The geneticists of Mt Hope Farm, Dr Edward F. Godfrey (mid-left) and Dr Hubert Goodale (mid-right)
Mt Hope Farm was the creation of a former Chicago lawyer Col. Ezra Parmalee Prentice. He was born in Davenport, Iowa. He graduated with a B.A. (Law) in 1886 from Amherst College in Massachusetts and then studied law at the Harvard Law School for two years. He started a law firm in Chicago where he established an outstanding reputation at the bar. In 1900 he left Chicago to become a member of the New York law firm of Murray, Prentice and Aldrich. He married Alta, the daughter of John D Rockerfeller Sr., and together in 1910 they purchased several farms near South Williamstown in the north-west corner of Massachusetts. This eventually became the 1227-acre Mt Hope Farm and was the centre of significant achievements experiments in animal genetics. These were focussed on the theory that animal breeders were working along the wrong lines in producing animals of fine form and pedigree and were doing nothing for the purpose for which they were kept. He sought to apply Mendel’s genetic principles to animal breeding by taking a step further to improve their production. He committed at Mt. Hope Farm to applicable research to improve farm animals, poultry, sheep, swine and cattle.
In the pursuit of improved poultry production a farm was built and examples of the best strains of White Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds available at the time were purchased. High record S.C. White Leghorns were purchased: Lady Storr from Morris Farm, Connecticut- 287 eggs, May Queen from Henry Sutton, England- 288 eggs, Lady Eglantine from Eglantine Farm, Maryland-314 eggs, Lady Victory from Pennsylvania Poultry Farm-304 eggs, Keystone maid also from Pennsylvania Poultry Farm-306 eggs, No 251 from Douglas Tancred, Washington-311 eggs, from Hollywood Farm in Washington a hen that laid 336 eggs, and from Beall’s Farm (Tancred lines) on Vashon Is hens from dams with records of 290-306 eggs. Dr Hubert Goddale was employed in 1923. When he arrived the average egg yield of Mt Hope hens was 168. By 1949 this had risen to 266, an average increase of about 3 eggs per year. The farm produced two outstanding strains of White Leghorns, Cornucopia and Queen. Mt Hope established franchise hatcheries throughout the USA, Canada and Mexico. In 1950 Col. Prentice was awarded the Golden Egg of New Jersey Poultry Association.
As time went on certain genetic questions surfaced for which the generations of poultry and cattle went far too slowly and so a colony of mice were set up. Breeding was focussed on body size and selection for this character alone showed size was doubled in 17 generations.
The farm had annual Field Days and annual visitors to the farm reached over 5000. Agricultural Missions from foreign lands joined the visitors and lead to the export of livestock. Italy (the Order of the Crown of Italy) and Bulgaria (the Order of Civil Merit) bestowed honours on him for his work. In 1924 the Department of Agriculture of Massachusetts conferred on him a Gold Medal for agricultural research. Mount Hope chickens were a feature on a Bulgarian stamp. Col. Prentice passed away in 1952 and his son John continued the work across all aspects of Mt Hope breeding as manager for his mother. In 1958 the bloodlines of the Poultry Department was transferred to the franchise holders of the Mt Hope Queen and they were moved to Batavia, New York. Four years later the Poultry Farm was sold to Arbor Acres Farm Inc and the Mt Hope Queen was then known as the Arbor Acre Queen.
The Superintendents house and hatchery 1950 (left) and the same house in 1999