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 Amazon.com 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 www.blogstalkradio.com/backyardpoultry.

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, http://edhelper.com/books/The_Great_Turkey_Walk.htm.

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, http://blog.metzerfarms.com/. 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, http://www.jhu.edu/jhumag/0908web/market.html .

"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, http://www.motherearthnews.com/Nature-Community/Mothers-Having-A-Party-And-Youre-Invited.aspx, September 25-26, and the 7th Annual Green Fesitival in Washington, DC, October 23-24, http://www.greenfestivals.org/wdc/updates/ .

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. http://www.greenfestivals.org/press/7th-annual-green-festival-returns-to-the-capital/

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, http://www.elephantseal.org/.

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.