Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas Chicken

Shelly Jobgen of Illinois made this 4' x 5' lighted "Christmas Chicken" with some wire and 350 lights.

"We call her the Christmas Chicken, and I've gotten lots of comments," she writes in an email. "The most frequently asked: What does a chicken have to do with Christmas?

Answer: If you don't have a Christmas Chicken, how will you get Easter eggs!"

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Pat Foreman, co-host with Andy Schneider on The Chicken Whisperer radio program,, recounted her chickens reaction to the lunar eclipse of the night before,, in the December 21 broadcast. Although they weren't able to see it, they seemed to react to it.
At her home in Virginia, Pat wanted to see the eclipse. The sky was clear enough for her to see the beginning, but then the clouds rolled in. By the time of totality, around 3:13 am, the clouds obscured the spectacle.

But then one of her roosters began to crow. Then the other crowed, in response. They alternated crowing for about five minutes, then stopped. Pat was concerned that some predator was threateneing the flock, making them crow, but nothing was there. After she talked about it on the program, two listeners sent messages that their roosters had crowed to the dark moon, too.
Anyone else hear from their roosters that night? I was away from home, so wasn't able to witness what my Dorking had to say on the subject. The solstice is the turning of the year, the beginning of longer days that indicate to chickens that it's time to start laying again. Day length is significant to chickens. Perhaps they have other ways of sensing such an important astronomical event.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Nebraskan Turkeys

Ian Waterman contacted me from Britain,, seeking information on Nebraskan Turkeys. Nebraskans were a new variety developed in the late 1940s by R. H. Jandebeur of North Platte, Nebraska. Frank Reese of Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch in Lindsborg, Kansas has some information from his work with Norm Kardosh. I'll search through the SPPA collection of antique books and magazines for more background for him.

If you have any information on this breed, which may now have disappeared, please contact me.

In the meantime, Ian sent some photos of his birds. These Ocellated Turkeys are the wild breed I wrote about in last month's issue of Backyard Poultry.
The Narragansett tom is a beauty.
These are his Buffs.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Everyone loves chickens!

I attended the Southern California American Society of Journalists and Authors,, holiday lunch last week. It was delightful, held at a Victorian tea room, the Vintage Tea Leaf,, in Long Beach, California. Long Beach is better known for the port of Los Angeles, so a tea room is unexpected there, but sure enough, it's the real thing.

A large display of porcelain cups and saucers fills the back wall. You get to choose the one you like best to drink your tea. Getting the Best cup and saucer sets the tone for a good time! I chose one decorated with mallards in flight. Just right for me!
Tina Tessina,, who is a licensed marriage and family therapist as well as a writer, organized the lunch. She had recently returned from a cruise to Hawaii, where she took this photo of one of Kauai's feral chickens. Stories vary -- perhaps it was a hurricane that destroyed coops a few years back, setting the chickens free. Kauai has few natural predators for chickens, so they have done well in the wild. Chickens are everywhere. Tina took this picture in the Wal-Mart parking lot.
Two years ago I visited Kauai as an Environmental Journalism Fellow at the National Tropical Botanical Garden, It was a career-changing experience, and led to my writing How to Raise Poultry. The chickens live in the jungle, free as Junglefowl. Hens lead their chicks to scratch on the beach. It's an idyllic life.
Thanks, Tina, for sharing this picture and your experience.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Chicken Whisperer

"Live with Regis & Kelly" is having a contest to look for "Men of Radio Co-Hosts." The winner will get to co-host an episode of the television show in January. Andy Schneider aspires to sit on that set and tell the viewing audience about chickens!

"What a great way to spread the chicken love to more people across the country!" he writes in an email.

You can nominate him at the program's site,

Some basic information required for the form:

Name: Andy Schneider - The Chicken Whisperer

Radio Station: Blog Talk Radio

City: Atlanta


Monday, November 29, 2010

Twelve Days of Christmas

For the past two years, I've posted historical information as to the items listed in the traditional carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas. Check the December postings from 2008 and 2009. PNC Wealth Management compiles costs for what it would actually cost to purchase everything, from the Partridge in a Pear Tree through the Twelve Drummers Drumming,

They've been doing this for 27 years. This year, the cost is up 9.2 percent, to $23,439. They attribute most of the increase to the rise in gold prices, boosting the price of the Five Gold Rings, and increased costs of entertainment. "The 11 Pipers Piping ($2,356) and 12 Drummers Drumming ($2,552) saw modest increases, both up 3.1 percent, however these higher costs give greater weight to the index. Lords-a-Leaping jumped 8 percent to $4,766 but the biggest dollar increase this year was for the Nine Ladies Dancing, up $820, a 15 percent boost. None of these performers received a wage increase last year, and were playing catch-up in 2010," PNC said in a press release.

They noted that Houdan, Crevecoeur and La Fleche are the French breeds that would be likely candidates fot Three French hens, price up to $150 from $45 in 2009. That's not an outlandish price, although you could get them for less. The Six Geese A-Laying are unchanged, at $150. Sounds like a good deal.
If they'd taken my advice and bought Ring-Necked Pheasants instead of the literal Gold Rings, $649.95, they'd have saved quite a bit. Pheasant chicks are readily available for less than $3 each. Four Calling Birds, unspecified as to breed, are listed at $599.96. Historically, Colley Birds could refer to black fowl, which would also be much less expensive.

The Seven Swans A-Swimming are most changeable in price, going way up some years and down others. They are up 6.2 percent this year, to $5,600. Probably Mute Swans, those are the iconic breed, but controversial. Some states require that they be pinioned, the distal end of the wing surgically removed so that they can't fly. If they escape, they easily become feral and have become an invasive species in some states.

The Eight Maids A-Milking continue as minimum wage employees, one of the least expensive items at $58.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Pardoning Turkeys

President Obama 'pardoned' two Broad-Breasted White turkeys, a presidential tradition honoring Thanksgiving, Other turkeys were pardoned as political fun, such as this one in North Dakota, I hope some day that the turkey industry will not have so much influence on Washingotn, DC politics and the president will be able to pardon a traditional breed bird.
Bill Morem, columnist for the local newspaper in San Luis Obispo, The Tribune, dispelled some commonly held myths about turkeys in his column, Thanks, Bill! Turkeys are indeed noble and delightful birds.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Turkeys

My friend Zulima Palacios prepared a report on industrial turkey production for Voice of America, The USDA scientist is so proud of her work! Perhaps not all of us think of the Wild Turkey as 'scrawny.' I think of them as athletic and the Broad-Breasted White as unnaturally fat and misshapen.

As I was reminded at the recent Society of Environmental Journalists conference, the story can be very different, depending on how it is told.

Tina Tyzzer tells her turkey story very differently in this newspaper account, Her turkeys have graced this blog in the past. Thanks, Tina, for keeping me informed of their adventures! The link will be active for only one week.

Frank Reese is having another banner year raising heritage turkeys at Good Shepherd Ranch in Kansas, Personally, I'll have an heirloom bird from a California grower,

Check with local meat departments in grocery stores and ask around at the farmers' market for a source of heritage birds in your area. This classic Narragansett is from Yellow House Farm in New Hampshire,

Saturday, November 20, 2010

New birdwatching book

Identifying and Feeding Birds by Bill Thompson III, ISBN-13/EAN: 9780618904440 ; $14.95, ISBN-10: 0618904441. Trade Paperback ; 256 pages.

If you don't have chickens, you may be enjoying watching wild birds. Bill Thompson packs this book with useful information from his years as a bird watcher and editor of Bird Watchers Digest. Great pictures, too. It's the latest in the Backyard Bird Guides collection of the Peterson Field Guide series.

The first half is devoted to general bird information. The reader gets all the basics of feeding, housing and making birds welcome. He takes on the common myths that circulate about backyard birds – they won’t starve if you’re out of town and can’t feed them, they won’t stop migrating, and more. He advises about the sick and injured birds that are likely to be part of the natural world the reader observes. The details of nesting boxes – how to construct them, where to place them, how to maintain them – encourage the reader to create homes for wild birds.

Thompson writes from a viewpoint of environmental consciousness. Habitat is primary in attracting birds. He includes a bird-friendly plant list.

The second half of the book is a guide to 125 Common Backyard Birds. It’s a convenient reference to have at hand.

Thompson shares his own practices. He puts out everything. Freezer-burned meat attracts vultures and hawks, as well as foxes and coyotes. Melon rinds, insect-infested food and the remains of the dead garden all cater to birds on his farm. He admits the meat might offend close neighbors and wouldn’t be for every birdwatcher.

He’s written a folksy but expert guide for novices or experienced backyard birdwatchers. I’ve already given one to a relative as a gift. Think Christmas.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

National Geographic on Domestication

The producer contacted me for help locating resources on poultry domestication. I was able to connect her with Tomas Condon, who is studying Junglefowl. The program will be broadcast Nov. 23.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Supporters Count Their Chickens, Now That Bremerton Law Is Hatched

Bremerton, Washington chicken enthusiasts received what they wanted all along Wednesday night: The ability to legally raise hens in the city, brought about by city council action instead of a citizens’ initiative.

The city council voted 6-3 to allow residents to keep up to four hens per property. That vote came after the council voted 6-3 to make June 30, 2012 the end date for the ordinance.

The sunset clause was designed as a mandate for the city to revisit what is — or is not — working with the ordinance, or to let it go away.

Read more:

Thanks, Steven Gardner, for your coverage of the issue. The headline reflects the imagery that chickens inspire -- such rich material! Everyone wants to have some fun.

The idea of a Sunset Clause is a good one for chicken enthusiasts who are encountering opposition to making chickens legal in their towns. It might be a way to open the door and give chickens a chance.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Breeding flocks

Are you thinking of dispersing your flock? Or reducing it, limiting yourself to fewer breeds? Here’s someone who will take your flock and continue the work you’ve been doing with them.

Wesley Cox of St. Simons Island, Georgia,, 912-634-4543, is looking for a flock of chickens. He’d prefer a flock or flocks that have been bred to type by a caring and knowledgeable breeder. He’s looking for a flock that has breeding records.

“My vision is to carry on a serious breeding project in a significant area of poultry preservation, improvement, and production. A heritage or endangered breed of chicken would be nice but I will consider any breed. I am specifically interested in furthering the work of a passionate breeder who will be willing to mentor me within reason to get me started so as to have the benefit or his or her education. My return to them will be to agree to further their work. Poultry genetics are important and I want to keep their work alive,” he writes.

Contact him directly. I'll continue to post his progress.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Keep Fear Alive!

My friend Sharon Guynup joined the March to Keep Fear Alive/Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington, DC last weekend. She's great at capturing events in photos. She had me in mind when she saw this person and took his picture.
"Can you tell I'm having way too much fun?" she says.
Chickens inspire fun. Wearing chicken tee shirts invites people to greet me, share chicken experiences, and generally recognize common ground of good nature. Chicken keepers rate spending time with their chickens as one of the reasons they keep them.
Thanks for sharing the fun with us, Sharon.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Radical Homemaking

A BETTER world Lecture Series presents Shannon Hayes speaking on Radical Homemaking: Reclaiming Domesticity From A Consumer Culture, November 5, 7:00pm, Saint Mary's, Hudson, NY. She wrote the book of the same name,

I'll have to get this book and find out how she's analyzing our work in the home. It sounds like she's on to something, re-figuring our work to reflect the new green reality: eating locally, relying on local resources for other needs, local finance, being more self-sufficient, keeping chickens and other poultry. Here's the description:

Mother Nature has shown her hand. Faced with climate change, dwindling resources, and species extinctions, most Americans understand the fundamental steps necessary to solve our global crises - drive less, consume less, increase self-reliance, buy locally, eat locally, rebuild our local communities.

In essence, the great work we face requires rekindling the home fires.

Radical Homemakers is about men and women across the U.S. who focus on home and hearth as a political and ecological act, and who have centered their lives around family and community for personal fulfillment and cultural change. It explores what domesticity looks like in an era that has benefited from feminism, where domination and oppression are cast aside and where the choice to stay home is no longer equated with mind-numbing drudgery, economic insecurity, or relentless servitude.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Icelandic chickens have found a home!

When I decided to hatch some eggs this year, I turned to a friend who raises Dorkings. He has several breeds, and has recently become enchanted with the Icelandics he acquired. The hens are such faithful layers, their personalities so interesting and sweet. He sent me a dozen Icelandic eggs along with the Dorkings.

As fate and chicken hatches go, two Icelandice roosters hatched in June. They have grown into beautiful birds, but I’m not situated to keep them. Before I have them dispatched and converted into broilers, perhaps someone would like to take them and start an Icelandic flock. They are both lovely birds in excellent health and the prime of life. See more pictures on the Starting from Hatch page on this blog.

In an article in Backyard Poultry magazine (April/May 2009), Laurie Ball-Gisch quotes a booklet from the Farmers Association of Iceland, Icelandic Livestock Breeds (Reykavik, 2004) about the origins and history of Icelandic chickens:

“Historical evidence indicates that poultry was amongst the landraces brought to Iceland by the settlers of Iceland. However, it seems likely that this native population came close to extinction, probably in the late 18th century. Such poultry was, and is still, kept in small flocks, know for great colour variation. They seem to be of ancient origin, most likely related to the Old Norwegian Jadar poultry breed. Special efforts were made by the Agricultural Research Institute in 1974 to conserve the remaining native population.”

SPPA member Lyle Behl in Illinois took an interest and was able to bring three dozen hatching eggs into the U.S. in 2003. Eleven chicks hatched – seven hens and four roosters – and his flock was begun. He has provided eggs to other breeders and thus they made their way to me.

Considering how rare these birds are, I wanted to find them a good home. Grover Duffield in Kansas has a flock of about 75 hens and pullets and only three roosters. With Kansas' cold winters, they will fit in well.

Thanks all who contacted me about them. We'll work together to get you the birds you want.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


I'll talk with Andy Schneider, the Chicken Whisperer, on his radio program this morning, Every fourth Tuesday we talk about different historic breeds. Today we will talk about Cochins.

The Reliable Poultry Journal, published during the early years of the 20th century, published a separate book on The Asiatics: Brahmas, Cochins and Langshans. It was smong the collection donqated to SPPA. “Their origin is veiled in mystery, but from data gathered by numerous early fanciers, the period of their first appearance is fixed,” it says. A.F. Hunter, associate editor of Reliable Poultry Journal, recounts the history of the importation of various fowls from China, including those given to Queen Victoria in 1843. He refers to Wright’s “New Book of Poultry,” in which Wright refutes the idea that those birds are the antecedents of modern Cochins, although they were from the Cochin area of China. Those birds, as shown in the 1843 illustration, are tall and rangy, showing a Malay influence, he felt.

Modern Cochins developed from Shanghai birds imported to England in 1847, according to Wright. Although poultry writers continued to use the name Shanghai, “The public had got to know the new, big fowls as Cochins, and would use no other word, and so the name stuck, in the teeth of the facts, and holds the field to this day.”Hunter remembers Yellow Shanghais, Gray Chittigongs and Malays from 60 years previous, which would have made it around 1860, that were “so tall that, while standing on the floor beside it, they could eat corn off the top of a barrel that was standing on end.” Birds descended from those are reported to have reached 17 or 18 pounds in weight. They no longer reach that size, but Asiatic breeds are all meat breeds. Langshans, at 9 ½ lbs smaller than the 12-lb. Brahma roosters and 11-lb. Cochins, are considered a dual purpose breed with good egg production. The American Poultry Association recognizes Buff, Partridge, White, Black, Silver-laced, Golden-laced, Blue, Brown and Barred varieties of the Cochin. Many unrecognized colors are also raised, including Red, Silver Laced, Mottled and Splash. Seventeen color varieties of bantam Cochins are recognized by the American Bantam Association, including Black Tailed Red, Birchen, Golden Laced, Columbian and Lemon Blue. Their popularity is second only to the English Game bantam.

Franklane Sewell, noted poultry expert and artist, wrote in 1912 that although style had influenced development of birds with very short legs, the ideal is “one that will preserve all the vitality of the ancient Asiatic and prove, as they have with some fanciers who study their proper management, to be productive and pro­fitable as well as exceed­ingly showy.
He made this illustration of ideal Cochins in 1895.

Cochins International Club,, publishes three newsletters annually and updates its Breeders Directory every two years. Contact Jamie Matts, Secretary/Treasurer, 283 State Highway 235, Harpursville, NY 13787, (607) 725-7390,

Many SPPA members raise Cochins. Check the Breeders Directory or contact me for contact information.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Ocellated Turkeys

This rare indigenous turkey of the Yucatan Peninsula is related to our wild turkeys, which became domesticated turkeys. They are hunted by the local natives, but this researcher hopes to save them and develop them as a sport hunting population that will support the local economy in a more sustainable way.

The current issue of Backyard Poultry magazine has an article I wrote about them. It's not posted online, so check your local bookseller for a copy if you aren't a subscriber.

Hear an interview with Jon McRoberts about ocellated turkeys today, October 25th, from 1-2 pm EST. You can live stream it at Shortly after the broadcast, you'll be able to download it at iTunes,, or

Monday, October 11, 2010

Cornucopia Institute fights fake organic egg farms

from The Cornucopia Institute,

Organic Egg Business Being Hijacked by Corporate Agribusinesses - Help Reverse this Scandal!

Industrial-scale egg producers are gaming the system with their livestock management shortcuts and are placing family-scale organic farmers at a competitive disadvantage. Some pasture-based organic farmers have already been driven out of the organic egg business.

The organic community has an opportunity to reverse this scandal and support authentic organic agriculture. The USDA's National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) will be debating the meaning of outdoor access and stocking densities for organic poultry and other livestock at the upcoming meeting in Madison, Wis., October 25-28.

Imagine 80,000 laying hens in a single building, crowded in confinement conditions, on "farms" with hundreds of thousands or a million birds. Is that organic?

These farms meet the ‘outdoor access’ requirement by offering a tiny enclosed concrete porch, accessible by only 3%-5% of the tens of thousands of birds inside a henhouse.

Show your support for meaningful outdoor access requirements by:

Appearing in person at the NOSB meeting in Madison and giving a five-minute oral testimony in support of strong animal welfare standards in organics.

Or, if you can't attend the meeting yourself, write a letter or sign and return a proxy letter ,, which we will hand-deliver to the USDA at the meeting in Madison.

The USDA is hearing from the well-funded and organized industry lobbyists.
We must ensure that they also hear from the organic community!

Please contact The Cornucopia Institute if you are interested in appearing in person for a five-minute oral presentation at the NOSB meeting in Madison, Wis. We will send you a briefing package with detailed instructions for how to sign up to speak, directions to the meeting, and other important information.

Please email us at (preferred), or call 608-625-2042 if you plan on attending the NOSB meeting.

The Cornucopia Institute P.O. Box 126 Cornucopia, WI 54827 608-625-2042

Poultry Show

The chickens I hatched in June went to their first poultry show this weekend, Central Coast Feather Fanciers 25th Annual Show. They didn't win anything, but I felt like a stage mother showing them off. They all did well. They were calm and well behaved.

Blondie, the White Dorking, has captured our hearts. Here my husband is holding her.

APA leader Dave Anderson told me he judged a large class of Dorkings at the Edmonton show. Lots of Chanteclers there, too. These breeds are finding their champions!

I'll look forward to seeing him again at the Bash at the Beach show in Ventura.

The sale area had some very interesting birds. A pair of Gray Junglefowl, two Marans roosters and a hen. The two roosters joined forces to guard that sweet hen! If you are looking for birds, find a poultry show and see what you can find. It's a great way to connect with other breeders.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Know where your eggs come from

The Coruncopia Institute has rated egg producers and posted the results online at Check out your brand of eggs.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Charity auction sells poultry

On September 24, the art auction house Sotheby’s in New York auctioned off heirloom vegetables and associated items for charity, The auction included heirloom poultry: a pair of Blue Slate Turkeys, such as this one of Mike Walters', and a pair of Dewlap Toulouse Geese, a trio of Barred Plymouth Rocks and a trio of Aylesbury Ducks. The 10 birds were sold as a group, bidding up to $4,300.

P. Allen Smith’s Heritage Poultry Conservancy,, donated the birds to the auction. The Sylvia Center at Katchkie Farm which teaches city school children about farming and cooking, was one of the beneficiaries. The farm is run by Great Performances, Sotheby’s in-house caterer. A new program, the New Farmers Development Project at GrowNYC, which works with immigrant farmers, shared the proceeds. More than $100,000 was raised.

Other items auctioned off were dinners, Greenmarket tours and visits to a beekeeper. Guests paid $1,000 a plate for dinner: a splendid tomato first course from Dan Kluger of ABC Kitchen; caramelized Hubbard squash, by Jeff Gimmel of Swoon Kitchenbar, that was able to mimic a sea scallop; and a vegetable lasagna, the vegetarian choice from Great Performances, that outshone Andaz Fifth Avenue’s Roberto Alicia’s roasted pork shoulder with kale, the other main course option.

Guests were also asked to donate $20 a bag for vegetables, bringing the total raised by the event to over $250,000. Not small potatoes!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Exhibition Poultry magazine

Exhibition Poultry magazine is a new online publication, It's free!

It focuses on breeding and showing in the Southern states: Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

It lists shows and show results, as well as articles relating to exhibition poultry. The first issue has an interview with P. Allen Smith and the first of what will be a continuing series, Ask the Judge, a profile of a poultry judge. This month it's Steven Jones.

Thanks for this new publication, which fills an important niche for poultry fanciers. I started posting a list of shows on my site to create a central place to locate show information. It's good to have this new resource.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Temple Grandin interview

Sara R. Wyant, Editor of Agri-Pulse, writes:

Fresh off an award-winning movie about her amazing life story, famed animal behaviorist Dr. Temple Grandin joins us on Open Mic to talk about animal welfare conditions in U.S. agriculture. Recently named one of the world's 100 most influential people by Time Magazine, Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, says she wants to reform livestock and poultry handling and behavior practices on farms and ranches and in processing plants. She provides examples of industry players who are doing what she describes as the “right things” by animals and puts a percentage on the numbers that are not. The author of over 400 published articles within the field of animal sciences weighs in on The Humane Society of the United States' undercover investigations and makes a clear distinction between animal welfare and animal rights. The interview runs about 13 minutes and can be found at>

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Madison's Children's Museum

The new Madison Children's Museum, which opened this summer, includes a rooftop garden and six chickens, Photos of the kids meeting chickens are posted on Flickr at

Thanks, Madison, for completing the circle on sustainable food raising.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Exhibition Poultry Keeping

If you are interested in poultry shows, or have chickens you would like to show, or are an experienced exhibitor, David Scrivener's book, Exhibition Poultry Keeping, is an excellent book to have in your library.

Scrivener is an experienced English poultry judge and he shares the knowledge he has accumulted over his years judging chickens. His obvious delight in his subject is reflected in the detail he has accumulated and presents in this book.
As an American, I found the differences between English and American breeds and showing interesting. Our two countries share such a rich poultry history!
This lovely Barred Wyandotte on the cover is one photo of many in the color photo section. The book also has many detailed drawings and black and white photos. With regard to traditional breeds and exhibition standards, pictures are worth more than a thousand words. It's available thorough or ask your local bookstore to order a copy for you.
Initially, I identified the cover photo as a Dominique. Lily helpfully corrected me in the comments below, but didn't elaborate on the differences. Alice Armen of Masssachusetts shared her experience:
"I have been keeping Dominiques for about 12 years and every few years have been getting chicks from Sandhill Preservation Center to keep them from getting inbred. Well, one year I got these very strange Dominiques in error, along with chicks that were clearly Dominiques. In one of the historic Standards there is a picture of a tail like that but it is not at all right. I finally decided they must have been barred Wyandottes and got rid of the two hens left like that. It took me three years to get rid of that tail in my flock! Now the flock is back to its Dominique look and I think they are actually stronger for the infusion of Wyandotte blood."
I learn something every day. Thanks, both of you!
I'm talking about poultry shows with the Chicken Whisperer this morning at

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Great Turkey Walk

Elaine Belanger of Backyard Poultry magazine suggested this book to me. It's a Young Adult book, which I always enjoy. It's a lot of fun. Written for students in grades 3-6, there's also a Literature Unit for teachers,

Protagonist Simon Green is an appealing underdog. Author Kathleen Karr gets him right -- he's direct and honest, lacking the guile of more sophisticated characters. He's every kid who wants to do well but is puzzled by the misdirections and dishonesty of adult life. His common sense cuts through confusion and ultimately carries the day.

Karr based her book on the true turkey trots of the 19th century. Most were less than 50 miles but some were much more ambitious. She cites one in 1863 that walked 500 turkeys from Missouri to Denver, the route Simon takes with his fictional flock. She mentions another that went from California to Carson City, Nevada.

I need to find out more about these legendary turkey trots. Thanks, Kathleen, for writing this book, and Elaine for putting it in my hands.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Waterfowl blog

John Metzer of Metzer Farms here in California is blogging on waterfowl, He's offering solid information from his years of experience with ducks and geese. I was excited to learn that he has acquired Dave Holderread's breeder flocks of Buff and Pilgrim Geese. Here they are in John's truck, coming back from Corvallis, Oregon.
Thanks for your contribution to the blogospher, John! Welcome.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Turkey Trot

Fall is the time of year when 18th- and 19th-century farmers would sell their turkeys to merchant or drover who would drive them to market as a flock. The drover would use some corn or other seed to attract the turkeys into a more consolidated flock at night, but mostly the turkeys would happily fend for themselves along the way. Acorns at this time of year are an especially attractive turkey feed.

Johns Hopkins Magazine takes note of the Turkey Trot in an article in the current issue, .

"One young drover in 1828 somehow managed to walk a thousand turkeys from Petersburg, Ohio, to Pittsburgh, a distance of more than 50 miles. Turkey drovers would first walk their birds through warm asphalt to coat their feet — turkey shoes."

This is the first I've heard of 'turkey shoes' but it makes sense. Turkeys would often travel many miles. Turkeys like these Narragansetts of Mike Walters might well have been among them. This is the traditional color pattern of New England, and was included in the first STandard of Perfection in 1874.

Lewis Wright, in his Illustrated Book of Poultry (1890) criticizes the practice of sending turkeys to market in their first or second year. "Turkeys do not reach their full size until their third year; and we believe we can get larger and stronger birds from full-grown stock than from yearlings," he writes. Breeding older, larger turkeys results in stronger poults that grow faster. "Pairs weighing forty pounds at seven months are much more numerous than pairs weighing thirty-five pounds were last year at the same age. The turkeys have had the same care; and the difference of growth seems to be owing simply to the fact that the breeders were of larger size and more mature."

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Complete's Idiot's Guide to Raising Chickens

Jerome D. Belanger, known to friends and family as J.D., did a terrific job with this Complete Idiot's Guide to Raising Chickens. My connection with him is as publisher of Backyard Poultry magazine, where I'm a regular contributor.

J.D. compiled all the basics of chickens and chicken husbandry in this book. His humor shiens through, not only in the text -- "Nobody but an irrational grouch could complain about chickens that don't even make their presence known (although such grouches abound)." -- but in nuggets boxed frequently throughout the text. Amaze your friends with Cocktail Conversation items such as where 'chickenpox' got its name (from the blisters that were thought to look like chickpeas) and the fact that the brown color can be rubbed off newly-laid brown eggs, if you get to them before they dry.

J.D. has made the information acessible and his light touch makes it fun. His encyclopedic knowledge, from a lifetime's experience with birds of all kinds and chickens in particular, make this invaluable.

You don't need to own chickens to enjoy learning what J.Dd. shares with us in this book. Next to my own book, it belongs on every chicken lover's shelf.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Poultry leaders invited to upcoming events

Craig Russell, president of the Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities, has been invited to speak at the upcoming Mother Earth News Fair,, September 25-26, and the 7th Annual Green Fesitival in Washington, DC, October 23-24, .

The Mother Earth News Fair describes itself as: This fun-filled, family-oriented event will feature something for everyone, from beginners to experts — and even kids — on the topics of organic gardening, small-scale agriculture, real food, renewable energy, green building, green transportation and natural health. Exhibits and demonstrations with heritage livestock and equipment are also planned, and attendees will enjoy an eco-friendly marketplace and local, organic food and beverages.

WASHINGTON DC — Green Fes­ti­val®, the nation’s largest sus­tain­abil­ity event, returns to the Wash­ing­ton Con­ven­tion Cen­ter Octo­ber 23–24. This year’s Green Fes­ti­val theme is ‘Engage­ment,’ with excit­ing new ways to shop green, be inspired, get engaged and give back. Com­mu­nity mem­bers enjoy infor­ma­tive, insight­ful speak­ers, incom­pa­ra­ble green shop­ping, cut­ting edge eco-innovations, great live music, fun and edu­ca­tional fam­ily breeds.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pinedorado Parade

In Cambria, where I live, Pinedorado Days are the major festival of the year. The parade on Saturday morning kicks off the events. Local groups of all kinds, some assembled entirely for the parade, march down the street. I marched with the Friends of the Elephant Seals,

That's me on the left, holding the 'Shark' sign
We walked among the parade visitors, and what should I see but a man with a chicken setting calmly on his arm! It was a Showgirl, an unusual Silkie-Naked Neck cross. They aren't yet recognized by the APA or ABA, but fanciers enjoy their flashy appearance, as shown in this photo from backyardchickens forum.

I approached him with a compliment on his lovely chicken. He was surprised that I knew what he, the rooster was, and I explained about writing about chickens and gave him my card. He was delighted.

When we marched past later, he waved to us and I pointed him and his chicken out to my fellow marchers. "Is it a parrot?" one asked. No, it's a chicken. "Is it a puppet?" someone else asked. No, it's real.

They were appropriately impressed. I didn't get his name, but he said he was from San Jose. Thanks for bringing your chicken to add to our festivities!

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Food Safety Shell Game

This Op Ed comes from Mark Kastel and Will Fantle, codirectors of The Cornucopia Institute, a
farm policy research group based in Cornucopia, Wisconsin.

What isn't being discussed in Congress, during the ongoing debate on the broken federal food safety system, is the root cause of the most serious pathogenic outbreaks in our food-the elephant (poop) in the room.

The relatively new phenomena of nationwide pathogenic outbreaks, be they from salmonella or E. coli variants, are intimately tied to the fecal contamination of our food supply and the intermingling of millions of unhealthy animals. It's one of the best kept secrets in the modern livestock industry.

Mountains of manure are piling up at our nation's mammoth industrial-scale "factory farms." Thousands of dairy cows and tens of thousands of beef cattle are concentrated on feedlots; hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of chickens are confined in henhouses at one location for the production of eggs and meat.

Livestock producing manure is nothing new. But the epic scale of animal numbers at single locations and the incredible volumes of animal waste is a recipe for disaster. It eclipses anything that was happening on old McDonald's farm.

Feces carrying infectious bacteria transfer to the environment and into our food supply. Feeding heavily subsidized corn and soybeans to cattle, instead of grazing the ruminants on grass, as they were genetically designed to do, changes the pH in their digestive tracts, creating a hospitable environment for pathogenic E. coli to breed. The new phenomenon of feeding "distillers grains" (a byproduct of the ethanol refining industry) is making this risk even more grave.

The current near-nationwide contamination in the egg supply can be directly linked to industrial producers that confine millions of birds, a product of massive, centralized breeding, in manure-rich henhouses, and feeding the birds a ration spiked with antibiotics. These are chickens that the McDonald family would likely have slaughtered on the farm because they were "sickly."

Thirteen corporations each have more than 5 million laying hens, and 192 companies have flocks of more than 75,000 birds. According to the industry lobby group, United Egg Producers (UEP), this represents 95% of all the laying hens in the United States. UEP also says that "eggs on commercial egg-laying farms are never touched until they are handled by the food service operator or consumer." Obviously, their approach been ineffective and their smokescreen is not the straight poop.

In addition to our national dependence on factory farms, the meatpacking industry, like egg production, has consolidated as well to more easily service the vast numbers of animals sent to slaughter from fewer locations. Just four companies now control over 80% of the country's beef slaughter. Production line speed-ups have made it even harder to keep intestinal contents from landing in hamburger and meat on cutting tables.

All of these problems are further amplified by the scope of the industrial-scale food system. Now, a single contamination problem at a single national processing facility, be it meat, eggs, spinach or peanut butter, can virtually infect the entire country through their national distribution model.

As an antidote, consumers are voting with their pocketbooks by purchasing food they can trust. They are encouraging a shift back towards a more decentralized, local and organic livestock production model. Witnessing the exponential growth of farmers markets, community supported farms, direct marketing and supermarket organics, a percentage of our population is not waiting for government regulation to protect their families.

The irony of the current debate on improving our federal food safety regulatory infrastructure, now centered in the Senate, is that at the same time the erosion of FDA/USDA oversight justifies aggressive legislation, the safest farmers in this country, local and organic, might be snared in the dragnet-the proposed rules could disproportionally escalate their costs and drive some out of business.

While many in the good food movement have voiced strong concerns about the pending legislation-it's sorely needed-corporate agribusiness, in pursuit of profit, is poisoning our children!

When Congress returns to Washington, we have no doubt that food safety legislation, which has languished for months, will get fast-tracked. In an election-year our politicians don't want to be left with egg on their face.

We only hope that Senators will seriously consider not just passing comprehensive reform but incorporating an amendment sponsored by John Tester (D-MT), a certified organic farmer himself, that will exempt the safest farms in our country-small, local direct marketers. We need to allocate our scarce, limited resources based on greatest risk.

Farmers and ranchers milking 60 cows, raising a few hundred head of beef, or free ranging laying hens (many times these animals have names not numbers), offer the only true competition to corporate agribusinesses that dominate our food production system.

The Cornucopia Institute
608-625-2042 Voice
866-861-2214 Fax
P.O. Box 126
Cornucopia, Wisconsin 54827

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love

I was delighted to see that the movie version of Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling book Eat Pray Love features poultry in several places. The film opens in Bali, where Runner Ducks scamper along the road.

Runner Ducks, such as these of Troy Griepentrog's, were developed in Southeast Asia, where they were – are – herded from the home pen to rice paddies, where they consume the snails and insects in the water. They are part of an agricultural system that incorporates all factors into production.

Rather than the typical duck’s waddle, they run along quickly, head high atop a tall, slim body.

In Italy, Liz organizes a Thanksgiving dinner, a traditional American feast transplanted to a culture that takes food seriously. But the person who was supposed to defrost the bird forgets to, so the assembled partiers have to improvise. They proceed with preparing the feast, eating turkey the next day for breakfast.

I’m not sure how commercially available in Italy now, but they have been popular there since the 16th century. Columbus brought turkeys back from his journeys and they the wealthy nobility embraced them, often keeping them in private zoos. Because turkeys bred so well, they became more generally available. Black turkeys such as this one of Mikes Walters', were popular.

Italy is Liz’ first stop on her year of self-discovery and healing after a bitter divorce. It’s the Eat destination, where she recovers her joy in indulging herself. She’s feeding herself literally as well as spiritually.

Turkey is the traditional centerpiece of our family-gathering American festival of gratitude. It’s fitting that Liz shares it with her European friends.

As she moves on to India to meditate and pray, chickens crow frequently in the background. She connects with a friendly elephant in a touching scene.

Back in Bali, where she falls in love, crowing continues, although no chickens take active roles.

Liz didn’t mention any poultry that I recall in the book version, so I found it interesting that they were added to the movie. The symbolic meaning of animals is powerful. Our connection with them is primal and profound. Their beauty and spiritual meaning adds so much to our lives and celebrations.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Salmonella egg recall

Retired microbiologist and backyard chicken fancier John Ingraham explains that three proteins in the albumen of healthy chickens help eggs resist contamination naturally, The NPR Morning Edition story is illustrated with this picture of a nice Silver Laced Wyandotte.

I wasn't aware of these biochemical facts, which hep explain why, although it's possible for any chicken egg to be infected with Salmonella, I've never heard of anyone being sickened by an egg from a backyard flock.

The FDA released its report on the filthy conditions at the farms that are the source of the recent Salmonella outbreak, Four to eight feet of manure piled up and spilling out the doors, and the report avoids mentioning the living conditions of the chickens. A poultry veterinarian from the University of Minnesota comments on how he doesn’t see anything to be alarmed about.

This is the industry mentality that makes these deplorable conditions possible, even defensible. As Temple Grandin said in her book, Animals Make Us Human, “Chicken welfare is so poor that I can’t talk only about the core emotions in this chapter. I have to talk about chickens’ physical welfare as well.”

Monday, August 30, 2010

Chicken workshop

Cynda Williams held a Backyard Chickens Workshop at the NOFA/Mass Summer Conference, August 13.

"Raising backyard poultry has been gaining in popularity in Massachusetts," reads a press release from NOFA/Mass. "Chicken supply stores all across the state report a major spike in business. Joleen Jurczyk who works at the Greenfield Farmer’s Cooperative Exchange compared the first of three orders for baby chicks between 2009 and 2010: 'Last year there were around 800 chicks in one order and this year there were 1,800 chicks in that same order. It’s been an extraordinary increase.'

“ 'Whenever there’s a lot of new people coming into a new hobby like this all at once, there can be a bit of a learning curve to climb,' said Ben Grosscup, Extension Events Coordinator for NOFA/Mass."

Cynda recommended my book, How to Raise Chickens, to her eager students. Thanks, Cynda. I hope they find it as useful as you have.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Egg recall

As the Salmonella contamination egg recall continues to unfold, consumers are getting a better picture of how eggs get to their tables. Democracy Today’s Amy Goodman,, interviewed Food & Water Watch’s Patty Lovera, assistant director of the food safety group and David Kirby, journalist and author of the book Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy and Poultry Farms on Humans and the Environment. Website: “”

These massive recalls of contaminated food illustrate the vulnerability of allowing our food system to become dominated by a small group of corporations and individuals. John Sheffius of Boulder Daily Camera captures the political relationship in today's cartoon,

Protect yourself from eating contaminated eggs by washing your hands, countertops and utensils after handling raw eggs. That will avoid transferring any Salmonella that may be on the shell to other foods.

Cook eggs thoroughly. Temperatures of 155 degrees will kill Salmonella. That means firm yolks with no liquid.

Keep eggs refrigerated. Cool temperatures retard bacteria growth, reducing the amount of bacteria.

Eggs can be washed in cool water with a splash of bleach. Warm water will open the pores in the egg shell and can force bacteria inside the egg.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I'll be talking with Andy Schneider, the Chicken Whisperer, today about Junglefowl, Special guest is Tom Condon, now a graduate student in biology at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia. He's studying behavior in game birds, which fits into his work with wild Junglefowl. He visited India two years ago to see the birds in their natural habitat. Here he is riding an elephant into Rajaji National Park.

He found that wild birds at the edges of the park are freely interbreeding with domestic birds. Since the wild birds' characteristics are usually dominant, the domestic qualities aren't noticed, but dilute the natural genetic purity.

Junglefowl are recognized by the American Bantam Association for exhibition. Prescribed weights are 26 ounces for cocks and 22 ounces for hens. In captive flocks, Junglefowl tend to grow larger naturally. Selecting for small size is important in captive breeding for exhibition.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Egg recall

After identifying Wright County Egg in Galt County, Iowa and Hillandale Farms, also in Iowa, as the sources of Salmonella contamination, the companies have recalled half a billion eggs, Wright County Egg first recalled 380 million. Hillandale Farms has now recalled 107.4 million. Generally, USDA is responsible for egg safety at what are called breaker plants or egg products processing facilities. In these facilities eggs are broken and pasteurized. The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for shell egg safety and egg products once they leave the breaking facility.

On the Internet, information about these companies is sketchy. A press release from the Humane Society of the United States, says that Wright County Egg confines over 7.5 million hens. Hens are confined their whole lives in cages so small each hen has the amount of space equivalent to a piece of 8 ½ x 11 letter-size paper. This is defended as humane and reasonable, what it takes to produce cheap eggs.

This contamination event, which is blamed for sickening 1,200 people thus far, may help educate the public about how their eggs get from the chicken to the table. The companies date them using the Julian calendar, otherwise used for astronomical events. It’s obscure – I can’t figure out how to tell when these eggs were laid. The recall covers eggs shipped since May 16.

The lack of transparency in the industry helps hide their shameful practices. Keeping consumers ignorant of how food is produced allows them to squeeze more profit out of production, regardless of how inhumane or filthy the conditions.

Mother Earth News documented better nutrition in eggs laid by chickens who range free, Protect yourself and support better lives for chickens by raising your own hens or buying eggs from a local small flock producer.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

List your birds in the SPPA Breeders Directory!

The Society for Preservation for Poultry Antiquities is compiling the 2011 edition of its acclaimed Breeders Directory. Join now and list your birds.

You do not need to be actively breeding birds or selling them. The Breeders Directory documents rare and historic breeds, regardless of size of flock.

“It’s important to know what breeds are being kept and how many there are,” said SPPA second vice president Mary Ann Harley, who is managing the project. “We use this opportunity to compile a census of the breeds as well.”

For those who are raising birds for sale, the SPPA Breeders Directory is an invaluable and unique resource. It provides contact information for the breeders who are maintaining breeds that would otherwise remain undocumented. Since there is no breed registry for poultry, SPPA provides the service of keeping track of the various breeds.

All breeds and varieties are included in the Breeders Directory, whether recognized by the APA-ABA or not. An oversight suggested that only recognized breeds would be included. That is not correct.

“SPPA welcomes all poultry breeds, varieties and their breeders,” said SPPA first vice president Monte Bowen, who is also the Bulletin editor.

Forms for listing are included in the SPPA Bulletin, sent to all members. Send a check or money order to Dr. Charles Everett, 1057 Nick Watts Rd., Lugoff, SC 29078 or go to to join and receive a form.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Cooking Heritage Poultry

Backyard Poultry magazine has my article about Cooking Seasonal Chickens in the current August September issue, Both Joseph Marquette of Yellow House Farm in New Hampshire and Steve Pope, who is working with Frank Reese's Good Shepherd Ranch in Kansas, were kind enough to talk with me about what they have learned from cooking breeds such as Buckeyes, New Hampshires, Dorkings, Barred Rocks and Sussex.

This Baked Chicken A la Tucson by Ann Knowles was the grand prize winner at Good Shepherd Ranch's heritage chicken recipe contest,
Here she poses with her winning dish, and later with Chef Pope.
Her dish uses an orange juice, chili and tequila rub that also acts as a basting liquid for a bird that braises in a covered pan. Slow moist heat is crucial for success with cooking heritage birds raised on free range. The birds developp stronger muscles with more taste, but they are tough when cooked like supermarket chicken.
Thanks, Joseph and Steve, for helping the public learn how to appreciate heritage chickens.

Friday, July 30, 2010


The Chantecler was developed by Brother Wilfred Chatelain as a distinctive Canadian breed. The original birds he bred where white. A Partridge variety was recognized by the American Poultry Association, but the birds with that color plumage were actually developed as a separate breed, the Albertan. A Buff variety is also raised, with advocates workiing toward formal recognition. This lovely rooster belongs to Gina Bisco of New York State.

Br. Wilfred held a doctorate in agronomy when he began working to develop a distinctive Canadian breed in 1907. The Cistercian Abbey of Notre Dame du Lac’s flocks comprised about a dozen breeds. He envisioned a practical, white, dual purpose breed with a small comb to withstand Canadian winters.
“It was [Br. Wilfred’s] desire to give his country a breed of poultry with personality, character, a particular quality,” writes Linda M. Gryner in her book, Chantecler & Other Rare Poultry Breeds (September, 1996).
A breakthrough in 1917 brought together a 7 ¾ -lb. Pullet who laid 91 eggs in four months and a 10-lb. White Plymouth Rock cock. The breed was admitted to the American Standard in 1921.

Originally, Chanteclers were held to weight standards of 9 lbs. for cocks, 7 lbs. for hens. The current Standard is 8 ½ lbs. for cocks, 6 ½ lbs. for hens. The unusual cushion comb crowns a dignified head, here shown on one of Ms. Bisco’s roosters.

Frances Backhouse has written about the Klondike in two books, Women of the Klondike and Children of the Klondike, One of those women, Gussie Lamore, was courted by a miner, Swiftwater Bill Gates. He tried to win her heart with eleven eggs, all the eggs in town. They turned out to be rotten, having travelled up from Seattle or Victoria, the only way to get eggs in that cold north country in the 1890s. Br. Wilfred saw the need for a northern chicken!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Rare poultry available now!

A reader in East Texas, outside Texarkana, has some unusual historic breeds available for placement in good homes. His work is taking him out of the country later this year. They need a new home – or homes – by October. Sooner is better than later. He can help transport them on his half-ton truck, but needs crates for them. One person can take all, or choose what you like.

Contact him via email at or phone at 903-838-6298 to work out arrangements.

His collection includes chickens and ducks:

White Rosecomb Dorkings (including white & almost white):approximately 10 hens, 1 pure white rooster, 1 almost white rooster & 1 single comb rooster described below.
Other Dorking hens: 3 dark brown, 1 almost black & 2 white single combs
Crevecoeurs: 1 rooster (good size), 2 hens (small)
White Houdans: 2 white rooster (good size), 2 white w/ few black feathers (good size), 1 hen (small)
Spangled Russian Orloff: 1 rooster, 2 hens
- Cuckoo: 1 rooster (feather leg), 4 hens
- Blue: 1 blue cuckoo rooster (feather leg), 1 blue cuckoo (clean leg), 4 hens
- Splash: 1 rooster (feather leg), 1 rooster (clean leg), 1 hen
Light Brahma: 1 rooster + 4 cockerels, approx 13 hens
Cochins: 1 blue rooster, 1 dark partridge hen, 1 blue hen, 1 splash hen
Cochin bantam: 4 black roosters
Silkies: 1 white rooster, 3 white hens, 1 black hen
1 Salmon Faverolle hen
Black Breasted Old English Game Bantam: 1 rooster, 4 hens
Saxony ducks: 3 drakes, 5 hens
Pekin ducks: 1 drake, 1 hen
Production Rouen ducks: 2 hens

Contact Paul directly, but I'd enjoy being kept in the loop to follow where these birds go.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tina and Bosco

Tina Tyzzer of Indiana sends news of Bosco, a temporary resident at her house.

"Bosco will be six weeks old three days after this photo was taken. She’s about a quarter of the size of my chicks who are the same age, so I believe she is a Bantam breed chicken. She is at my house because raccoons invaded my neighbor’s barn and got all of her ten brothers and sisters. She is a true survivor!

"I have a secure chicken coop, so until my neighbor creates a safe haven for Bosco, she will stay with me. Unfortunately, Bosco isn’t quite certain that my coop is safe either! My chicks are giants compared to her, so she is afraid of them as well. Every time I enter the chicken yard, she runs out of hiding and 'jumps on board'….my shoulder, my back, my head…wherever she can find a safe spot. And, if I’m not within range, she will jump onto the highest roost and start cheeping at the top of her little lungs until I get closer.

"I’m not sure who said that chickens and turkeys were 'dumb' creatures, but I assure you they are not! This little gal has me trained very well and she’s only lived here a week."

Tina notes that she and her husband Charlie are at the McCordsville (Indiana) Farmer’s Market Wednesday from 4:00 – 7:00. "We won’t be their every week, because we’re just advertising that we will have roasting chickens, turkeys and eggs starting in September, so we are creating a mailing list for all of those who might be interested."

Contact her at for more information.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

English Chicken houses

Ian Daniels of Dobbies in England and Scotland,, has created a snappy brochure to help their customers get started with chickens, It's free to download and worth having. It's a route to get started .

Thanks, Ian, for sharing this with my readers.