Tuesday, November 24, 2009

USDA Department of Justice Workshops

The USDA and the Department of Justice have set dates for the 2o10 workshops, http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1OB?contentidonly=true&contentid=2009/11/0572.xml. The original issue the two agencies targeted was monopoly in agriculture marketplaces, but the subject matter has already expanded. They include:

March 12, 2010 - Issues of Concern to Farmers - Ankeny, Iowa
This event will serve as an introduction to the series of workshops, but also will focus specifically on issues facing crop farmers. Specific areas of focus may include seed technology, vertical integration, market transparency and buyer power.

May 21, 2010 - Poultry Industry - Normal, Ala.
Specific areas of focus may include production contracts in the poultry industry, concentration and buyer power.

June 7, 2010 - Dairy Industry - Madison, Wisc.
Specific areas of focus may include concentration, marketplace transparency and vertical integration in the dairy industry.

Aug. 26, 2010 - Livestock Industry - Fort Collins, Colo.
Specific areas of focus will address beef, hog and other animal sectors and may include enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act and concentration.

Dec. 8, 2010 - Margins - Washington, D.C.
This workshop will look at the discrepancies between the prices received by farmers and the prices paid by consumers. As a concluding event, discussions from previous workshops will be incorporated into the analysis of agriculture markets nationally.

The planners seek additional comments to plan these and additional workshops. Submit written comments in both paper and electronic form to the Department of Justice no later than Dec. 31, 2009. All comments received will be publicly posted. Two paper copies should be addressed to the Legal Policy Section, Antitrust Division, U.S. Department of Justice, 450 5th Street, NW, Suite 11700, Washington, D.C. 20001. The electronic version of each comment should be submitted to agriculturalworkshops@usdoj.gov.

This is an opportunity to shape agricultural policy. The overwhelmingly negative responses to NAIS were heard in this past year's Listening Sessions, and mandatory NAIS is now on the back burner. NAIS is, for now, still voluntary. We can make a difference.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Oriental Games

The discussion of Dino-Chicken brought up what’s called the carriage or stance of various breeds, in particular the ones that stand up quite straight and tall. That erect carriage is typical of the large group of breeds known as Games. Oriental Game breeds such as Shamos, Asils and Malays are ancient breeds with this distinctive posture. Modern Games, developed entirely for exhibition, also stand tall.

Game breeds are still fighting birds in Asia and Latin America, but Games are raised worldwide. Regional conditions and preferences have influenced breed development, such as Brazilians, Madagascar Games, and Sumatras. The breeds’ influence goes far beyond the cockfighting pit, though. Game breeds have long histories not only for their value as sporting birds, but for the many other qualities that accompany their strong nature. Their heavily-muscled bodies were valued to increase size in less pugnacious domestic breeds.

The Malay is an old Oriental Game breed, with origins in the misty past of Indonesia. Their distinctive posture identifies them in artwork dating back to the 16th century in Germany. Their heads are broad and strong, with protruding eyebrows and a broad, rounded beak give them an intimidating appearance. These photos, of the wheaten color variety Malays, are of birds belonging to W. Lakenmeyer of Germany and reproduced in Horst Schmudde’s book, Oriental Gamefowl: A Guide for the Sportsman, Poultryman and Exhibitor of Rare Poultry Species and Gamefowl of the World, available from AuthorHouse, http://www.authorhouse.com/BookStore/ItemDetail.aspx?bookid=34292. Due to these birds’ large size, as much as 32 inches tall and weighing up to 14 lbs., the breed’s wings are insufficient to get the bird into the air to take flight. You hardly have to squint your eyes to see this flock as dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.

The Asil is an ancient Indian breed. The name may come from a Hindustani word for ‘highborn,’ which may refer either to its valuable bloodline or the fact that they were associated with royalty; or it may be traced to an Arabic word meaning ‘pure’ or ‘thoroughbred.’ Either way, the association is similar. Poultry historians differ on the relationship between Asils and Malays, which breed was the ancestor of the other. That they are closely related is not in dispute. The Asil is considered the ancestor of the Cornish, a variety of which is virtually the only kind of chicken sold in grocery stores today. In the 19th century, the breed now known as Cornish was called the Indian Game. Three size categories are raised, with the largest growing as tall as 29 inches and weigh over 15 lbs. This photo shows a Spangled color variety Rajah Asil, one of the small category, less than 19 inches tall, bred by Mr. Schmudde. His trio of red Asils are the Ghan color variety.

Shamos originated in Thailand from Malay breeding, imported to Japan in the 17th century. Today Japan considers them a national breed, and they have been protected by law since 1941. ‘Shamo’ is generally translated from Japanese into English as ‘fighter.’ Adults are 23 to 31 inches tall, with a drooping back line and tail. They are divided into four size categories, ranging from 2 lbs. to over 12 lbs. This pair of Black red Shamos belongs to Sakaguchi of Japan. The Black Shamo rooster was bred by Dirk Henken of Germany.

The characteristics of these breeds suggest that relations to dinosaurs may not be far. They are not well known outside the poultry world, but their strength, intelligence and size are traits well worth preserving.

Their aggressive personalities require some careful handling. Roosters may need to be separated from each other and the hens, to avoid carnage. However, they are unquestionably smart and can make excellent companion birds. When raised with humans, they are friendly and playful. We had one hen who was among the sweetest birds we ever owned. We called her Angel.

All these photos are from Mr. Schmudde’s excellent book. He has performed a valued service to the poultry community by collecting the information on Oriental Game breeds and compiling it in a single volume. If you are interested in historic poultry, you must include his book in your collection.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


60 Minutes, the CBS News magazine, reported on the relationship between chickens and dinosaurs, http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=5658449n. Prevailing theory, based on the scientific evidence, is that chickens are descendants of dinosaurs.

The video of chickens began with an attractive Golden Polish rooster, which the first person to comment on the story remarked upon. A few years ago, the most likely place the news team would have gone for video of chickens would have been a commercial producer. Instead, they showed some attractive traditional breed birds.

In my mind, that's an indication that people know more about chickens than they did a few years ago. Awareness is increasing.

On a more recent time scale, The Java came to the U.S. at least by 1835 from the East Indies (hence the name) and were admitted to the Standard of Perfection in 1883. As a high-class market fowl, its breeding was desirable and contributed to development of the Black Jersey Giant and the Barred Plymouth Rock. Indirectly, their influences reached many other breeds, including Orpingtons and Australorps. Javas are probably the source of yellow legs and skin in Dominiques.

They had nearly disappeared by the end of the 20th Century, but in recent years, attention from specialty breeders and historical societies has given the breed a second chance. Garfield Farm Museum in La Fox, Illinois, http://www.garfieldfarm.org/, in the 1990s has played a significant role in the recovery of the Java breed as part of its commitment to historic stewardship.

Garfield Farm is an 1840s living history farm and inn museum. In the course of its breeding program of Black and Mottled Javas, which are black and white, a pure white strain appeared in 1999. While this is no longer recognized by the standard, it is a legitimate variety and may find official recognition some day. Breeders are nurturing it with an eye to campaigning to have it included in the Standard of Perfection again.

The farm museum supplies Java eggs to hatch at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry’s “Genetics: Decoding Life” exhibit. That connection has supplied thousands of chicks to breeders around the country.

The museum breeds over 8,000 Java chicks each year. Out of those, two brown ones showed up in 2004, the remnants of the Auburn variety that disappeared in 1870. The Auburns are significant for their contribution to the Rhode Island Red.

Senior Exhibit Specialist Tim Christakos has shared the rare birds with local breeders who are nurturing the Auburns toward sustainable populations.

“We know they are not going to go extinct now,” he says.

Javas are a heavy breed, with cocks at an ideal weight of 9.5 lbs. and hens at 7.5 lbs. Like many historic breeds, Javas grow more slowly than industrial hybrid cross birds that feed our retail appetite for chicken.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thanksgiving turkey

Several people have asked for my advice on what kind of turkey to get for Thanksgiving. Farms vary in the kinds of turkeys they raise, and the conditions under which they raise them. I called around to some local markets to determine what they were selling and at what prices. You can do the same in your area.

My preference is for a heritage variety turkey. That’s the cause I took on when I got involved with traditional breeds. However, I’m persuaded that many small turkey producers are doing a good job with Broad Breasted White turkeys, the dominant commercial breed. Humane treatment of the birds during their lives matters to me.

Check Web sites and talk to local meat market employees to find out what is available in your area. Consider what kinds of businesses you are supporting with your purchase.

Some terms

The claim of ‘No Hormones’ is somewhat specious, since giving hormones to any kind of poultry is against federal law. It’s not actually a competitive claim, since none of them are given hormones.

‘Organic’ is a legally defined term that requires products to meet standards set by the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board, http://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/pubs/ofp/ofp.shtml. It includes the farm’s practices as well as what is fed to the birds.

Turkeys are not vegetarians – on pasture, they love tasty grasshoppers and worms – although some sites make claims about vegetarian diet.

‘Free range’ or ‘free roaming’ means that the birds ‘have access’ to the outdoors, but what that involves varies widely. A small door to a concrete pad doesn’t mean what the consumer may envision, birds happily scratching their way across a grassy field.

‘Natural’ suffers from a similar lack of clarity. As Consumers Union reported in 2000, http://www.consumersunion.org/other/animal/organic.htm, its legal marketing definition is so loose as to include all meat products.

‘Heritage’ means, to me, a variety established by small flock methods that can mate naturally. In my mind, that excludes the Broad-Breasted Bronze, which was developed as a commercial bird in the mid-20th century. Heritage varieties – Bronze, such as this hen of Mike Walters', Black, Bourbon Red, Buff, Midget White, Narragansett, Royal Palm and Slate -- have received attention as deserving to be saved by Slow Food USA on its Ark of Taste, http://www.slowfoodusa.org/index.php/programs/details/ark_of_taste/.

The usual supermarket turkey is a Broad-Breasted White, a commercial breed that became dominant in the mid-20th century. Its breast, which produces the white meat so popular, is so large that the male is physically unable to mount the female and mate naturally. All Broad Breasted turkeys are produced via artificial insemination.

Local contacts

I began close to home in Cambria, at Soto’s Market, 927-4411. They are offering Diestel all natural, free-range turkeys, out of Selma, CA. Diestel Turkey Ranch, http://www.diestelturkey.com/our_family_of_turkeys.htm, offers a full line of turkeys, from the standard Broad Breasted White to heritage varieties, although the site doesn’t give specifics. A flyer from the meat counter offered Broad-Breasted Bronze turkeys as Heirloom birds, a variety I would not include in that category. The photos look like Bronze and Bourbon Red. They offer a Petite Young turkey said to be mature and dressing out at 6-10 lbs. Can it be a Midget White? $2.99/lb. The smallest turkeys are typically10-12 lbs. Soto’s gets hens only, up to 26 lbs.

Heading south to Morro Bay, Spencer’s Fresh Markets, 772-8103, sells Mary’s Farms, http://www.marysturkeys.com/, Foster Farms and Norbest turkeys. Mary’s turkeys are free range and organic, $1.99/lb. Foster Farms, California, http://www.fosterfarms.com/about/raise.asp, BB White turkey, $1.39. Norbest is a marketing cooperative, http://www.norbest.com/, selling BB White turkeys from farms in Utah and Nebraska, $1.59/lb.

Moving on south to San Luis Obispo, New Frontiers, Foothill Blvd., 785-0194,
offers Diestel and Mary’s turkeys. Heidi’s Hens is Diestel’s certified organic line. Mary’s all free range, The Diestel’s start at $1.99/lb. Mary’s organic turkeys are $3.79/lb.

Mary’s Free Range Heritage turkeys are raised in Fresno, California. Mary raises Narragansetts, such as this handsom tom belonging to Robert Gibson of Yellow House Farm in New Hampshire, http://yellowhousefarmnh.com/, Bourbon Reds, Royal Palms, White Hollands and Standard Bronze. They don’t label according to variety. Sizes vary. Mary actually gets her heritage variety turkey poults (chicks) from Frank Reese in Kansas, http://www.reeseturkeys.com/.

Trader Joe’s, the popular niche supermarket, http://www.traderjoes.com/, has two kinds of turkeys under its own label: Fresh, Young Brined All Natural Turkeys ($1.79/lb., 12-22 lbs.) and Glatt Kosher All Natural Turkeys ($2.29/lb., 12-16 lbs.). The company says that they are raised in the USA and are antibiotic-free, not free-range. Beyond that, the employee I talked to at the local San Luis Obispo store searched around but determined that the company considers all additional information proprietary and declines any further comment.

Trader Joe’s is known for its high quality products, but I’m uncomfortable with any business that doesn’t permit customers to learn more about what they are buying. From what I’ve heard about brining, it’s intended to bring flavor to a bird that otherwise doesn’t have much. Kosher rules are strict and I’m certain that Trader Joe’s has observed them with the kosher turkey, so perhaps that’s a more flavorful product.

Nature’s Touch Nursery and Harvest in Templeton, 434-3062, has Branigan’s organic, free range turkeys from Woodland, California, http://www.braniganturkey.com/.. All sizes sell for $4.50 per pound. Deadline to order holiday turkeys is November 11.

Grande Foods Market in Arroyo Grande , 489-1584 and Paso Robles Health Food, 238-3987
Linda told me their turkeys are Broad Breasted Whites from Harmony Farms in Simi Valley, which I was unable to find listed on the Internet. Perhaps they have no need of a Web site – Linda says the markets have sold nothing but Harmony Farms turkeys for years and they are excellent. The birds arrive on the Monday before Thanksgiving, flash frozen. They are sold by size, $2.89/lb for 10-19 lb. birds, $2.79/lb. for birds over 20 lbs. They are available for pickup on Tuesday. The birds are not organic but they are carefully raised and customers love them. Sounds like a good buy at the price.

Isla Vista Food Co-op, 6575 Seville Rd., 968-1401, http://www.islavistafood.coop/, is offering a Buy One, they’ll Donate One organic turkey to the Santa Barbara Food Bank. A nice offer. Shelton’s Turkeys are broad-breasted whites.

Local Harvest, http://www.localharvest.org/, lists a variety of heritage turkey suppliers. Unfortunately, the closest one is in San Bernardino. The others range as far as Wisconsin and Virginia, and the prices are very high, over $100 plus shipping.

I’m encouraged to see diversity and competition in the turkey market. Read what the producers tell about their operations online. Look at the photos of how their turkeys live. Check around your area and see what you come up with. Personally, I ordered one of Mary’s heritage birds from New Frontiers, $5.79/lb. I’m voting with my wallet.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Poultry Survey

Attention Poultry Breeders: Mother Earth News would like your opinions about poultry breeds. Whether your favorite is the Cubalaya, such as Jim Zook's shown here, or Rhode Island Red, all breeders are encouraged to particpate. The more opinions are expressed in this kind of survey, the more useful the results will be.

If you have several years experience raising chickens, you are invited to participate in a Mother Earth News survey to identify characteristics of various breeds of chickens. This information will help guide people in selecting breeds for their flocks. An article about the results will be published in the April/May 2010 issue of Mother Earth News magazine.

The new survey is designed to identify traits of various breeds and hybrids of chickens, such as egg-laying ability, temperament, potential for broodiness. The magazine would like you to share your opinions. At the end of the survey, you can see the current survey results (and get ideas about some breeds you might like to try yourself).

This survey will take 15 to 20 minutes to complete. To begin, here is a link to the survey:http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=SYolTRFglww7kh64B7wuKQ_3d_3d You can also find it on the Mother EArth News Web site, http://www.motherearthnews.com/chicken-breeds-hybrids-survey.aspx

Categories in the survey:

American breeds

Asiatic and English breeds

Mediterranean breeds

Continental breeds

Miscellaneous breeds Egg-laying Hybrids Hybrid Meat Chickens

Thanks for your participation!

Cheryl Long, Editor in Chief

Troy Griepentrog, Senior Associate Editor

Mother Earth News

1503 SW 42nd Street

Topeka, KS 66609-1265

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Chicken Art

Don't miss Koen Vanmechelen's exhibition focusing on the chicken in his art, as reported in today's Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/06/AR2009110604046.html?hpid=topnews.

Vanmechelen's "Cosmopolitan Chicken Project," a multimedia exhibit opens Saturday evening at the Conner Contemporary Art gallery, featuring photographs, video, taxidermy and livestock and smelling faintly of chicken poop. The Conner show is Vanmechelen's first solo exhibit in a U.S. gallery. The artist is also known for his "Cosmogolem" project, a series of towering wooden sculptures symbolizing children's rights.

Jamie Smith, the curator of Conner Contemporary, first learned of Vanmechelen's work while studying in Belgium on a fellowship several years ago. She went to a contemporary art museum in Hasselt, saw his chickens, and thought, "Well, this is the cutting edge of realism."

At Connor he'll be showing only three chickens -- all Jersey Giants purchased specially for the exhibit from a farm outside of Charlottesville. After the show ends in December, a friend of Smith's will take them in, where they will live out the rest of their days in comfort and seclusion.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Loyl Stromberg, Grand Old Man of Poultry

Modern poultry is blessed with a lot of inspired leaders. Among them, Loyl Stromberg stands out as the Grand Old Man of Poultry. Here's picture of us at his home in Minnesota.

Now 95 years old, he has not only witnessed but participated in many of the changes that the 20th century brought to poultry husbandry. He remains the driving force behind the National Poultry Museum. He’s written six books on poultry and traveled the world.

“My best years have been since I turned 70,” he said recently from his home in Pine River, Minnesota. He now lives on the two-and-a-half acres his father bought in 1945 for $5,500. The family used the cabin as a vacation retreat until they built a permanent home in 1972. Loyl was researching his book, “Poultry of the World,” at that time.

He is an indefatigable correspondent (P.O. Box 400, Pine River, MN 56474-0400). He never fails to include colorful flyers with poultry facts or updates on the Poultry Museum.

On his world travels, he saw the Netherlands’ Poultry Museum in Amsterdam and became determined that the U.S. should have its own museum to honor and preserve this significant part of our history. By 1994, the first building was dedicated, on the grounds of the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs, Kansas. Loyl and other poultry leaders, including Dr. John Skinner of the University of Wisconsin, donated machines and materials that reflect poultry history, such as bone crushers and an Oats Sprouter – two important poultry tools that heralded improvements in chick starter and poultry nutrition. Dr. John Salsbury and his family of Charles City, Iowa, have been generous supporters.

Examples of early incubators include the coal, oil and kerosene burners that preceded electrical incubators. The museum has a three-deck Jamesway incubator. The most popular of its vintage was the Old Trusty, which sold for $15 at the turn of the 20th century. In 1902, over 200,000 of these were exported from the U.S. to other countries.

Artifacts and documents almost immediately outgrew the building. A second building opening in Summer 2009, as reported in Backyard Poultry magazine, http://www.backyardpoultrymag.com/issues/4/4-5/opening_day_at_the_national_poultry_museum.html.

Loyl’s interest in rare breeds drew him to Neil Jones, who founded the Society for Preservation of Poultry Antiquities in 1967. The organization floundered in those early months, and Loyl’s impassioned article on the plight of isolated breeders in the July 1967 Poultry Press galvanized support and launched the new organization.

Enthusiasm flagged again by 1971, and Jones resigned. Loyl convened a meeting to save the SPPA at the Apache Plaza Show in Minneapolis in October 1971. Enough breeders were willing to commit the time and energy to make the organization succeed. Officers were elected, including Loyl as First Vice President, and objectives defined.

“He twisted several people’s arms to get them to take officers’ jobs,” said Duane Urch of Urch/Turnland Poultry in Owatonna, Minnesota, who took the position of secretary-treasurer in 1971 and served in that role until 1978. Mr. Urch served several years as first vice president and was president from 1989-1996.

“The SPPA owes their life to him,” he said.

Loyl produced the first Breeders Directory, he and his wife doing all the work and then paying for the printing.

“He has provided encouragement and money at a couple of key times,” said Craig Russell, SPPA president.

Loyl continues to support SPPA and often contributes to the quarterly Bulletin.

“Loyl has been a tireless friend of the SPPA,” said Mr. Russell. “He has been responsible for whatever success the SPPA has enjoyed.”

I’m grateful to have spent time with Loyl and consider him a friend. Thanks for all you have done for poultry and the SPPA, Loyl!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Hampton Bays, Long Island has added a small flock of guineafowl to its Squiretown Park to control ticks, http://www.27east.com/story_detail.cfm?id=236633. The five birds are doing their job enthusiastically.

Guineafowl are galliform birds native to Africa, but have been domesticated and are good egg and meat birds. They are popular for insect control because, unlike chickens, they don't tear up and eat the landscaping. Bugs are their prey, and they are voracious eaters.

Guineas were popular on Victorian tables, but have mostly been lost to modern cooking. Guineas can be a good choice for a small flock. They are also beautiful, and are bred in a bewildering variety of feather colors, as shown by Ralph Winters' stock at his Iowa farm, http://www.guineafarm.com/toc.html.

How to Raise Poultry includes a chapter on Guineafowl. These unusual birds are worth investigating for your poultry operation.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Delaware chickens got their name from the Delmarva Peninsula, the geographic area comprising Delaware and Maryland that has been the site of intensive poultry production for the last century. In the 1940s, Barred Rock males were crossed with New Hampshie hens to produce a dual purpose commercial bird. The resulting occasional almost completely white sports were bred into a spearate breed with the Columbian color pattern, with irregular barring from the Rock side replacing the lustrous greenish black in the hackles, tail and wings.

One of the advantages of raising Delawares is that when the hens, such as this one, are bred to New Hampshire or Rhode Island Red males, the resulting chicks are sex-linked (white males, red females), making it easy to distinguish males from females from the start. Males can be raised as broilers and females as laying hens.

Don Schrider, formerly of the American Livestock Breeders Conservancy, wrote about Delawares in Backyard Poultry in 2007, http://backyardpoultrymag.com/issues/3/3-2/the-delaware-chicken.html.

Although originally developed as a production breed, its attractive color caught eyes and it was recognized for exhibition in 1952.
Jamie White of Florida sent these pictures of the flock he has started. They are handsome birds, indeed, and well worth maintaining. Thanks, Jamie.