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.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Sign your birds into the Poultry Census!

The Livestock Conservancy is conducting a Poultry Census. The more who participate, the better it will reflect how many and what kinds of birds are out there. The more we know, the better we can all communicate and improve our birds and poultry life in general. 

One of the issues with poultry is that there is no breed registry as there is for other livestock. That's a useful tool poultry breeders and their birds lack. This is a great way to support poultry into the future.
Buff OrpingtonDear Poultry Breeders & Friends,

Make your poultry efforts count!
The Livestock Conservancy (TLC) is conducting a North American poultry census. Funded by Murray McMurray Hatchery, this critically important project will enable us to understand how different poultry breeds are faring in the United States and Canada. The last poultry census was conducted by TLC more than a decade ago, and now with the Federal National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) no longer collecting breed-specific data, this will be the only effort of its kind in America. The census will be a vital source of information for TLC as well as other poultry focused organizations nationwide and internationally. The data gathered will help to aim and extend vital breed conservation work where it is needed the most and will guide efforts well into the 21st century.

The census will be focused on old landrace & large fowl standard bred poultry as recognized in the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection— more specifically, on the breeding stock being maintained. We are specifically asking for information on the number of breeding birds only in order to get an estimate on the size of the actively reproducing gene pool for each breed.

The information you provide for this census will be held in strict confidence unless you indicate that you would like us to share it with others interested in the breed you maintain. Please take a few minutes to complete this census form through the link below. Your participation is highly valued. The final results will be shared on the TLC website and with all of our project partners listed below, without whom this project would not be possible.

The Conservancy thanks you for your stewardship of poultry and your participation in this vital project. Please click on the following link to reach the census.
North American Poultry Census
If you know of others who breed old landrace & large fowl standard bred poultry, please forward this email to them and share the census with any poultry networks you are associated with.

The Livestock Conservancy Staff

Census Partners
MurrayMcMurray TSC APA RBCanada

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Frost on Chickens

Frost on Chickens is a National Agricultural Library Digital Exhibit, available online. Thank you NAL!
"I kept farm, so to speak for nearly ten years, but less as a farmer than as a fugitive from the world that seemed to me to 'disallow' me. It was all instinctive, but I can see now that I went away to save myself and fix myself before I measured myself against all creation."
Robert Frost

From a letter to the literary editor of the Boston Evening Transcript, March 22, 1915. Quoted in Sheehy, D. G., Richardson, M., & Faggen, R. (eds.) The Letters of Robert Frost: Volume 1, 1886 - 1921 (2014), page 12.

The poet Robert Frost lived and worked as a poultry farmer in Derry, New Hampshire from 1900 to 1909. During that period he published a dozen articles for two trade journals: The Eastern Poultryman and The Farm-Poultry. The National Agricultural Library (NAL) holds copies of these publications and other relevant materials on poultry farming which give context to Frost's articles.

Robert Frost, circa 1910-1920
Robert Frost, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front
circa 1910 - 1920
Library of Congress
Prints & Photographs Division

"Frost on Chickens" is made of nine smaller topical exhibits that relate directly to the subjects contained in Frost's pieces. Each exhibit presents relevant excerpts from Frost's articles, an overview of the topic, and links to full-text, digital NAL and USDA materials. The structure of the site follows the general subjects addressed by Frost's stories. There are nine focused exhibits: Hen Houses, Backyard Chickens, Chicken Feed, Fancy Chickens, Poultry Breeds, Poultry Farming, Egg Production, the Poultry Marketplace, and the Poultry Press. There is also an overview of Robert Frost's time in Derry, New Hampshire in the early 1900s and the Frost Farm.

NAL has created many digital materials relevant to all of these topics. Providing an alternate means of access to these full-text books, articles, and reports is one of the reasons "Frost on Chickens" was created.

"Frost on Chickens" contains records for over 200 selected full-text digital books, reports, and images from the late the 1800s and the 1900s on poultry farming, chicken breeding, and competitive chicken exhibitions, referred to commonly as "The Fancy."

The exhibit also includes records for over 100 selected full-text articles and reports documenting the current work of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service related to poultry including research into poultry health, nutrition, and housing, egg and meat safety and quality, and poultry production efficiency.

Many of the items featured here were published a century ago. Therefore, please do not assume that the content reflects current scientific knowledge, policies, or practices. All views expressed in these items are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the National Agricultural Library.

The Robert Frost Farm in Derry, New Hampshire: Present Day

Saturday, June 27, 2015


While visiting on the East Coast last week, we spent a day at Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson. The site details many references to chickens and other poultry in its archives.

I found the mentions of a broody bantam hen who hatched eight of 13 eggs in 1808 especially interesting. I wonder what kind they were. Could have been Old English Game bantams, or Rosecombs, which were popular in England then.
Old English Fame bantams by Schilling
Rosecomb bantams by Schilling
 Even Sebrights, which were developed about that time, although I'm not sure they had arrived in America then.
Silver and Golden Sebrights, from Lewis Wright
Jefferson had a variety of poultry at Monticello, including chickens, ducks, Guinea fowl, peacocks, pigeons, geese, and turkeys.

Primary Source References

1771. "Thin the trees...Keep in it deer, rabbits, Peacocks, Guinea poultry, pidgeons &c. Let it be an asylum for hares, squirrels, pheasants, partridges...court them to it by laying food for them in proper places..." [1]
1806 November 21. Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph). "Davy arrived last night...He carries also a cage with a pair of Bantams for Ellen." [2]
1806 November 30. (Jefferson to Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge). "By Davy I send you a pair of Bantam fowls; quite young: so that I am in hopes you will now be enabled to raise some. I propose on their subject a question of natural history for your enquiry: that is whether this sis the Gallina Adrianica, or Adria, the Adsatck cock of Aristotle? For this you must examine Buffon etc." [3]
1806 December 12. (Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge to Jefferson). "I recieved [sic] the Bantams for which I am very much obliged to you. They seem to be larger, and younger, than the first and I think them handsomer." [4]
1807 February 17. (Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge to Jefferson). "As for the Bantam she laid one egg in the cold weathe rand eat it up. I am very much afraid she will do all the others so. If she does she will be as worthless as the others but in spite of that I am very fond of them and think them very handsome. The old ones are quite tame but the new much to the contrary." [5]
1807 June 29. (Jefferson to Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge). "How go on the Bantams? I rely on you for their care, as I do on Anne for the Algerine fowls, and on our arrangements at Monticello for the East Indians. These varieties are pleasant for the table and furnish an agreeable diversification in our domestic occupations." [6]
1807 November 1. (Jefferson to Ann Cary Randolph Bankhead). "I expect a pair of wildgeese of a family which have been natives for several generations, but they will hardley be here in time for Davy. They are entirely domesticated, beautiful have a very musical note, and are much superior to the tame for the table." [7]
1807 November 11. (Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge to Jefferson). "ONe of my poor little Bantams is dead and the one which I liked the best although it was the old one. He had got so tame that he could fly up in my lap and eat out of my hand. All the children were sorry at his death." [8]
1808 January 15. (Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge to Jefferson). "My Bantams are well but I am afraid I shall never raise any." [9]
1808 March 11. (Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge to Jefferson). "I am in a fair way to raise some Bantams as the hen is now setting. She has take up her residence in the cellar. Has laid 13 eggs and I hope will hatch some chickens." [10]
1808 March 14. (Jefferson to Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge). "I am glad to learn you are at length likely to succeed with your Bantams. They are worthy of your attention." [11]
1808 March 18. (Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge to Jefferson). "My bantam will hatch in 10 days and I hope I shall raise some of her chickens but they are so delicate. She hatched some last year. We took great care of them but they died." [12]
1808 March 25. (Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge to Jefferson). "My bantam will hatch next week." [13]
1808 March 29. (Jefferson to Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge). "I am glad to hear you expect a family of Bantams. Take good care of them. Is it not best to put the hen into a tobacco stick coop in and round which the chickens will always stay." [14]
1808 April 1. (Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge to Jefferson). "My bantam has hatched 8. pretty little chickens and I shall follow your advice about her treatment." [15]
1808 July 1. (Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge to Jefferson). "My bantams have grown prodigiously and are beautiful." [16]
1808 July 15. (Martha Jefferson Randolph to Jefferson). "I must beg the favor of bring me a little ivory memorandum book...I find my chicken accounts troublesome without some assistance of the kind." [17]
1808 June 4. "Gave for bringing home a pea-hen." [18]


1. Bear, James A. Jr., and Lucia C. Stanton, eds. Jefferson's Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767-1826. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997, 1:249.
2. Betts, Edwin M., and James Bear, Jr., eds. Family Letters of Thomas Jefferson. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1966. Reprinted Charlottesville: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1986, 290.
3. Ibid, 291.
4. Ibid, 292.
5. Ibid, 296.
6. Ibid, 309.
7. Ibid, 313.
8. Ibid, 314.
9. Ibid, 322.
10. Ibid, 332.
11. Ibid, 334.
12. Ibid, 336.
13. Ibid, 338.
14. Ibid.
15. Ibid, 339.
16. Ibid, 346.
17. Ibid, 349.
18. Bear, James A. Jr., and Lucia C. Stanton, eds. Jefferson's Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767-1826. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997, 2:1246.

Monday, June 15, 2015


I'm looking forward to the Association of Living History Farms and Agricultural Museums annual conference this week. This year it will be held at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. Among other things, I'll join with Elaine Shirley, Colonial Williamsburg's manager of rare breeds, and Jeannette Beranger, program manager for the Livestock Conservancy, to give a workshop in Using Heritage Chickens to Interpret Your Site. We'll cover:

What is heritage livestock, especially poultry? Adapt the meaning to your specific site. Locate resources to determine which one or more breeds to choose. The Livestock Conservancy, my books and poultry history library, breed clubs, site documents.

Dominiques are considered America's first chicken breed. Thanks to Alice Armen for this photo.
Getting started: Reach out to local poultry keepers for stock, advice and support. Every location has different climate, strengths and weaknesses. Set up the buildings and land that will be required. Get a realistic budget.

Staff: Make sure that there is at least one person who is passionate about poultry. Involve knowledgeable volunteers. Eggs can be a desirable perk. Feathers can be used in crafts.

Decide whether your site will keep birds year-round or only during spring, summer and fall. Some sites raise acquire mother hens and chicks in the spring and return them to permanent homes in the fall. This can make keeping a flock more realistic in cold climates or for sites that are not open all year.

Chicken tractors can be part of the program.
Decide whether your site will slaughter birds. Determine what other kinds of activities for visitors: broody hens, newly hatched chicks, keeping roosters.

Create interpretive materials. Signs at the flock pen, brochures, web materials. Special events, such as educational events for students. Incorporate the flock into existing events.  
Frank Reese's certified Heritage Chicken label

Monday, May 25, 2015

No bird flu on this Wisconsin farm

TOWN OF WYOCENA -- As Airling “Butch” Gunderson strolls through his farm, he sees a nesting goose, about a half-dozen roosters strutting around a feed bowl and some duck hens engaging in a wing-flapping fight over whose turn it is to use the birdbath.
What he doesn’t see: The scary signs of a virulent avian flu that has spread into Wisconsin.
If the flu had infected his flock, then he’d likely see symptoms -- hens that won’t lay eggs, birds coughing or sneezing, watery green diarrhea, loss of appetite.
Butch is an old friend and a very knowledgeable poultry keeper, breeder and judge. Here's to the best for him and his birds!  

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Ballerina chicken

This fanciful chicken captures the energy and spirit of joy! Whimsical yet elegant.
Chickens bring out the fun in us. Thanks to Sharon, who sent this card.