Friday, April 30, 2010


Larry Harrison, permit administrator with the Fish and Wildlife Service, gave me this update on the Muscovy Duck regulations today:

"We have placed the following notice and the attached fact sheet on the Migratory Bird Management webpage ( regarding our reconsideration of our recent action related to muscovy ducks. If you have any questions after reading these materials, please contact Ms. Susan Lawrence at 703 358-2016.

CFR 21.54 - Muscovy Duck
The Muscovy Duck now occurs naturally in southern Texas, so it has been added to the list of birds protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (50 CFR 10.13). This species has been introduced in other areas throughout the U.S. where it is an exotic species, and it is widely raised in captivity for food. To control the spread of Muscovy Ducks in areas outside their natural range, the Service also published a Control Order (50 CFR 21.54) that allows control of feral Muscovy Ducks, their nests, and eggs in areas outside their natural range (50 CFR 21.54). Other regulations finalized at the same time as the listing and Control Order that restrict possession of Muscovy Ducks and require a permit to sell captive-bred Muscovy Ducks for food will not be administered at this time because the Service plans to revise those regulations in the near future. The full text of the Final Rule is posted here

Larry will attend the annual permit meeting in Oregon May 10-14, where Muscovy regulation is on the agenda. You can send your concerns to him at before May 9 so that he can bring them with him and present them at the meeting.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


That crest is the feature people notice first on Polish chickens. It’s unusual, and makes them look kind of wacky. That was what Eva Le Gallienne keyed on when she called the Polish chicken in her book, Flossie and Bossie, The Lunatic. In the book, The Lunatic is unable to settle down to set on eggs, and is removed from the nest by The Hands.

It’s a very sweet book, now out of print. The illustrations are by Garth Williams, who did the famous illustrations in the Little House on the Prairie Series. This drawing shows The Lunatic’s scene as she goes crazy while the other hens are peacefully setting on their eggs.

Le Gallienne was an actress, producer and director from the 1920s through the 1960s. She did some writing, and Flossie and Bossie was published in 1949. You may be able to find it in your local library.

Polish chickens are recognized in the Continental Class. They are small chickens, at 6 lbs. for a mature male and 4 ½ lbs. for a hen. Four varieties of Polish chickens are recognized in the APA’s first Standard in 1874, all non-bearded: White Crested Black, Golden, Silver and White. Bearded Golden, Silver, White and Buff Laced were admitted to the Standard in 1883. The non-bearded Buff Laced variety was admitted in 1938, the non-bearded White Crested Blue in 1963 and the non-bearded Black Crested White in 1996.

Polish Bantams are also shown, in 14 varieties in the All Other Comb Clean Leg category. They are one of the 16 most popular breeds.

Belonging to a breed club is a wonderful way to be in contact with others who share your enthusiasm. Contact the Polish Club through Jim Parker,RR #6, 3232 Schooler Road, Cridersville, OH 45806, e-mail:

Monday, April 26, 2010

Loyl Stromberg

Loyl Stromberg, one of SPPA's founders, will celebrate his 96th birthday May 5. He is currently in an assisted living facility in Minnesota, due to some physical frailty, but he is active and as dedicated to poultry as ever. He'd enjoy receiving news and birthday greetings from other poultry enthusiasts. Send cards and letters to him at P.O. Box 400, Pine River, Minnesota 56474.
Here he is, showing me some of his many poultry art objects. His home is like a museum, filled with wonderful artistic remembrances of his many friends in the poultry world. He is a great guy and it has been my privilege to call him my friend.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Raleigh's Tour d'Coop

The Hen-side the Beltline Tour d’Coop will be held Saturday May 15, 10am- 4pm, rain or shine. It's the Fifth Annual Tour of Raleigh’s Urban Chickens and Their Coops, sponsored by Whole Foods Market.

Raleigh’s city chicken owners invite you into their backyards for a first-hand look at keeping chickens in an urban environment. Discover the variety of breeds that might be nesting in your neighborhood, such as these attracdtive young Light Brahma pullets. Learn about raising chickens in a healthy neighbor friendly environment and see how families integrate chickens into their gardening practices. Kids and chickens have a natural affinity. In addition, you’ll be impressed by the ingenious coops that can be devised to shelter these feathered pets.

Previous years’ Tours have been huge successes, with thousands of visitors enjoying the event. This year’s tour includes 21 returning and new coops and informational booths. You do not want to miss this unique “Parade of Combs” and their homes. Bring the family, but please leave pets at home, since some flocks are not accustomed to four-legged visitors.

Being Green, Eating Local and Fun Too!
Why do I keep chickens? Coop owners who were asked that question gave answers as varied as themselves. “I wanted to teach my children where food comes from”, “I wanted to live a more sustainable life”, “I grew up on a farm and wanted to continue some of those traditions”, “chickens make me laugh!”, “chicken manure makes great compost.” Gardeners, parents, farmers’ children, environmentalists and people with a sense of humor all enjoy keeping chickens in an urban environment.

Admission: Please bring a non-perishable food or cash donation for Raleigh Urban Ministries.
100% of the food and money collected goes to Urban Ministries. The 2009 Tour collected 2342 pounds of food and raised over $5300 for Urban Ministries. Founded in 1981, Urban Ministries of Wake County is a non-profit organization that provides essential basic services to close to 20,000 families and individuals in Wake County every year. These services include emergency and transitional housing, medical care, prescription medications, food assistance and other support services to promote self-sufficiency and a stable home environment for those in need. 94 cents of every dollar goes to services!
New this year the Tour d’Coop attendees have the option of donating online through Paypal prior to the tour through our website (
Thanks to Rick Bennett for providing this information and the terrific photos!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

More on Muscovies

With all the controversy stirred up by the Fish and Wildlife Service’s designation of the Muscovy as a species native to the U.S. in Texas, I decided to do some research. Joseph Marquette of Yellow House Farm in New Hampshire,, wrote an excellent article about Muscovies for Backyard Poultry’s February/March issue, but it is not posted online. I’m preparing a brochure on Muscovies based on that article. This pair are from Harvey Ussery's Modern Homestead in Virginia,

Joseph writes:

For the homestead or small-scale farm focusing on sustainable agriculture, Muscovies are a goldmine; there’s no way around it. They are fantastic foragers, extremely fertile, excellent mothers, disease free, self-reliant, tough as nails, and funny as all get out. In short, they are possessed of the most worthy farming qualities that recommend them to almost any farm or homestead.

Muscovies were already domesticated when Europeans arrived in the Americas. They were called Musk Ducks, which may have contributed to their name. The musk refers to the scent the males develop in maturity. Other possible origins of the name are the Muscovite Company, a 16th century trading company and the nation of Muisca, a South American Native American confederation located in what is now Colombia, which is within the Muscovy’s natural range. Be that as it may, European explorers brought Muscovies back, along with turkeys, by the early 16th century.

The musk scent can be avoided by slaughtering males before 17 weeks of age, when they acquire those glandular odors.

Muscovy hens are excellent mothers who lay large clutches of eggs and then set on them. That makes them prolific reproducers, but inappropriate as egg producers. Lewis Wright in his 1890 Illustrated Book of Poultry remarks on the low egg production, and tells stories of the nasty and aggressive nature of the males. “We recollect well an old rascal which belonged to a relative, and was kept in a yard with some Dorkings. The first time the drake attacked him the Dorking cock showed fight, but was quickly demolished, and after that the drake made the poor fellow’s life a positive burden to him. His favourite mode of offensive warfare was to rush at the poor Dorking like a battering-ram, and knock him clean off his legs, trampling over him as he fell; and we often wished in a half-hearted way for a good sharp-fighting Game Cock to teach him a lesson or two. For these and other reasons, the Musk Duck can hardly be called a profitable variety.”

By 1912 in the U.S. the International Correspondence Schools found Muscovies very desirable, both as meat birds and for exhibition, as shown in this illustration from the volume on Standard Bred Poultry. At that point, two varieties, Colored and White were recognized. The American Poultry Association now recognizes White, Black, Blue and Chocolate. Other varieties are also raised, including Black, Blue and Chocolate Magpie and Lavender.

Joseph finds no such aggression problems in his flock, although the males can be aggressive toward each other during breeding season. “The result of Muscovy fighting is rarely as drastic as that which can occur in the wake of a battle between two cockbirds. Muscovies are more like sumo wrestlers than sword-thrusting samurai. Although their claws are certainly sharp, the thick and close-knit feathering of their opponents is quite effective in avoiding any bloodshed. As a whole, they thrash about, locked about the neck in a stubborn embrace. They flap their wings wildly, mostly against the ground and push each other back and forth. Over the course of the season, they tend to snap off their flight and tail feathers at half mast, which leads to a rather dreadful appearance. This is, however, primarily cosmetic, and, although they tend to look like something the cat dragged in by mid-summer, the worst bruise is to their pride. Luckily, the time of molt tends to signal the end of the mating rush. Molting refreshes their outfit and they return to looking comically debonair until such point as February awakens their lust for life.”

Friday, April 16, 2010

Muscovy rules from US FWS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided that the Muscovy Duck needs to be listed as a native species and added to the Migratory Bird List and thus protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Listing such a popular domestic duck as a wild native and extending it that kind of protection is inappropriate. Duck owners have responded loudly, and the regulation, which took effect March 31, 2010, is being reconsidered. As of now, those who own and breed Muscovy ducks will not be asked to make any changes and are permitted to keep their ducks without any additional permits or paperwork. This painting of Muscovies by Hashime Murayama comes from the National Geographic magazine of March 1930, Fowls of Forest and Stream Tamed by Man.

The USFWS understands that “The muscovy duck is native to Mexico, Central and South America.” The agency decided to declare it native to the U.S. after finding that “it has recently expanded its range from Mexico to Hidalgo, Starr, and Zapata counties in south Texas.” That means it’s an exotic invader everywhere else in the U.S. As such, Muscovies anywhere outside those south Texas counties can be killed without any restrictions,

Incredibly, the FWS somehow was not aware of the many poultry fanciers who keep Muscovies, or the fact that they are recognized by the American Poultry Association (and have been since the first Standard in 1874, when the White variety was included). The agency was unaware of the International Waterfowl Breeders Association, the specialty breed exhibition organization,

So, although the original proposal to list the Muscovy as a Migratory Bird was made in 2006, and the rule changes in 2009, the agency didn’t notify any of the people who would be most concerned. I didn’t hear about it until the rule change took effect in March, and I’ve been involved with poultry all along. Last October, at the SEJ conference, I had dinner with FWS director Sam Hamilton, who died unexpectedly in February, and several members of his staff. He seemed a capable guy, and his staff attentive and responsive to journalists’ inquiries. Unfortunately, the Muscovy changes were already in progress, and the subject never came up.

“State wildlife agencies were advised," their Fact Sheet states. "However, although any member of the public could have commented, we were unaware of the extent to which muscovies are maintained in captivity and did not know of any organization to inform about the proposed changes. Therefore, many muscovy duck owners likely were not aware of the proposal.”

The general outcry has prompted the agency to take another look at the situation.

“As a result of information received since publication of the final rules, the Service has
decided to revise the regulations,” the agency’s Fact Sheet states.

I’m grateful that the agency is willing to reconsider this odd decision to change the legal status of Muscovy ducks. I’m sad that this agency was so far removed from its subject and the people who love Muscovies that they were unaware that they even existed. Let’s hope this episode opens some lines of communication and leads to better information on both sides.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The True Story of Cinderella

Last weekend at the Ventura Spring Fling Poultry Show, I met Sandy Hammond, author and illustrator of The True Story of Cinderella. It's about her introduction to keeping chickens.

Enthusiastic but uninformed, she acquires three chicks, two of whom grow up to be roosters. When she exchanges them for two hens, the transition is an adventure. They fly into the neighbors' yards and Sandy wonders whether she can pretend she doesn't have chickens.

She finds the help she needs and tells the story with charm. I look forward to reading this to kids in my circle.

Sandy welcomed her chickens with a sense of humor and an open mind, willing to learn. I'm totally in sympathy, because that's the way I started. I brought home my first chicks and kept them in a laundry basket for the first several weeks. I know that sinking feeling of hearing an unexpected rooster crow.

I advise people to prepare themselves well for chickens, get my books and build their coops and generally use good sense as they take steps into raising chickens. And experience bears me out: chicks often fall victim to chills, incorrect feed, dangerous water, unexpected predators when their new owners aren't prepared.

However, I started knowing as little as Sandy did, and it has worked out for both of us. The fact is, a little common sense on the humans' part and the resilient and forgiving nature on the chickens' part will often get both through to success.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Urban Homesteading

Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen include a chapter on Livestock in their book, The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City (Process Media,, $16.95). In an urban setting, that leads off with chickens and ducks, but also includes rabbits, pigeons, quail and bees.

Their folksy, direct style clearly covers the basics of small livestock keeping, in perspective of a comprehensive single volume on the subject. Their advice covers every possible question I could think of, from gardening and composting to cooking, baking and preserving food, water and power alternatives and transportation. Their blog provides a current commentary on their experiences, We’re all learning all the time.

The Urban Homestead is the kind of book everyone can find useful. Those who are already involved will surely find helpful new ideas – I’m now confident I can recognize a ladybug larva, an effective aphid control bug, although the hug they recommend might be difficult. Those who are complete newbies can get started, and those who simply want to make some conservation changes will find things that can serve their lives now and prepare them for a bigger step in the future.

“Never put off homesteading because you think you are in the wrong place,” they advise. Even if you live in a windowless box, or in the most tight-assed planned community ever conceived by a black-hearted developer, there are ways to homestead. Even if you can’t grow food in your own backyard, you can forage for edible plants, tend a plot in a community garden, preserve and ferment foods, whether they are from a farmers’ market or a dumpster dive. You can lessen your dependence on the car, or build community in your neighborhood. The homestead is about much more than just growing food.”

Thanks, Kelly and Erik, for this excellent addition to helping us all become more self-sufficient.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Traditional Breeds

Frank Reese of Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch is the nation's leading traditional breed poultry producer. This photo was taken when I visited Frank two years ago, for his presentation on Cooking with Traditional Breeds.
The statement below is the one he offers chefs who wish to purchase his poultry to serve to their customers:

We use only standard bred poultry and we do not use any factory genetics or genetically engineer birds. That means all our birds are purebred, which was the norm 60 years ago. These are the traditional chickens of the thirties and forties; chickens with history. They were here long before the factory-produced, hybrid, fast-growing chicken came into being. Our birds grow slowly and naturally, as nature intended. The factory birds grow to marketable weight in 42 days and the other so-called slow-growers, like Freedom Rangers, are marketable in 60 days. Our chickens take 120 to 140 days just to get to broiler weight. And that makes a big difference in flavor, texture, and health of the bird.

All our birds – chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese - come from the eggs laid by the hens on our farm. The eggs are gathered daily and carried to the hatchery, which is right here on the farm. None are purchased elsewhere or shipped through the mail. Not only do the chickens you buy run free on the farm, but so does the breeding stock. That’s unheard of in industrial production systems. No where in our system is any bird kept in confinement.

Because we raise only standard bred birds (birds that meet the ENTIRE description for their breed as defined by the American Poultry Association) we have birds with strong and natural immune systems. So we do not need to use antibiotics anywhere in our system. The hens and roosters laying the eggs that produce the meat chickens we sell do not get antibiotics. Antibiotics are not needed in our system. That means your customers won’t get antibiotics with their meal!

At night the birds go into barns to sleep. This keeps them safe from predators and is the only time they are enclosed. The barns are clean. Our birds don’t have to eat, drink or sleep in there own manure. All our chickens have access to roosts at night and our chickens still have normal skeletons so they can fly up to the roost. Roosting high in the trees has kept birds safe from predators for eons. Roosting is still hard-wired into their brains, and they feel safe, and therefore less stressed, when roosting. And roosting also eliminates the skin diseases that afflict most factory birds that can’t get up off the ground and out of their own manure.

I can’t say it enough: all our birds are physically healthy. All our birds can fly, run and walk normally.

Because our birds are physically, structurally, and mentally healthy, they can live very long lives – 10 – 15 years. The factory bird is not physically or structurally fit. It has been bred to grow fast. Really fast. To the detriment of the rest of its needs for a sound body and immune system. The factory chicken is a dead end animal and will die within a year if you do not kill it. Because they grow at such a rapid rate (300 times faster then ours) and become morbidly obese so fast their skeletal structure can not hold the young bird up. These birds can no longer walk and so die from muscle weakness and joint failure. Many of these birds also die from congestive heart failure. In the factory system the average life span of a meat birds is 42 to 60 days and for breeder birds, no longer than one year.

Our birds can produce their own young. They can mate naturally, because their bodies are proportioned appropriately, their skeletons and muscles are strong enough, and they still have the instinct to mate, In short, they can reproduce themselves. The factory birds cannot live long enough to reproduce themselves, which is a good thing if you want to control the farmer and the genetics. To keep the breeder birds from getting too fat the factory farmer starves the breeder hens so they will live long enough to lay eggs. Because they are using genetically engineered chickens the birds would get so fat they will die and not produce eggs.

Our birds have access to feed and water all their lives.

All the birds on Good Shepherd are owned by the farmer raising them.

Nowhere in our system do we use “chicken tractors” to raise our birds. We DO NOT put our birds in 8 by 8 boxes and push them across the ground – just another type of confinement. Our birds truly run free and can interact with each other. They can fight, play and roll in the dirt. They can chase bugs and dig up worms.

Our hens can interact with each other and lay in straw-covered nests. They even become broody and will sit on a nest and hatch their own chicks.

We do not check the sex of our chicks, an invasive practice itself, or kill any chicks because they are male or female

We do not de-beak or de-claw any of our birds

All our chicks are taken from the incubators within minutes of hatching so they have access to feed and water.

The chicks are taken to the farm where they are going to be raised in a temperature-controlled vehicle.

No one farmer has more the 1500 to 1600 chicks at one time, so the birds don’t get overcrowded and the farmers don’t lose their ability to give quality care to the flock.

When it is time to haul the birds to the processor, the birds at loaded at night, when they are calm, one bird at a time.

NONE of the birds are ever shackled live at the processing plant.

The biggest thing to me is this: we are bringing back genetic diversity. We are raising six different breeds of chickens. Each breed is unique and each has an important role to play in the health and future of sustainable farming. This is very important on so many different levels to the farmers, the environment, disease control and the future of poultry production world wide. One company controls all the chicken and turkey genetics world wide. To bring back bio-diversity and save genetics within our food systems is critical for future generations. Good Shepherd is trying to put the power of what we raise and what we eat back into the hands of the farmer.