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Steve and Peg Matter run a family business on Water Street in downtown Decorah. In 2005, they completed their 82nd hatching season. Steve represents the third generation of his family to operate the egg hatchery, which sells a large variety of chicken, duck, turkey, goose, quail, guinea, and pheasant eggs and chicks to farmers in Iowa and other parts of the Midwest.
Peg and Steve’s children, Andrea (a student at Grinnell), Nathan (at
Knox College in Galesburg, IL), and Laura (a graduate of Grinnell), have grown
up in the business, creating a fourth-generation involvement. Steve’s grandparents
started the hatchery in 1923 and lived above the storefront.
Steve, like his father left to do other things, and then returned to operate the
business. Besides selling eggs and chicks, the Matters dispense advice on feed,
pluckers, brooding, and more.
Chick hatcheries date back to the early twentieth century, and many started in the 1920s. They evolved as a way for farmers to segment labor and to focus various parts of production among different sources. Hatcheries, like family farm hen houses, were traditionally a way for farm women to create further income for their families, though these frequently developed into larger scale businesses. In years past, hatcheries served relatively small geographical areas. But as transportation efficiency and dependability have increased, so have the distances that hatcheries serve—as well as the size of farms to which they ship.
Hatcheries, like the Matters’ business, typically include egg incubators and brooders to keep the newly-hatched chicks warm. After it is laid, an egg needs to incubate for 21 days, during which time the embryo develops into a chick.
The Matters’ business has definitely capitalized on its location in downtown Decorah. They are a definitely a destination for “Quality Chick®”t-shirts, visiting children and adults eager to hold a baby chick or to watch one hatch, or for folks interested in fleece clothing, Amish rockers, fly fishing equipment, wild bird seed and feeders and more.