Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Heritage Breeds podcasts

Jeannette Beranger, program manager for The Livestock Conservancy is making short podcasts about heritage breeds in general and chickens in particular. They're free and provide insights into why heritage breeds are important and how to improve your flock. 
This Fayoumi hen thrives in Egypt's hot, dry climate.

Conserving those heritage breeds is important, because those locally adapted breeds hold the genes that resist disease, tolerate extreme conditions such as drought, heat and cold. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is working to help local people maintain their herds and flocks of heritage breeds. Keeping heritage breeds makes you part of that history. 

Local breeds are the cornerstone of food production in rural countries. An egg a day is a significant addition to a poor child's diet.
Michelle Conrad's Russian Orloff is comfortable in the cold.

The Heritage Breeds podcast is brought to you by The Livestock Conservancy. In this podcast series you’ll meet the animals, breeders, and people working to save them from extinction. Visit HeritageBreeds.org to discover how you can get involved.

Introduction to Heritage Breeds
Protecting nearly 200 breeds of livestock and poultry from extinction.
What are Heritage Breeds
Discover more about Heritage Breeds and which ones are considered to be the traditional livestock breeds that were raised by our forefathers. These are the breeds of a bygone era, before industrial agriculture became a mainstream practice. These...
Getting Started with Heritage Breeds
Choosing a breed to work with is often the most rewarding and fun part of getting involved with heritage breeds. Linking your own interests, abilities, and facilities with the needs and status of the breed is exciting. Making sure the...
Pickin' Chickens - Part 1 &Part 2
Gather the knowledge you need for Pickin’ Your Chickens. Heritage Breed Poultry expert Jeannette Beranger will introduce you to breeds from around the world. Discover more about the English, Continental, American, Asiatic, and Oriental...

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


 Jeannette Beranger, research and technical programs manager for The Livestock Conservancy, has acquired Crevecoeurs! These show their pure bloodlines in their red rather than white ear lobes. The white ear lobes are evidence of Polish crosses.

How's this for a stylish pullet?
These young cockerels are growing out beautifully.
Jeannette says he's having a Bad Hair Day, but I wouldn't mention it to him.
These youngsters are active and enjoying their perch.
I reported on her project in August. This lovely group bodes well for 2015, and saving this historic breed.

Note the unusual V-shaped horn comb. Crevecoeurs share this shape comb with Houdans, Polish, La Fleche and Sultans.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Toulouse Goose

My article about Toulouse Geese is in the December2014/January 2015 issue of Backyard Poultry.

Ah, the romance of the French! The Toulouse Goose, with its whiff of French cooking and its impressive size, is the very symbol of poultry history and cuisine. “For many people goose and Toulouse are synonymous,” says Dave Holderread in his classic The Book of Geese.

Jeannette Beranger of The Livestock
Conservancy's Toulouse Goose
That massive size makes keeping them a bigger commitment than a whole flock of bantams. They need pasture and water. They live 20 years or longer. Fewer breeders are keeping these masters of the poultry world. The rewards are in knowing these wonderful birds and being part of conservation of a classic breed.

“For someone with the space, they are a breed to go with,” said Jeannette Beranger, research and technical programs manager for The Livestock Conservancy. “If you can accept the challenge, you can have an impact on conservation.”

Don’t confuse the standard Dewlap Toulouse with commercial Toulouse. Commercial or production Toulouse are developed from a market cross of Dewlap Toulouse with another breed. They grow fast and are in good supply. It’s the classic Dewlap that is waning in numbers.

The Gray Toulouse was one of the original breeds included in the first APA Standard of Excellence in 1874. A buff variety was developed and recognized more than a century later in 1977.  The Standard dictates 26 pounds for a mature gander and 20 pounds for a mature goose, but males often top 30 pounds. That makes for a hefty table bird but won’t work in a breeding flock. Breeding birds have to stay in slim shape to be successful in mating to produce next year’s flock.

Frank Reese Toulouse in Kansas
“Males need to slim down and burn off the keel,” said International Waterfowl Breeders Association president James Konecny. “The keel can get in the way when breeding.”

Keeping them on pasture helps them stay slim. Geese are herbivores, almost to the point of being picky eaters. That quality made them useful on the farm as weeders. Because they would eat only the grassy weeds, they were used to “grass” the cotton, tobacco, wheat and oat fields. 

“There’s no better food for geese than grass,” said breeder Frank Reese of Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch in Lindsborg, Kansas. He’s raising 200 for the Christmas holiday market this year.

Reese adds fish meal and oil to their diet as winter approaches. He feeds them alfalfa hay and native prairie grass hay in the winter.

Train them to feed in their shelter, so that they will come back at night and be protected from predators. Toulouse, as large as they are, can’t waddle away to escape from predators.

Feathers on the left and center. Down on the right.
Water is important for geese, but a pond isn’t necessary. They can be happy bathing in a kiddie pool or a cattle trough. A natural or man-made pond can be an asset, though. Natural wetlands grasses and water lilies are some of their favorite foods. Make sure the pond is large enough to accommodate the number of geese using it.

Cold weather doesn’t faze geese. Their down is the warmest material known. There’s a market for it, for use in comforters and jackets. Geese can survive through a blizzard, hunkering down and letting snow cover them. Mr. Reese provides windbreaks to protect his geese from weather but otherwise lets them wander.

All that down can make hot weather more of a problem. That’s where shade and cool water can give them relief.

Konecny is rebuilding his flock after farming his 50 breeders out to colleagues for a move last year. He’s got six pairs and 11 young geese back. He finds them good layers with good fertility, hatching goslings that grow fast. Diet needs to be thoughtful, limiting protein when the wings are developing to avoid slipped wing and angel wing. He occasionally tapes a wing that’s developing poorly, to brace it to grow straight. He’s got the experience to know how and when to do that.

Toulouse geese aren’t a project for the novice. Start with a smaller breed, such as one of the medium or light geese, such as Romans or Pomeranians. They’re also on The Livestock Conservancy’s Critical List.

“Toulouse Geese are a project for somebody who is in it for the love of it,” said Mrs. Beranger

Beyond roast goose

Lucio Damiani, in his Foreword to The Goose: History, Folklore and Ancient Recipes, calls it “a walking larder… an animal that embodies the flavor of the past in every sense.” His book includes recipes that go beyond roast goose to goose ragout, goose sausage and goose salami.
“I pull his book out for the holiday season every year,” said Mrs. Beranger.

Save the goose fat! It’s one of the best parts, and can be used in cooking and baking. Mrs. Beranger pierces the skin and roasts hers on a rotisserie, collecting the fat as it cooks. Goose naturally bastes itself. She uses the fat to make confit, preserving meat in fat. “It’s liquid gold,” she said.

Mr. Reese harks back to his mother’s recipe, stuffing the goose with turnips and sauerkraut and roasting it in apple juice. His mother used the goose intestines to make German sweet sausage. To feed the large extended family of as many as 40 people, she would sometimes split open a goose and lay it over a turkey, to baste the turkey breast as both roasted.

“We use everything but the honk,” she used to say.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving turkey

I picked up my 13.25 pound Bourbon Red turkey from Erin Krier in Nipomo on Monday. She calls her poultry business Babe's Birds, after her grandmother. She charged $6.25 a pound, which I am confident compensated her fairly for her work.
Linn Ennis' photo of one of her Bourbon Red turkeys
She was having a meeting of 4-H poultry leaders at her dining room table, so I shared some books with them. They were thankful for the books and I am thankful for their work!

Erin included a Mary Mackey poem with her turkey:

One November
a week before Thanksgiving
the Ohio River froze
and my great uncles
put on their coats
and drove the turkeys
across the ice
to Rosiclare
where they sold them
for enough to buy
my grandmother
a Christmas doll
with blue china eyes

I like to think
of the sound of
two hundred turkey feet
running across to Illinois
on their way
to the platter,
the scrape of their nails
and my great uncles
in their homespun leggings
calling out gee and haw and git
to them as if they were mules

I like to think of the Ohio
at that moment,
the clear cold sky
the green river sleeping
under the ice,
before the land got stripped
and the farm got sold
and the water turned the color of whiskey
and the uncles lay down
and never got up again

I like to think  of the world
before some genius invented
turkeys with pop-up plastic
in their breasts,
idiot birds
with no sildenss left in them,
turkeys that couldn't run the river
to save their souls

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Pullet eggs

The new pullets are starting to lay. This year Pixie, the Peruvian Basket chicken, joined the flock in March. The Welsummers and Marans hatched at the end of May.
Marans pullet
Tiny pullet egg
This might be from one of the Welsummers. The Peruvian Basket chicken hatched from a white egg, so I expect her to lay white eggs, too.
Brown spotted egg
Initially, I thought this might be from one of the Marans, but after finding the unusual egg below this morning, I think it may be from one of the Welsummers.
This one is almost purple!
A truly unusual egg. I don't have a trap nest, so I'm not able to be certain yet who is laying what. None of the mature hens is laying right now. They are taking their fall rest.

Saturday, November 22, 2014


My Ancona hen normally has a beautiful, lavish bright red comb. I was alarmed when she entered a molt this year and her comb shriveled to a pale wrinkle.

I added supplement to her diet. Actually, of course, that means adding it to the flock. I'd have to isolate her and that hardly seems worth it to feed her separately. I added Farmer's Helper BabyCake and UltraKibble. They all love pecking at the BabyCake. 
She's looking much better, but still far from her usual crowning glory. Her feathers are recovering as well. She has a tail again!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

People love duck eggs!

Emily Liedel writes in Modern Farmer:

Hilary Brooks never thought she’d be in the business of selling duck eggs. When starting Fork Creek Farm in North Carolina, she planned on selling duck meat, and maybe eating a few of the eggs herself.

But when the owner of a natural foods store placed an order for duck eggs, she quickly sold out. Business has been up ever since.
“Each month I was doubling my sales, and they were running out,” Brooks says. “I had to stop telling people about it, because I didn’t have anything to sell them.” She even had a distributor for Asian grocery stores offer to buy more than 1,000 duck eggs per week — far more than the 150 to 175 per week her 25 layers could handle.
When it comes to eggs, chickens have a near monopoly on the American market, so much so that the USDA does not collect data on sales of any kind of egg other than chicken eggs.
But John Metzer, who has been operating a large waterfowl hatchery in California since the 1970s, says that consumption of duck eggs in the U.S. has been inching upwards over the past 30 years and really taking off in the past three to four years. He sees two main trends in the duck business: A sharp increase both in the popularity of duck eggs and in the number of small farmers and hobbyists raising ducks on pasture and selling their meat and eggs locally.
Metzer says his sales of fresh duck eggs have gone up 10 percent per year since 2011. Sales of day-old ducklings in his two primary laying breeds, Golden 300 Hybrids and Great White Layers, have also increased 7 percent and 10 percent, respectively, per year since 2011. “We typically sell out for much of the year — in other words, we could have sold more,” he says.
Mike Badger, the director of the American Pastured Poultry Producers’ Association (APPPA) says, “What I see is anything duck increasing in demand.” Dave Holderread, who runs a waterfowl conservancy and hatchery in Oregon and wrote Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks, agrees that demand for ducks and their products is on the rise. When he started raising ducks in the 1960s, Holderread says, most people didn’t know duck eggs were edible.
The rising demand for duck eggs has caught many farmers by surprise. Metzer says his sales of fresh duck eggs have gone up 10 percent per year since 2011.
The rising demand for duck eggs has caught many farmers by surprise.
Rachel Kornstein and Evan Gregoire got into ducks as a form of pest control: They bought a small flock to help with a snail and slug infestation in their urban garden. Eight years later, they’re the owners of Boondockers Farm, a 75-acre concern in Oregon, where they raise rare Ancona ducks.
“We’ve helped create the demand for the product,” Kornstein says. Trained as a chef herself, Kornstein approached local restaurants about buying duck eggs. Like Brooks, Kornstein struggles to meet the demand for the eggs despite producing around 18,000 eggs last year. Boondockers Farm also sells around 1,500 day-old ducklings per year to customers around the country – and they’ve sold out every year since they started the hatchery.
Once duck egg producers put in some preliminary work developing a market for their products, they seem to have no difficulties finding customers, Badger says. “People who know about food tend to seek out duck eggs.”
So who’s buying the eggs? There are three main, sometimes overlapping markets for duck eggs. The first is among chefs and foodies, especially those who bake. Duck eggs are somewhat larger than chicken eggs, with a yolk twice twice the size. The larger yolk gives duck eggs more fat and, as a result, a richer taste. Joshua McFadden, the executive chef at Ava Gene’s and Roman Candle Baking Company in Portland, Oregon describes duck eggs as a “more intense chicken egg.” He uses the eggs mostly for fresh pasta, mayonnaise or simply soft-boiled and crumbled over a salad. Serious bakers appreciate duck eggs for giving the final product a richer, more moist texture, especially in gluten-free baked goods.
Secondly, many are attracted to duck eggs for nutritional reasons. Most people who are allergic to chicken eggs can eat duck eggs, as duck eggs lack the protein many are allergic to. Duck eggs are also more dense in nutrients than chicken eggs, with higher concentrations than chicken eggs of 17 of the 20 essential vitamins and minerals measured in the USDA National Nutrient Database. Duck eggs also have more protein, more fat and more cholesterol than chicken eggs.
Many farmers actually started raising ducks because of personal nutritional needs, and then found that there was a demand for duck products almost by accident.
Many farmers actually started raising ducks because of personal nutritional needs, and then found that there was a demand for duck products almost by accident. Brooks at Fork Creek Farm is allergic to chicken meat and started raising ducks primarily so that she would have access to poultry that wasn’t chicken.
Scott Tyson of 180 Degree Farm in Georgia started raising ducks when his son was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer at age four, and was advised to eat alkaline proteins – which include duck eggs, but not chicken eggs. Tyson didn’t expect to sell the duck eggs, but then a local baker found out he was raising ducks, and asked if she could buy some eggs. “It just kind of blew up on us,” Tyson said. Today, Tyson’s son is a healthy 11-year-old who is an inspiration to Tyson’s customers, many of whom seek out the farm’s products after being diagnosed with a serious illness.
What he had thought would be at most a very small, niche part of his farm turned into one of his primary markets, with Tyson now owning around 65 laying ducks and selling 10,500 duck eggs last year. He plans to almost double both numbers in 2014. Tyson says his profit margin is higher on duck eggs than on chicken eggs, because a laying duck eats the same amount of feed as a laying hen but produces a larger, more valuable egg. Many duck breeds are also more prolific layers: According to the American Livestock Conservancy, Campbell ducks lay up to 340 eggs per year and several other duck breeds can lay over 250 eggs per year, while the top-laying chicken breeds, Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds, top out at 300 and 250 eggs per year, respectively.
Lastly, there is a strong market for duck eggs, both fresh and salted, in Asian communities. Richard Chang, from Grand Asia Market in Raleigh, North Carolina explains that the store’s customers don’t consider duck eggs and chicken eggs interchangeable: They choose which type of egg to use based on the dish they are preparing. Grand Asia Market has always stocked duck eggs, but Chang says that they have recently become more difficult to source. “The demand is higher than the supply,” he says.
“It’s not as if ducks are going catch up to chickens,” Metzer admits. But the market for ducks eggs seems like it may be poised to break out of its shell.