Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Feral chickens of Kauai

Nature reports on Hawaii's feral chickens:

Rich Reid/Natl Geographic Creative
A wild rooster in Kauai, Hawaii.
“Don't look at them directly,” Rie Henriksen whispers, “otherwise they get suspicious.” The neuroscientist is referring to a dozen or so chickens loitering just a few metres away in the car park of a scenic observation point for Opaekaa Falls on the island of Kauai, Hawaii.
The chickens have every reason to distrust Henriksen and her colleague, evolutionary geneticist Dominic Wright, who have travelled to the island from Linköping University in Sweden armed with traps, drones, thermal cameras and a mobile molecular-biology lab to study the birds.


Ewen Callaway investigates what happens when domestic chickens go wild
As the two try to act casual by their rented car, a jet-black hen with splashes of iridescent green feathers pecks its way along a trail of bird feed up to a device called a goal trap. Wright tugs at a string looped around his big toe and a spring-loaded net snaps over the bird. After a moment of stunned silence, the hen erupts into squawking fury.
Opaekaa Falls, like much of Kauai, is teeming with feral chickens — free-ranging fowl related both to the domestic breeds that lay eggs or produce meat for supermarket shelves and to a more ancestral lineage imported to Hawaii hundreds of years ago.
These modern hybrids inhabit almost every corner of the island, from rugged chasms to KFC car parks. They have clucked their way into local lore and culture and are both beloved and reviled by Kauai's human occupants. Biologists, however, see in the feral animals an improbable experiment in evolution: what happens when chickens go wild?

Read the rest of the article here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

My girls

The girls came out of their run to help me with digging some leaf litter into the soil. They enjoy their work!
 The bantam Sumatras found some greenery to work over.
 Ms. Wyandotte had to get into a planter. She's very bossy.
 Lady Fanny is a Speckled Sussex. She is a senior hen with excellent mothering abilities.
 Pixie is my Peruvian basket hen. She's about the same size as the Sumatras, but her feathers have a purple sheen, while their glisten iridescent green.
 This sweet Ancona is so lovely. Her comb reflects her condition. While she was going through her molt, it was small and shriveled. Now that she is recovering and getting ready to lay again, it is a nice red color and getting bigger. When her comb first started growing, my husband was certain she must be a rooster. he had never seen such a big comb on a hen.
 Blondie, my rosecomb Dorking, the princess of our flock. My personal favorite, but don't tell the other girls.
A Cuckoo Marans. I look forward to her dark brown eggs again soon. Maybe next week.

Friday, December 4, 2015

ABA and APA Yearbooks

ABA president Matt Lhamon remarked the other day that "The ABA Yearbook alone is worth the price of membership." He captured in a few words how encyclopedic and useful these volumes are.

Both the APA and the ABA publish Yearbooks every year. I'm happy that the APA includes two of my articles in the 2015 Yearbook.

These Yearbooks are exceptional, compact treasures of information. In an Information Age of the Internet, they are a reminder that some books can't be replaced. Rather than searching electronically for information, just open one of these books and flip through the pages.

The ABA Yearbook is filled with photos that can acquaint the beginner with breeds, ranging from the Silver Laced Wyandotte and Silkie on the cover to Old English of many colors, Sebrights and Mille Fleur bantams.Experienced breeders can find other contacts, breed clubs can find advocates for their breeds, poultry clubs can find lic4ensed judges. Master breeders are listed. If you want to connect with anything bantam, this is your resource. Well worth the $25 price of a membership, indeed!

Similarly for the APA Yearbook. Judges are listed, along with photos of many of them. Lots of color photos in the advertisements. The ads in these publications have valuable information not available many other places. And, of course, the articles. Jim Sallee judged  the World Gamefowl Expo in the Philippines, and he and Bonnie went to the Hannover, Germany Poultry Show. They tells those stories in the Yearbook's pages.

Big names in the poultry world contribute to its pages: Frank Reese on What the 'Old Experts' Knew, Mark Fields on Interpreting the Dominique Standard in 2015, Lou Horton on his 20-Year Breeding Program for Buff Wyandotte Bantams, John C. Metzgar on Frizzled Fowls. A report on the 2014 Canadian National, from north of the border.

I was especially pleased to write about Watt Global Media's collection of original oil portraits, some of which hang in their corporate headquarters lobby.
These books contain answers to many of the questions you will have in the coming year. Have both at hand.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Eggs from pastured hens

 The NY Times posted this encouraging story about a farm raising chickens on pasture for eggs. There are a few more details I'd like to know: What kind of chickens are they raising, and where they get them from; how long do they keep the hens; what do they do with hens who are past laying.

Whatever the answers are to those questions, this farm and the news story about it represent a huge change for the better. Some day, all eggs people eat will come from hens who are living good lives.

Putting the Chicken Before the Egg

CRESCENT CITY, Calif. — A decade ago, a couple running a dairy business in Northern California visited a Mennonite farm where the owner had used a flock of laying hens to teach his children business principles and instill values like responsibility and care for nature.
They returned home and bought 150 hens for their boys, Christian and Joseph. “My parents told us, you and Joseph are in charge of keeping these 150 birds alive,” recalled Christian Alexandre, who now heads the family’s egg business.
What started as a parental effort to instill solid values has become the mainstay of Alexandre Family EcoDairy Farms. Within five years, Christian and Joseph were tending 1,500 hens and had a deal in place to supply eggs to Whole Foods stores in Northern California. Christian remembers Walter Robb, co-chief
The rusty red chickens foraging in the fields outnumber the cows 10 to 1 — and the roughly five million eggs they will produce this year command prices that make organic milk look cheap. “The egg business has kept the dairy going for several years,” Blake Alexandre, Christian’s father, said.

Read the rest of the story here. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

How to Safely Dress Up Your Backyard Chickens for the Holidays

This delightful story was posted on Backyard Poultry in 2014. it's okay to have fun with your chickens.

Dress and photo by Holly Olejnik.
Olivia Dougherty, who lives in Delaware, Maryland, created her chicken clothes for a contest, sponsored by Cooptastic, one of the nation’s premier educational conferences dedicated to small and backyard poultry flock. And each conference holds a chicken costume contest.
“It’s along the lines of the lamb- and sheep-dressing contests frequently held at 4-H shows,” said Brigid McCrea, PhD, associate professor at Delaware State University and extension poultry specialist who organizes and helps judge the conference’s contest.
“Audience loves it to pieces,” McCrea continued. “Not only for the creativity but also for the conversation. It provides an opportunity for people to converse with one another and to talk to other poultry people.”
Leona Palumbo’s chicken, Kevin, helps out in the kitchen.
For her entry in the contest, Dougherty designed a “Superman” cape, complete with an egg logo. “I made it for my favorite chicken who is our biggest, white and black, ‘Supersize’ chicken.” Although her family no longer has chickens, if she were to design future chicken clothes for costumes, Dougherty thinks it would also have a superhero theme, along the lines of a Chicken Spiderman.
Dougherty does have goats and a pig and she admits to dressing them with collars, necklaces and little blankets. She has also dressed up her dog up as a lady bug and has put tiny shirts on her cat.
“It’s fun,” she says of the experience.


A holiday chicken. Photo by Dead End Acres.
For some, the urge to put their backyard poultry in chicken clothes simply comes from a need. Kelly Nichols of Bloomville, New York, wanted to do a Facebook Christmas card, and decided what better subjects to use than a kid and her chicken? Nichols also works with a few of her hens to participate in agility challenges as well as hen therapy.
“It has been difficult,” said Nichols of the designing aspect. “I’ve tried a few dog outfits, but they just don’t fit right. I make our own chicken clothes. We’re pretty lucky; we have a couple different hens that will be patient enough to let me pattern on them.”
Kevin with Santa. Photo by Leona Palumbo.

Raise Awareness 

Some people, like Jennifer Pike, of Florida, became inspired to dress their flock in chicken clothes on a whim. “I was shopping with my mom at a store and came across a cute teddy bear outfit. We started joking about how people dress up dogs, and I said I was going to get it to put on my house chicken for a cute picture … and that started it all.”
Pike, who said she suffers from depression, also sees posting her chickens in their chicken clothes on Facebook as a way of bringing enjoyment to others, and has helped her connect with others who also use chickens as a means of coping.
“I liked posting funny pics of my chickens,” Pike said, “as raising chickens can be a heartbreaking hobby and many people who I chat with on forums. … The cute pictures bring smiles to people and also get non-chicken people interested in how chickens can be neat pets.”
Throughout the years, Sophie’s chicken clothes for her favorite pet Silkie chicken have included: a pirate costume, a police officer, a cheerleader, a bride, a Santa suit and a rain jacket. Pike has also had her chickens wear barrettes in topknots in shapes of bows or flowers along with a chicken diaper when they went to stores.
Everywhere Pike takes a dressed-up chicken, people can’t help but stop and ask questions. “Kids seemed very interested as well as parents. They never knew how diverse the looks of chickens could be or how sweet. Sophie traveled with me in my truck everywhere. She often rode in my lap, looking out the window glass or in a towel sitting in my seat console.”
Once, Sophie said, a lady at a drive-through got so scared of the chicken — “a little fluffy chicken with a hair barrett and a flowered diaper” — that another lady had to hand her the food.
“Eventually she started asking questions and became less afraid,” Sophie said.

Bring Joy 

Holly Olejnik from Huntington Mills, Pennsylvania, first started dressing up her chicken, Cheep Cheep, four years ago for a Halloween contest on Facebook. “Everyone loved her and went nuts on how well she took to being photographed.”
That was only the beginning. Cheep Cheep’s chicken clothes are fairly small now with about 30 dresses.
Dress and photo by Holly Olejnik.
“We donate all that she has worn to family and friends that have little ones on the way,” Olejnik says of Cheep Cheep’s dresses. “All the chicken clothes that she wears are bought from thrift stores or yard sales. We shop in the children’s department or look for Halloween costumes that look fun. My grandmother Carolyn Gensel loves to go hunting for my next dress to post to Facebook. She carries a photo of me and shows off her grand-chicken to anyone wondering who the pretty dress is for.”
Cheep Cheep has quite the Facebook following from around the world. In fact, Olejnik says, “A lot of her friends, if they are in the area on vacation, ask if they can come meet her in person because she has brought so much joy and smiles into their life.”
If you’re interested, Cheep Cheep’s Facebook fan page is “Cheep Cheep Olejnik,” and her regular profile page is “CeeCee Olejnik.”

Functional Attire 

Sometimes, chickens need functional accessories like aprons (for protection against a rooster’s nails) and diapers (for, well, you know). Julie Baker, owner of Pampered Poultry ( decided that if a bird has to wear functional chicken clothes, then it might as well look pretty. She has made designer chicken clothes, including floral chicken diapers and has added ruffles to chicken aprons to make them look more like attractive summer dresses.
Designer chicken attire by Julie Baker. Photo by Julie Baker.

Plain Old-Fashioned Fun

And then there is Kevin, the chicken that just showed up in Leona Palumbo’s driveway one day.
“I never had chickens nor did I know much about them,” Leona said. “My husband found her in a tree next to our driveway and brought her in to me as a joke, and she fell instantly asleep on my lap and it was love at first sight from there. We put flyers up about her around the neighborhood, but never heard from anyone. It quickly became apparent that potty issues needed to be dealt with, so I did a quick search online on a lark for ‘chicken diapers,’ and lo and behold, several designs popped up. I picked out the one I thought would work and ordered it. It works great and she fit in at home inside with all of our other pets just fine.”
Then one day, she bought Kevin a Christmas sweater.
“To be perfectly honest, I don’t know why the heck I bought it and put it on her … I really don’t. I just did and it she was so calm and easy going about it that it just became a thing we did and took pictures of. … We try to do holidays and family events and just fun things. I keep her page completely free of hot-button topics and I am amused and pleased at the incredibly varied following she has acquired in a very short time.”
Most people think it is fun, says Palumbo, but she has gotten some negative comments from animal activist types who think it is mean.
“But they just don’t know how loved and spoiled Kevin is. We never do anything that makes her uncomfortable and I swear, she even knows what’s going on as she sits so calmly, and once the picture is taken, she goes off again on her little way. Some other people have remarked that they can’t believe I let a chicken on my counters and furniture. Well, ‘That’s why there is soap and water in the world,’ I usually remark. Kevin is my pet, no different than my cats, dogs or other animals, and she is just as loved and welcome anywhere in my home.”
Kevin’s photos can be found on her Facebook page at “Kevin-The-Chicken.”
Wendy lives in New Hampshire. Reach her at, follow her on Twitter @WendyEN Thomas, and find her Facebook page at Wendy.Thomas.
Kevin, on her motorcycle. Photo by Leona Palumbo.

Safety Tips

Whether it be for a competition, holiday, or just for pleasure, many people enjoy putting clothing and accessories on their chickens in order to dress them up. If you are going to costume your chickens, advises Brigid McCrea, PhD, associate professor at Delaware State University and extension poultry specialist, for the health and safety of your birds keep the following clothing guidelines in mind:
• Watch the weight of the costume, as chickens will get flustered if an outfit weighs them down.
• Along with fabric weight, be careful to not use fabrics that will overheat the bird. Polar fleece is a lightweight material but if worn for a long period, it may make your chicken too warm.
• An interesting fact about chickens is that they are naturally attracted to the color red and will peck at it; be careful of where red is used in the bird’s costume.
• Make sure that the chicken can move her wings and that the outfits do not in any way restrict her wing movement.
• If you are putting something around the chicken’s neck (necklace, bandana), make sure that it is lightweight and does not hang down so low that the chicken could potentially trip over it.
• Try not to use hats or head coverings. Chickens are prey animals, meaning they are constantly on the lookout for predators who may be after them. A hat restricts vision and won’t be tolerated very long by any chicken. Consider this the first step toward learning how to protect chickens from hawks and other predators.
• Be careful of beads and hanging decorations that the chicken may be tempted to try to eat them. Likewise, inspect the construction of the outfit to make sure that it does not have loose, dangly threads or that it might fall apart while the chicken is wearing it.
• Allow for waste to happen (because you know that with chickens it eventually will); either leave the back area open in a costume or prepare the chicken to wear a diaper. Composting chicken manure is an excellent way to add nutrients to your garden.
• Lastly, make sure that the costumes are made from washable fabrics, and for bio-security reasons, wash them after each wearing in order to avoid possible contamination among chickens.
Published in 2014.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Star Quality

Chip, so named after she was corralled by California Highway Patrolmen, got Bay Area attention when she wandered on to the Bay Bridge. One of many stories is quoted below.

Reporter David DeBolt and the shelter workers may need some help understanding the chicken-and-egg problem. Unless Chip has been consorting with a rooster, they won't have to worry about the egg hatching. Broody hens are unlikely to set on a single egg, anyway.

It's always good to see a chicken story with a happy ending in the news!

OAKLAND -- Three people are missing a chicken, and you know how that can be. Especially when they each claim ownership of the same chicken.
How do you tell one chicken from another? The Oakland Animal Shelter faced the same question Thursday, when three calls came in about a certain chicken of recent local fame: The one that strutted between cars at the Bay Bridge Toll Plaza during the Wednesday morning commute, then lit up newscasts and social media.
"She's a very popular chicken," said animal services director Rebecca Katz by phone as dogs barked in the background. "We've told them to come down with proof."
The California Highway Patrol, which rescued the chicken, has not determined its whereabouts before the bridge sightings began 6:30 a.m. Wednesday. And she isn't talking.

Chickens disrupted the morning Bay Bridge commute and caused a brief social media frenzy on Wednesday, Sept. 2. (Photo courtesy Jeff Chu / Twitter)
Chickens disrupted the morning Bay Bridge commute and caused a brief social media frenzy on Wednesday, Sept. 2. (Photo courtesy Jeff Chu / Twitter) 
The best proof available in this case -- the fowl has no tags and unlike many felines and canines is not microchipped -- appears to be photo evidence to match its coloring and size.
"They'd have to show us pictures to identify it being theirs," Katz said. "We'll go from there."
The three callers had not produced photographs as of Thursday evening. Two rescue groups also want to care for Chip, and there's likely other space available in Oakland's urban farming community.
The CHP first brought the chicken to a shelter in Berkeley before it was handed over to the Oakland shelter.For now, shelter workers have taken to calling the chicken "Chip," a nod to the CHP for its rescue. At the shelter, Chip has access to a chicken run and her neighbors include roosters brought to the shelter because it is illegal to keep them within Oakland limits, Katz said.

On Thursday, Chip laid an egg, Katz said, but they'll probably swap in a substitute egg for her to sit on.
"We don't want anymore chickens," Katz said.

David DeBolt covers breaking news. Contact him at 510-208-6453. Follow him at

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Crested chickens

Several chicken breeds are crested, with a fluffy fountain of feathers tumbling from a knob on top of their heads. That crest has attracted plenty of attention over the years, sometimes called a top-knot or a top hat. Recognized crested breeds include Polish, Crevecoeur, Houdan and Sultan. Most likely it’s the small Polish, the most popular. Crevecoeurs are larger, always all black and show a distinctive horned comb with two prongs. Houdans are usually mottled black and white. Observe their legs. Houdans have a fifth toe, a spur on the back of the leg. Unrecognized breeds include the hefty Sulmtaler. Sulmtaler roosters have a small tuft at the back of the serrated comb, but hens have a nice crest and their combs meander in an S shape on their heads, the front falling to one side and the back to the other.
Golden Laced Polish tooster
Brabanters and Appenzeller Spitzhaubens have pointy crests behind that V comb. 

Although their appearance invites humor, crested chickens have a long and distinguished history, and are honored for their productive usefulness as well. Ulisse Aldrovandi included woodcuts of crested chickens in the first book published on chickens in 1600.

Aldrovandi called these Paduan chickens

That knob isn’t just feathers up there. Crested breeds have a dome of bone on their skulls. The feathers grow out of that. Because of the placement of the crest, the bony skull structure affects the nostrils, so that crested chickens have flattened, cavernous nostrils,

Crests require extra care. Breeders may trim the crest back or hold it back with a rubber band during breeding season, so the birds can see what they are doing. Special waterers can help the bird avoid getting the crest and beard feathers soaked, which can ruin them for a show.

Drawings by J. Batty
The crested breeds have V combs, even if they are concealed beneath the crest feathers. The V or horn comb, required for exhibition in the U.S., is unusual. In England and France, the leaf comb, shaped like butterfly wings, is still recognized. Leaf combs are the result of the V comb crossed with a single comb.