Friday, June 27, 2008

Chickens in Wisconsin

A reporter from the Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin called me to ask for some Fun Facts for a children's activity book they are publishing in conjunction with the state fair, I found some:

Golden Laced Wyandotte chickens originated in Wisconsin in 1880, from the Silver Laced variety that came from New York State. The variety was recognized by the American Poultry Association for exhibition in 1888. Wyandotte is a familiar name in the Midwest, the name of a New York State Native American tribe now centered in Oklahoma. The National Poultry Museum is located in Wyandotte County, Kansas.

In 1910, L.A. Whitmore of Beaver Dam advertised his prizewinning Sunset Strain of Buff Wyandottes, like this one of Barry Koffler's, posted on, to prospective buyers. “Winona Kid” was his first prize cockerel, winner in Minneapolis and Omaha. Barry doesn't name this impressive bird.

The Buff color came from Buff Cochin chickens that arrived from China in 1845, big fluffy chickens that created a sensation in a nation soon to be gripped by Hen Fever. Hen Fever was the frenzied interest and competition among wealthy country gentlemen and others sparked by the first American poultry show in Boston in 1849. At its height, prize chickens sold routinely for $150 a pair, with prices as high as $700 a pair reported before the bubble burst in 1855. The buff color was bred into nearly all other breeds by the end of the 19th century.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

White Dorkings

These White Dorkings from Yellow House Farm in New Hampshire,, are an ancient breed. They probably came to England with the Romans. Their distinctive fifth toe identifies them in Roman art, where they are portrayed with Mercury and other important heroes and gods.

It acquired its name from a market town in England and is classified by the APA as an English fowl.

Dorkings are recognized in SilverGray, Colored and Red color varieties as well as White. Breeders raise other colors, such as Cuckoo, Crele, Dark and Black. Siver-Gray and Colored Dorkings are recognized with Single Combs. White birds have Rose Combs. Breeders raise both varieties of combs in all colors.

I see few Dorkings at shows. Whenever I donate cash for a prize, I always designate it for Best English, in hopes that a Dorking will show up and win it. This breed deserves more attention and I intend to give it some focus later this year.

My posts have been less frequent as I've been absorbed with my next book, "How to Raise Poultry." It should be completed in the next month or so and I will post more frequently.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Trio of Phoenix

This lovely trio of Phoenix rooster and two hens is available. If you have an interest in getting started with this rare and unusual breed, this is a good opportunity. The birds are in California and their owner is concerned that they go to a good home. $30.

Phoenix are recognized for exhibition by the APA and ABA. They are an American variety of old Japanese breeds of Long-tailed chickens. This rooster is not a long-tailed bird, so do not be concerned that you will need to give his tail feathers special care. They are an active, lively breed that make a good show bird or young person's project. Contact Djinn at and cc me at I'd be interested to follow them on the next stop on their journey.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Farm Bill

The National Family Farm Coalition weighed in with a detailed analysis of the Farm Bill. Farms like this one in Ames, Iowa, photgraphed for the USDA,, by Scott Bauer, are not getting the support they need from the government. Sometimes I try to imagine what a USDA that put the Small Farm first would be like.

NFFC has done a great job of helping us understand the impact of this huge piece of legislation. Their complete document follows:


Congress Chooses to Ignore Global Food Crisis

Washington D.C. (May 23, 2008) –The National Family Farm Coalition today criticized Congress and the recently enacted Farm Bill for failing to address the growing global food crisis occurring abroad and here at home. During the Farm Bill debate, there was widespread media attention focused on the ecological, economic, and public health hazards of our broken, industrialized food system. Renewed consumer demand for local food provided by sustainable family farmers made NFFC hopeful that Congress would finally reorient our farm programs away from favoring corporate agribusinesses over family farmers. Though incremental improvements were made to help fund organic, conservation, local food and diversity initiatives, the underlying bill continues to favor industrial agriculture models at the expense of family farmers and rural communities.

NFFC President and Mississippi farmer Ben Burkett said, "While I am glad to see the Farm Bill acknowledges minority farmers in a meaningful way for the first time and also allows for more black farmers to seek justice under the Pigford case, it should not hide the fact that the bill still represents a fundamental failure to family farmers and will not stop the hollowing out of rural America. The bill will also continue to undermine the food sovereignty of farmers around the world devastated by export dumping by U.S. agribusinesses."

Though NFFC believes the Farm Bill represented a missed opportunity to redirect our food and farm systems, NFFC does not agree with the misguided reasoning behind President Bush's veto and his promotion of corporate globalization and free trade through the World Trade Organization, which has devastated farmers both here and abroad. Neither do we agree with the critiques from left- and right-wing groups urging vetoes on the basis of subsidies for "millionaire farmers" and the dismantling of farm programs in favor of the Bush Administration's deregulated free-trade agenda.

Commodity Title

Since the 1996 Farm Bill eliminated all government-held reserves for commodities, NFFC has warned this was putting our food system in severe jeopardy. With the global food crisis upon us, implementing grain reserves now is just as urgent a necessity for the United States to have as the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Without the reserve, farmers never knew how low prices would go and had to rely on taxpayer subsidies for the past few years as prices fell far short of their cost of production. Now, with ethanol-driven demand among other factors pushing commodity prices higher, food processors, bakers, livestock producers and consumers are left wondering when prices will stop rising. While NFFC points to increased fuel and energy costs as the main factor behind food price inflation and does not agree with the campaign to blame ethanol and higher corn prices, NFFC does not believe ethanol is a viable long-term solution towards ensuring farmers can receive a fair price to cover their costs of production. A Strategic Grain Reserve, combined with revived Farmer-Owned Reserves, would offer much better stability for farmers, food processors and consumers. George Naylor, an Iowa corn and soybean farmer, said, "While other countries are rebuilding their food stocks or considering establishing Strategic Grain Reserves, our Congress and the president put its head in the sand and continues to leave America's food security in the hands of Wall Street speculators. By letting prices fluctuate without any price floor or government reserves, the Farm Bill only heightens economic uncertainty for both family farmers and consumers in an already precarious economy."

NFFC is extremely disappointed in Congress's decision to establish no reserves and instead, continue a disastrous commodity policy that has failed rural America and benefited corporate agribusinesses. A Tufts University GDAE study showed that from 1997-2005, industrial factory farms saved $35 billion, thanks to buying below-cost feed, while farmers were forced to rely on subsidies. Smithfield and Cargill are the real winners of our commodity policies, not farmers. The new Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program being offered in the Farm Bill ties subsidies to revenue instead of prices. Though some may see this as a better deal for farmers, the ACRE program would offer virtually no safety net should prices become depressed for several years, as occurred after the disastrous 1996 Freedom to Farm Act. Any assumption that "high prices are here to stay forever" ignores decades of history and the lessons of the 1980s Farm Crisis that occurred after the 1970s export boom. It is akin to the misguided mentality that caused our current mortgage foreclosure crisis, where the underlying assumption was "housing prices will always increase."

Livestock Title

In addition to continuing with a broken subsidy system, Congress chose to ignore urgently needed reforms for the livestock sector by failing to include the packer ban and captive supply in the livestock title. With the announcement of Brazilian meatpacker JBS Swift's planned takeover of National Beef, Smithfield Beef and Five Rivers Ranch Cattle Feeding, America's independent ranchers and farmers' livelihoods would be endangered by such a merger. Rhonda Perry, a Missouri livestock and grain farmer, said, "We have seen severe consolidation in our industry, so that four meatpackers now control 80% of our market. The JBS Swift merger might be the final nail in the coffin. Packers and their monopoly have been squeezing farmers out for decades now. We desperately needed the packer ban to restore some fairness and true competition in agriculture."

Dairy Provisions

NFFC's Dairy Subcommittee has worked tirelessly to alert Congress to the dire state of the dairy industry. This Farm Bill, despite an increase in milk income loss contract (MILC) payments that are tied to a feed adjuster, does nothing to address a broken dairy pricing system prone to manipulation and corruption. NFFC denounces the following provisions for the dairy sector:

§ Including the forward contracting program, which promises to further undermine the Federal Order system by allowing processors to lock in more "captive supply" of milk and lower prices for producers.

§ Expanding the Dairy Assessment for imports of 7.5 cents per hundredweight (cwt) of milk. This assessment simply funds dairy organizations like National Milk Producers Federation that serve the interests of processors more than they do the interests of dairy farmers. It could also be used to promote imported caseinates and milk protein concentrates at the expense of domestic milk.

§ Establishing (subject to appropriations) a Federal Milk Marketing Order Review Commission that stacks the deck for industry to change the Federal Milk Marketing Order. It further undermines producers and aims to redefine milk by possibly allowing milk protein concentrates and other substitute dairy products to be considered real "milk."

Paul Rozwadowski, a Wisconsin dairy farmer and chair of NFFC's Dairy Subcommittee, said, "The Farm Bill threatens the survival of America's remaining 60,000 dairy farmers with provisions only intended to help the processors and food companies who buy our raw product. Farmers don't want more MILC payments from taxpayers. We want a fair price reflecting our spiraling costs of production to be paid for by processors." Rozwadowski further condemned the Farm Bill for failing to address the endemic corruption in the industry and said, "Recent articles in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times have exposed the massive fraud and corruption on the part of Dairy Farmers of America. The Justice Department completed a three-year antitrust investigation against DFA that has yet to see the light of day, yet the Farm Bill does nothing to help bring much-needed justice for dairy farmers put out of business by the machinations of our cooperatives who have long ceased working on behalf of our family farmers."

Credit Title

Despite the Senate Agriculture Committee oversight hearing in June 2006 identifying serious problems in the delivery of USDA farm credit programs and the Senate's Farm Bill provisions to reinstate debt restructuring programs that have been weakened since the early 1990s, the final Farm Bill eliminated most of these provisions. On a positive note, Congress rebuffed the efforts of the Farm Credit System to expand their lending authority beyond farm lending. NFFC joined with more than 20 organizations in opposing this proposal, identifying the FCS current poor record in lending to farmers - particularly minority and beginning farmers - as evidence that an expansion into non-farm lending was inappropriate for a government-sponsored farm credit agency.

Many farmers are on the brink of financial disaster, despite somewhat higher commodity prices, as their costs of production escalate with little stability in the pricing system. Furthermore the consolidation of the banking sector means that many local banks in rural communities no longer understand nor care about their farm borrowers and are moving to eliminate lending or to foreclose at the first sign of a troubled loan.

Bill Christison, NFFC's Credit Committee Chair and Missouri corn, soybean and cattle farmer stated, "All over America, many farmers have suffered devastating foreclosures and liquidations due to extensive fraud and corruption within both the Farm Service Agency and commercial banking sectors. This Farm Bill should have been an opportunity to address long-term credit access and servicing problems that plague farm and rural communities. NFFC calls on the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, along with the appropriate Finance/Banking Committees, to probe the growing problem of predatory lending in the farm credit arena now and not to wait until the crisis is as serious as the home mortgage crisis."

Positive Provisions in the Farm Bill

NFFC acknowledges some of the positive aspects and incremental gains of the Farm Bill, even if the underlying bill overall continues with flawed policies.

§ First Ever Livestock Title: The Farm Bill finally contains a livestock title that will provide some much needed protections for independent ranchers and farmers raising livestock under contract. Though many provisions were watered down from the Senate version, there were some key reforms, including: preventing mandatory arbitration clauses for livestock/poultry contracts; allowing a three-day period to cancel contracts; and requiring contracts to disclose the requirement of large capital investments. Though Congress did not include an Office of Special Counsel within USDA to deal with enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act (PSA), the Farm Bill does require USDA to report annually on its investigations into violations of the PSA and directs USDA to define "undue pricing preferences" so that unjust pricing practices do not unfairly discriminate against small and independent livestock producers.

§ Diversity Initiative: The Farm Bill gives significant recognition to the importance of minority and socially disadvantaged farmers. There are specific targets for minority and socially disadvantaged farmer participation in conservation, farm credit, Value Added Producer Grants, and the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Programs. Minority Outreach and Education (Section 2501) authorized in the 1990 farm bill receives for the first time mandatory funding at $75 million over 4 years. This competitive grant program to community based organizations and educational institutions helps minority and socially disadvantaged farmers access USDA programs through effective outreach programs. Additionally, there is language halting foreclosure on minority farms that may have resulted from discrimination and allowing for more qualifying black farmers to file for the Pigford settlement if they were unable to the first time.

§ Country-of-Origin Labeling and Interstate Meat Shipment: The Farm Bill includes language to implement long-awaited COOL requirements for produce, beef, pork, chicken, lamb and goat that will go into effect in September 2008. COOL was included in the 2002 Farm Bill, but food industry, USDA and meatpackers' opposition have delayed its implementation. There are also provisions allowing for the interstate shipment of state-inspected beef that meets federal inspection standards. Both of these policies represent victories for consumers and farmers aiming to rebuild local food systems.

§ Community Food Projects and Geographic Preferences: The Farm Bill provides $5 million in mandatory annual funding for innovative Community Food Projects for matching grants to community groups building sustainable local food systems addressing hunger, nutrition, and meeting food security goals. There is new statutory language clearly stating that preference can be given to local purchasing of agriculture products for schools serving meals that receive federal assistance, resolving a conflict in USDA's interpretation of the 2002 farm bill.

§ GMO Oversight: New mandates to strengthen USDA oversight of GMO crops will help prevent the disaster that occurred when an unauthorized GM rice strain entered the U.S. rice crop and caused massive losses to export markets. The new regulatory framework will reduce the potential for future GMO contamination events at field trial test sites.

§ Conservation Funding: While NFFC applauds the $1.1 billion mandatory increase for the newly renamed Conservation Security Program (now the Conservation Stewardship Program) that allows for the enrollment of 115 million acres by 2017, we remain extremely disappointed that Congress chose to increase funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) by $2.4 billion. Currently, confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) can receive up to $450,000 in EQIP funding and represent a taxpayer handout to help factory farms deal with their hazardous waste. Though the Farm Bill now limits EQIP funding to $300,000, this is still an outrageous giveaway to factory farm interests and unfairly denies funding for family farmers.

§ Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program: The Farm Bill provides $75 million over 4 years in mandatory money for competitive grants to groups providing technical assistance and other services to beginning farmers and ranchers. This program was created in the 2002 Farm Bill but was never funded.

§ Permanent Disaster Program: The new $3.8 billion permanent disaster relief fund is important to ensure timely funding for natural disasters. NFFC still has concerns minority, socially disadvantaged, limited resource and organic farmers will have access to the funds.

§ Local Food Initiatives: NFFC applauds the $33 million in mandatory funds for the Farmers Market Promotion Program, $56 million for the Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program, and $1.2 billion to expand the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program that will enable 3 million children across the country to have access to healthier food options.

The National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC), founded in 1986, provides a voice for grassroots groups on farm, food, trade and rural economic issues to ensure fair prices for family farmers, safe and healthy food, and vibrant, environmentally sound rural communities here and around the world. For further information about the organization, call 1-800-639-3276 or visit

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ukrainian Pysanka

Central Coast Feather Fanciers watched Beth Ostapiuk,, demonstrate her Ukrainian Pysanka egg decorating at last night's meeting. Truly, creating these amazing artworks seems impossible, but she made it accessible to all of us.
These are done with chicken eggs, but she works with any kind of eggs, as large as an ostrich egg or as small as a cockatiel's! This folk art dates back thousands of years. The designs have traditional symbolic meanings and the eggs are used as talismans. Much of the symbolism relates to the Eastern Orthodox Church and Christian symbols, such as triangles and nets symbolizing the Holy Trinity and Fishers of Men. Birds are symbols of fertility and wishes fulfilled.

The process is like a batik, using wax to prevent dye from taking hold in sections of the design as successive layers of different color dyes are applied.

Goose eggs are best to work with overall, but Beth solicited the group for any eggs they may be able to provide. Grocery store eggs often have markings on them or other substances that make them less desirable as Pysanka Eggs.

Beth teaches the art through local education programs. You can also learn more about it at

Monday, June 16, 2008


These La Fleche chickens, also raised by Joseph Marquette of Yellow House Farm,, and photographed by Robert Gibson, are another of the Old French Breeds. They take their name from the town of La Fleche, south of Le Mans, France. By the 19th century, production of this breed was centered in the La Sarthe Valley. In contrast to the Houdans and Crevecoeurs, the LaFleche has no (or very little) crest, muffs or tassels. Those features were bred out of birds that had them by English fanciers. The French standard requires a crest.

It has the distinctive horned or V-shaped comb. Its ancestry of Black Spanish and Crevecoeur blood is evident in its body carriage, bright red comb and white earlobes. Now recognized only in black, blue and white varieties once existed. They are bred in large fowl and bantam sizes.

LaFleche never acquired a strong following in North America, despite the fact that it was included in the first Standard in 1874. They are large dual purpose birds that would make a good backyard or small flock breed.

Craig Russell of SPPA advises: Select glossy, greenish black breeders with prominent combs having erect, nicely rounded points. Look for strong, well-spaced rangy legs, broad shoulders, full breasts and long, broad backs that slope downward from shoulder to tail.

Contact me if you are interested in adding this breed to your operation.

Friday, June 13, 2008


The Crevecoeur is one of the oldest French breeds. The flock belongs to Yellow House Farm,, photographed by Robert Gibson.

Documentation traces them back to the 17th century, but they were probably around but not written about or painted long before that. They are part of the French tradition of breeding Dorkings with Polish and selecting for market traits: good size for meat and good layers of large white eggs. Crevecoeurs have four toes, not the five of Dorkings.

Historically, Crevecoeurs had both leaf combs and horned, V-combs. They are now V-combed. Although they are recognized today only in black, white and blue varieties existed in the past.

Crevecoeurs were among the breeds included in the first Standard in 1874.

Related breeds are the Caumont or Pavilly fowl, which is similar in type but lacks beard and muffs. It often had a smaller crest than is desirable in Crevecoeurs. Caux fowl are also similar in type but have no crest and a single comb. These have been considered races of Crevecoeur in the past. They present an interesting question for research and breeding. I look forward to someone taking on this project!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Midwest flood disaster

Matt John of Shady Lane Poultry,, and Poultryman Supply Company,, was flooded out of his new home in Columbus, Indiana over the weekend, He lost all his replacement stock of large fowl and all his adult bantams, nine breeds and several varieties.

Matt is an advocate of historic breeds and has kept Dominiques, as shown here in a photo from Bryan K. Oliver of the Dominique Club of America,,
Buckeyes, Black Javas, Delawares, Rhode Island Whites, Single Comb Rhode Island Reds, Rose Comb Rhode Island Reds, White Rocks and Barred Rocks, Red Naked Necks, Golden Campines, Buff Catalanas, Iowa Blues, New Hampshires, Black and White Langshans and Blue Sumatras.

His bantam breeds were: Single Comb Rhode Islands Red, Rose Comb Rhode Island Red, Buckeye, Black Langshan, Kentucky Speck, White-Faced Spanish, White Rock, Barred Rock, White and Black LaFleche, Buff Columbian Cochin and various varieties of Silkies.

Matt plans to bring several hundred hatching eggs to colleague Laura Haggarty of Pathfinders Farm,, to incubate for him. She serves with him as secretary of the Bluegrass Poultry Association, of which Matt is president. She posted a notice of Matt’s disaster and asked for those who wish to help to offer Matt replacement stock to help him get started again.

Please support this dedicated poultry breeder. I shall report on his progress as information becomes available.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Melchior d'Hondecoeter art

A poster of this beautiful painting, Barnyard with Chickens by Melchior d'Hondecoeter, is available from for $27.99, with a 20 percent off sale today D'Hondecoeter was a Dutch Baroque Era painter who lived from 1636-1695. He focused his work on living birds, in contrast to other painters of the time, who painted dead birds in poulterers' shops and the game killed by hunters. Historically, his work gives us documentation of what kinds of birds were being raised at that time. Peafowl were popular birds, as were doves, along with ducks and chickens.

Hookbill Ducks are among the breeds that Hondecoeter painted, so we know the breed was part of the livestock then, although they do not appear in this poster. Hookbill Ducks are now rare but breeders are nurturing the breed back to vitality.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

White Houdans

Houdans are an old French breed that is presently recognized in White and Mottled varieties by the APA. Black, Blue Mottled and Red Mottled varieties have also existed in the past. Please notify SPPA of any flocks currently being raised. Houdans were popular production birds in the late 19th century, after the Civil War. Mottled Houdans were included in the first Standard of Excellence in 1874. Breeding pure white birds was a challenge that F. Donald Baerman is credited with meeting by adding White Polish and White Dorkings to Mottled Houdans. Competing breeders used White Crevecoeurs and White Dorkings. The white variety was accepted into the Standard in 1914.

Houdans should be similar to Dorkings in type, with grown cocks weighing 8 lbs. and Hens 6.5 lbs. Many Houdans are not as big as they should be. They've lost size because so few of them are being kept, resulting in restriction of breeding stock. Breeders have added Polish to their flocks to increase their crests. Houdans should have large well-formed crests that do not interfere with their vision.

Like Dorkings, Houdans have five toes. Five-toed fowl probably came with the Romans across Europe and the English Channel.

These birds belong to Joseph Marquette of Yellow House Farm in New Hampshire,, and the photo was taken by Robert Gibson.