 28, 2012 at 9:23 PM

Goat – $311 is the permit cost. A bunch of people are actually going the beg forgiveness route and not getting them until they get caught. It’s a shame it’s so expensive here, but I’m at least glad we can have them.


Jacq March 29, 2012 at 8:25 PM

I was reading “Child 44” on holiday and the beginning of it was set in post WWII Ukraine or Russia during the first Stalinist 5 year plan. Really puts poverty into perspective when they’re thinking about eating the pet cat. Or cannibalism. Bravo for Babci for making the best of everything – and you for giving her a good life now.
My kid wants chickens too but fortunately(?) I have a golden retriever who’s awfully birdy. Those hens wouldn’t be laying long for me. They’d probably all die from a heart attack within a week.
I wish I could have a little goat or sheep that would cut my grass. 🙂


Invest It Wisely March 30, 2012 at 10:23 PM

I can’t imagine what those times were like, but they had a really rough time caught between two opposing titans. Definitely puts things into perspective!


Andrew @ 101 Centavos April 8, 2012 at 8:38 AM

Definitely puts the term “livestock” into perspective. We bloggers natter on and on about investments and equities and funds, but it’s worthwhile to remember that in years past in times of crisis, a family’s investments for survival, its stock, was right there with them.

Wonderful chicken perch, by the way. I’ve gradually stored up all kinds of straight(ish) saplings and branches, to make… well, something out of them. Maybe a trellis, or bird perch.


j b May 14, 2012 at 2:04 PM

A small correction, it should be “babcia” not “babci”…in Polish language the word for grandma is babcia, but because of declination you may see “babci” in some Polish texts when someone says ” Chodz do babci” (come to grandma) or ” Daj babci buzi” (give a kiss to grandma) , so when you speak Polish “babci” makes sense in sentence but when you put it in English language it does not make sense at all. Americans often do that since they do not understand declination in other languages.


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