Saturday, March 28, 2009

Urban Chickens

Abu Talib is one of several gardeners in New York City raising chickens. He's featured this month in National Geographic,

I'll be in New York in May and hope to visit him and several others. Owen Taylor of Just Food loans out the organization's copy of How to Raise Chickens to help people get started. I'm thrilled that my book is touching so many lives.

Friday, March 27, 2009

White House Chickens

President and Mrs. Obama:

Chickens are the perfect complement to your White House Garden. The Society for Preservation of Poultry Antiquities,, can help you establish a small flock of historic breeds that will be hardy and productive. Sasha and Malia will love them. Tadd Lincoln kept a turkey he named Jack in the White House. Bring back this happy practice!

The Society for Preservation of Poultry Antiquities is a 501c(3) organization founded to protect and preserve, for historical, educational and recreational purposes and in the public interest, standard-bred domesticated poultry, waterfowl, turkeys and guineas. We welcome you and your family to enjoyment of traditional breed poultry. Traditional breeds are preferred for small flocks. They have survived and flourished because of their vigorous genetics and hardy constitutions. SPPA champions traditional breeds. Their members are dedicated to preserving these breeds, which have become rare with the domination of industrial practices. Chickens raised by large industrial operations have lost the strength that traditional breeds retain. Traditional breed poultry are the answer to sustainable living for the American family, playing an important role in national food security and local economy.

Dorkings are a good breed to start with, hardy, beautiful, well-behaved, dignified. They are an ancient breed, easily identified in Roman mosaics for their distinctive colored feathers and fifth toe. They have earned a place of honor among chickens over the centuries. They are believed to be the first chickens to make the trip across the Atlantic with the early English settlers and are the breed of choice at such American historic sites as Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts. Joseph Marquette of Yellow House Farm in New Hampshire,, has excellent White Dorkings that he is happy to donate to get your flock started. Dorkings make good table fowl, with roosters topping out at 9 lbs. Hens lay white or delicately tinted eggs.

They will need a place to live. Dennis Harrison-Noonan of Madison, Wisconsin has built chicken coops for many people and has volunteered to build one for you. His designs are admired nationwide,
I’m happy to provide copies of my books, How to Raise Chickens and How to Raise Poultry, from the FFA Livestock Series. They are aimed at bright high school kids and adults, but with all the pictures, kids of any age can enjoy them. Kevin Fletcher of Countryside Natural Products,, in Fishersville, Virginia, will donate a year’s supply of organic poultry feed. They will also enjoy weeds and clippings from the garden. Their manure provides fertilizer. This is how an integrated operation balances taking nourishment from the soil without depleting it.

You will enjoy these birds so much, you will want to add turkeys, ducks, geese and guineafowl in the future. SPPA can help you with those when the time comes.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tarazod Films Releases Mad City Chickens On DVD

It's here—the film that's been causing a buzz in the backyard chicken world! Tarazod Films has released Mad City Chickens on DVD. Three years in the making, the 79 minute documentary is a sometimes wacky, sometimes serious look at the people who keep urban chickens in their backyards. I'm delighted to say that I am among the people Tashai and Robert interviewed for the film.

Filmmakers Tashai Lovington and Robert Lughai take you into the backyard like you've never seen it before. From chicken experts and authors to a rescued landfill hen or an inexperienced family that decides to take the poultry plunge—and even a mad scientist and giant hen taking to the streets—it’s a humorous and heartfelt trip through the world of backyard chickendom.
With over 60 minutes of extras, the DVD includes: The Making of Mad City Chickens featurette, Cheryl Long from Mother Earth News, Cherrie’s Backyard Chicken Tips, deleted scenes and interviews, bonus chicken footage, movie trailers and more!

The filmmakers worked for three years before completing the film, shooting on location in Wisconsin, including me, Iowa, Texas, Kansas, Michigan, and California. They met with chicken experts and poultry enthusiasts, and gathered over 40 hours of interviews and chicken footage. They have appeared on Public Television, the CW Network, and on numerous talk radio shows in the US and Canada as well.

Mad City Chickens opened to shining reviews at the 2008 Wisconsin Film Festival and continues to please audiences at festivals and public screenings across the US and Canada.

“I never thought I would sit here mesmerized, open-mouthed over a chicken movie,” declared one audience member at the end of the evening. Neither did I. Kristian Knutsen, Isthmus Daily Page.

Buy the DVD ($21.95) from the Tarazod Films online shop at
The return of the backyard chicken...the city will never be the same again!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Cubalayas are a game breed, the national breed of Cuba. They were developed from Southeast Asian birds brought from the Philippines. They are gaining popularity in the U.S. but are surely still bred in Cuba. When diplomatic relations improve between the U.S. and Cuba, we will see how Cubalayas there have progressed.

This Black Breasted Red flock belongs to Anthony Rose of Turlock, California.

Although exhibitors were responsible for their development, Cubalayas never lost their utility qualities. They are good layers and their fine white meat is prized as a gourmet meat. At 6 lbs. for a rooster and 4 lbs. for a hen, they are medium size birds.

They are very active birds. Plan on giving them space outside confinement. They are good foragers and the roosters are good protectors of the flock.

Black and White are the only other colors beyond Black Breasted Red that are recognized for exhibition, but many other colors are raised. As for other game birds, breeders take interest and pride in the type and conformation over color. Varied colors are prized, such as this Blue Golden rooster owned by Jim Zook of Orchard Poultry Farm in Pennsylvania,

Monday, March 23, 2009

Opposition to NAIS grows

NAIS has been treated by most reporters and news organizations as a niche issue, not of interest to its general audience. It's as if because this affects farmers, the consumers who eat what farmers grow don't have to be concerned. That's changing.

The New York Times published an OpEd opposing NAIS March 10, Shannon Hayes, the author of “The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook” and the forthcoming “Radical Homemakers,” wrote it from the small farmer's perspective.

"The burden for a program that would safeguard agribusiness interests would be disproportionately shouldered by small farmers, rural families and consumers of locally produced food. Worse yet, that burden would force many rural Americans to lose our way of life," she concludes.

Huffington Post published its own piece last week on March 16, Written by Alison Rose Levy, the column attacks NAIS for its ineffectiveness in improving food safety. That's not the issue that USDA has proposed as justification for NAIS, but it has inevitably become confabulated with the issue of animal disease, the stated focus. She confuses the FDA with the USDA in the column, but that confusion reflects how the alphabet soup of federal agencies confuses us all. Her reasoning is correct and getting attention in the general media for NAIS is important.

A related issue is Collin Peterson, D-Minn, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, The Sacramento Bee says he must go, after having damaged a valuable public lands bill by adding an unrelated amendment to allow concealed loaded weapons in national parks to accommodate the National Rifle Association,

The NRA isn't the only organization pulling Peterson's strings. He's been a mouthpiece for industrial agriculture throughout his tenure chairing the ag committee. It's time for him to go.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Roast Goose

I served Roast Goose to two other couples, my husband and myself this past week. It was a huge success.

The other couples had never cooked or even eaten goose before. I made the food the focus of the evening. When they arrived, the roasted goose was already on a platter on the table, resting. My husband carved it while we discussed it. The first question was, How is goose different from chicken or turkey?

Goose is a waterfowl rather than a land bird. That’s why ducks and geese have more fat than land birds, it keeps them warm. The 9 ½ lb. bird I roasted on this occasion produced about three cups of clear, golden oil. Goose fat is a welcome side-product of roasting a goose. It makes excellent cooking fat. I understand it can also be used for baking, but I haven’t tried that yet.

I have, however, used it to fry and roast potatoes and other vegetables. It makes a good basting fat for chicken. It is the softest fat in its category, liquid at 44 C/ 111 F. Duck fat is liquid at 51 C/ 124 F.

Goose is difficult to carve gracefully. The carcass is bony and disjointing the wings and drumsticks requires a sharp knife and good technique. The breast meat slices off nicely. We fed six and had plenty of leftovers. The 9 ½ lb. bird could easily have fed eight. We are enjoying the leftovers. I made a Goose Tetrazzini from the meat. I used the giblets and carcass to make soup.

I roasted this goose without much fanfare. It defrosted overnight in the cool garage on top of the freezer. I prepared it for roasting by rinsing it in cool water and pricking the skin with a knife, to allow the fat to run off into the roasting pan. I removed it with a turkey baster during roasting.

I stuffed the goose with a bread stuffing, mixed with celery, onions, mushrooms and parsley, seasoned with salt, pepper and nutmeg, moistened with the goose broth made from the giblets.

Although the price seems high at $4.99 a lb., the amount of meat and fat a goose produces makes it a good choice for a family meal or small dinner party.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Pointy end or Round end?

The question came up: Which end of an egg comes out first, the pointy end or the round end? I admit I’d not considered it before, and asked for answers. Thus far, some say Pointy and some say Round. These two videos posted on YouTube help, but I didn’t find them definitive:

The first seems to have the round end coming out first, but the second seems to be the pointy end.

Perhaps it’s not always one way or the other. I don’t know enough about the formation of the egg to be certain that it is always the same way.

Some breeds lay eggs that are rounder than others, such as the Cubalaya.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Poultry in Ireland

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, here's some information about poultry in Ireland. This photos of Colored Dorkings is from the Irish Farm of the 1700s at Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, Virginia, They feature Dorkings there, representative of the chickens Irish immigrants would have brought with them and kept on their farms.

Poultry have a long history in Ireland. By the time of St. Patrick in the 5th century AD, people would certainly have been keeping geese and swans, at least semi-domesticated. Both are migratory waterfowl that would have flown over Ireland and stopped for part of the year. Swans became semi-domesticated, living close to humans but continuing to migrate. Iron Age Britons revered the swan as supernatural. Swans continued to be held sacred throughout Europe through the Middle Ages, the 5th century to the 16th century.
Gray Geese such as these at the Frontier Culture Museum are the domesticated form of wild Graylag Geese. They were the common farmyard geese of colonial America. Geese are valued for their feathers and down as well as their meat and eggs. I took these pictures when I visited the museum as part of the Society of Environmental Journalists Healthy Food Shed Tour in 2008.
Ireland has an active poultry club today, the Irish Poultry Society, They champion many rare and historic breeds.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

No to NAIS

Thank you Shannon Hayes, and the New York Times for taking notice of this important agricultural issue.

From the New York Times, March 11, 2009,
Op-Ed Contributor
Tag, We’re It
Warnerville, N.Y.

AT first glance, the plan by the federal Department of Agriculture to battle disease among farm animals is a technological marvel: we farmers tag every head of livestock in the country with ID chips and the department electronically tracks the animals’ whereabouts. If disease breaks out, the department can identify within 48 hours which animals are ill, where they are, and what other animals have been exposed.

At a time when diseases like mad cow and bird flu have made consumers worried about food safety, being able to quickly track down the cause of an outbreak seems like a good idea. Unfortunately, the plan, which is called the National Animal Identification System and is the subject of a House subcommittee hearing today, would end up rewarding the factory farms whose practices encourage disease while crippling small farms and the local food movement.

For factory farms, the costs of following the procedures for the system would be negligible. These operations already use computer technology, and under the system, swine and poultry that move through a production chain at the same time could be given a single number. On small, traditional farms like my family’s, each animal would require its own number. That means the cost of tracking 1,000 animals moving together through a factory system would be roughly equal to the expense that a small farmer would incur for tracking one animal.

These ID chips are estimated to cost $1.50 to $3 each, depending on the quantity purchased. A rudimentary machine to read the tags may be $100 to $200. It is expected that most reporting would have to be done online (requiring monthly Internet fees), then there would be the fee for the database subscription; together that would cost about $500 to $1,000 (conservatively) per year per premise. I estimate the combined cost for our farm at $10,000 annually — that’s 10 percent of our gross receipts.

Imagine the reporting nightmare we would face each May, when 100 ewes give birth to 200 lambs out on pasture, and then six weeks later, when those pastures are grazed off and the entire flock must be herded a mile up the road to a second farm that we rent.

Add to that the arrival every three weeks of 300 chicks, the three 500-pound sows that will each give birth to about 10 piglets out in the pastures twice per year (and that will attack anyone who comes near their babies more fiercely than a junkyard pit bull), then a batch of 100 baby turkeys, and the free-roaming laying hens. Additional tagging and record-keeping would be required for the geese and guinea fowl that nest somewhere behind the barn and in the hedgerows, occasionally visiting the neighbors’ farms, hatching broods of goslings and keets that run wild all summer long.

Each time one of those animals is sold or dies, or is trucked to a slaughterhouse, we would have to notify the Agriculture Department. And there would be penalties if we failed to account for a lamb quietly stolen by a coyote, and medical bills if we were injured when trying to come between a protective sow and her piglets so we could tag them.

For my family, the upshot would be more expenses and a lot more time swearing at the computer. The burden would be even worse for rural families that don’t farm full-time, but make ends meet by keeping a flock of chickens or a cow for milk. The cost of participating in the system would make backyard farming prohibitively expensive.

So who would gain if the identification system eventually becomes mandatory, as the Agriculture Department has hoped? It would help exporters by soothing the fears of foreign consumers who have shunned American beef. Other beneficiaries would include manufacturers of animal tracking systems that stand to garner hefty profits for tracking the hundreds of millions of this country’s farm animals. It would also give industrial agriculture a stamp of approval despite its use of antibiotics, confinement and unnatural feeding practices that increase the threat of disease.

At the same time, the system would hurt small pasture-based livestock farms like my family’s, even though our grazing practices and natural farming methods help thwart the spread of illnesses. And when small farms are full participants in a local food system, tracking a diseased animal doesn’t require an exorbitantly expensive national database.

Cheaper and more effective than an identification system would be a nationwide effort to train farmers and veterinarians about proper management, bio-security practices and disease recognition. But best of all would be prevention. To heighten our food security, we should limit industrial agriculture and stimulate the growth of small farms and backyard food production around the country.

The burden for a program that would safeguard agribusiness interests would be disproportionately shouldered by small farmers, rural families and consumers of locally produced food. Worse yet, that burden would force many rural Americans to lose our way of life.

Shannon Hayes, a farmer, is the author of “The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook” and the forthcoming “Radical Homemakers.”

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Old English Games

Old English Games are the classic traditional breed, elegant, hardy and useful. Historically, they have been bred in any and every color. The current SPPA Breeders Directory lists breeders in 18 color varieties and nine varieties that currently are not represented among the membership. Bob Choate in Lexington, Texas is focusing his attention on the Crele color variety, but has kept others in the past. These are his Red Pyle OE Games. The rooster shows his dubbed comb.

Crele is a gray and white barred feather variety, topped with a golden head and straw/golden head, back and saddle barred with orange red.
Red Pyle color on the rooster is a white breast, body, wings and tail topped with a bright orange head and neck, red back and light orange saddle. The hens have a salmon breast and golden head on a white body.
These are exceptional birds, Bob. Thanks for sharing them.

Friday, March 6, 2009

White House Chickens

Michael Pollan generated a lot of discussion with his New York Times Magazine article, Farmer in Chief,, last October. It was written as an open letter to the next president, undetermined at that time. Electing Barack Obama put a man in office who can be expected to be receptive to the idea. One of Pollan's proposals was to create the post of White House Farmer and replace five acres of grass in the White House lawn with a White House garden, growing organic vegetables and fruit. Surplus harvest could be donated to local food pantries and soup kitchens. I'd take it one step further and add traditional breed poultry to the Farmer's White House operation. Start with chickens, such as these White Dorkings from Joseph Marquette at Yellow House Farm in New Hampshire. He has offered to donate some birds to get the flock started. I'm working up a proposal for the White House Poultry Yard: Dominiques, the first American breed, should be included. Guineafowl, for meat and eggs and as pest control. Traditional Bronze or Narragansett turkeys, such as the one Tad Lincoln kept as a pet in 1863, Jack, Cayuga Ducks and Gray Geese. This is an idea whose time has come.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

How to Raise Poultry

How to Raise Poultry has arrived! At my house, anyway. A box of them was delivered last night. They look terrific. The photos are beautiful. The editors said they were looking for the World's Cutest Duckling for the cover. They succeeded. The site,, is being updated so that the book will be available there. It's also available through, all booksellers and many feed stores. If your favorite stores doesn't have it, ask them to order it. If they are confused, contact me and I'll help them get it. I'm happy to sign the ones ordered through the site.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

SPPA Critical Lists

The SPPA Critical Lists of Chickens, Waterfowl and Turkeys are now posted on the SPPA page on my site at
The Critical Lists are updated every year or so, often in conjunction with the submissions for the Breeders Directory. Because there is no formal registry for poultry, the way there are for horses, cattle and other livestock, it's trickier to get a grip on what breeds are out there and in what numbers. To some extent, it's an educated guess.

That's one of the strengths of organizations such as SPPA. It's a way to bring together the breeders and others who are involved, to share their knowledge of what's going on in the general population.

Foundation and original breeds such as the Java and Dorking among chickens, the Rouen among ducks and the Pomeranian among geese are of most concern. If they disappear, their genetic heritage cannot be recaptured. Composite breeds that have become rare such as the Lamona, Chantecler and Buckeye need attention because although they could theoretically be re-created, they would inevitably lack the original line. In the most recent update, in 2008, several color varieties of breeds were added, to focus on varieties that are declining in breeds that may otherwise be doing well.

These Rouen Ducks show their ancestry to wild Mallard Ducks in their traditional plumage. The photo is from Green Earth Farm in Richmond, Illinois,

Monday, March 2, 2009

Perfect Pets

Alicia Rheal has been involved with chickens and other animals, both pragmatically, through her work with Mad City Chickens in Madison, Wisconsin,, and as an artist. Her latest artistic project is Perfect Pets. Shown here is a Black Cochin and, below, a Buff Brahma.

Her brochure reads: Well-behaved and hypo-allergenic, your Perfect Pet excels at “sit" and "stay” (but is not very good at “fetch”). No muss or fuss, no high cost food bills or vet visits, landlords love them (bosses too), they don’t need to go outside on cold rainy nights and will keep you company for decades to come!

Artist Alicia Rheal creates life-sized, hand-painted, one-of-a-kind portraits of your lovable pets from your photos. These durable, freestanding paintings come in all shapes and sizes. Prices vary due to size and complexity of subject. Please email Alicia,, for a free estimate. A portion of each commission is donated to Heifer International,, a non-profit organization whose goal is to help end world hunger and poverty through self-reliance & sustainability.

Visit to see more of Alicia's work.