Poultry in Motion: Biltmore’s Feathered Friends
Estate History 02/19/16
Written By Kristina Smith
Chickens, turkeys, and other fowl have been strutting and clucking their way across the estate since its earliest days. Biltmore’s two original poultry sheds proved too limited, so in 1896, plans began for what would become the Poultry Yards, located up the hill from what’s now the Farm and Bike Barn.
Richard Howland Hunt, son of Richard Morris Hunt, designed the Poultry Yards, which included the Brooder House, plus the Chicken Tender’s House: the residence for the poultryman and his family. A variety of breeds were raised at Biltmore, including Brahmas, Cochins, Cornish game hens, Leghorns, Minorcas, Plymouth Rocks, and Wyandottes. In addition to chickens, ducks and drakes, Bronze turkey toms and hens, wild turkey, quail, squab, and pheasant were found on the estate. Photo courtesy of National Forests of North Carolina Historic Photographs, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville, 28804.
From the start, Biltmore Farms produced award-winning poultry used for eggs as well as meat. In May of 1897, an advertisement in the Asheville Citizen announced the sale of dressed Biltmore broilers at 30 cents each, table eggs at 15 cents a dozen, and “dated and extra selected” eggs at 25 cents a dozen. By the end of that same year, enough eggs were being produced to supply the Kenilworth Inn with eight to 15 dozen a day as well as provide for the needs of Biltmore House.
When the Vanderbilts were in residence and entertaining guests, demand for eggs skyrocketed. According to a June 8, 1896 memo, Biltmore House required nearly 30 dozen eggs a week. Poultry and eggs were served almost daily according to the 1904 Menu Book for Biltmore House. Luncheons and dinners often began with chicken broth or consommé. For second luncheon, eggs were served stuffed, creamed, and fried, and included in cutlets, omelets, timbales and croquettes. Chickens were prepared broiled, roasted, fricasseed, fried, creamed, braised, and in casseroles, potpies and mousse. Other poultry dishes included roast and barbequed duck, braised quail and squab, and roast partridge and goose. Leftover poultry frequently went into salads.
If the 1904 Menu Book is any indication, the poultry most frequently served in Biltmore House was turkey. The Vanderbilts ate roast turkey with cranberry sauce, roast Biltmore turkey, broiled spring turkey, roast wild turkey, turkey soup and croquettes, creamed turkey, chipped turkey and cold turkey in salad. In fact, they ate turkey in one form or another 35 times during one span of 14 weeks, or on average every three days. A recipe for turkey and cornbread dressing was said to be one of Mr. Vanderbilt’s favorite foods.
The Poultry Farm closed down not long after Mr. Vanderbilt’s death in 1914, but the buildings continued to be used for other purposes. The original Chicken Tender’s House functioned as a residence until it burned in 1931. The Brooder House still stands behind the Inn on Biltmore Estate and can be seen on the Legacy of the Land tour.
Chicken remain a vital part of our farm-to-table program. In the past twelve months, Biltmore’s mostly brown egg-laying flocks (which include heirloom and historic Vanderbilt breeds) have produced 16,080 eggs.
All of Biltmore’s egg layers are free range and are part of our intensive grazing rotation. The eggs are laid, collected, handled and packaged here and never leave the estate. All eggs are processed and incubated in the historic Brooder House. Look for our mobile chicken coops in the fields near the Farm, one of the creative measures our farmers put in place to promote sustainable agriculture on the estate.