Thursday, May 31, 2007

Book signing and Wisconsin poultry show

Friday June 1, 7 pm at the Village Booksmith in Baraboo, Wisconsin I will join Phil Hasheider, writer of "How to Raise Cattle," another volume in Voyageur Press' FFA Livestock Series,, to sign our books. It is part of Home Grown Culture: Farmers, Artists and Writers -- an Experiment in Cross-Fertilization, the Re-enchantment with Agriculture, Bring your friends!

On Saturday June 2, my husband and I will be at the Badger Poultry Club's 43rd Annual Show at the Fairgrounds in Richland Center, Wisconsin. It's a one-day show, including bantams, waterfowl and guineas as well as large fowl. In this picture, poultry judge Butch Gunderson demonstrates how judges spread wing feathers to examine them, on a patient Buff Orpington pullet.
Poultry shows are great places to meet other fanciers, ask questions, share experiences and find stock. You may have birds of your own to share. Take a couple of hours off and visit this show if you are within shouting distance.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Kauai chickens

Feral chickens abound on Kauai. They arrived in the Hawaiian Islands with the Polynesian people who settled on the islands, as early as 1100 BC. Those early Hawaiians brought animals they depended on for food, including pigs, and others, such as rats.

Invasive species of all kinds are devastating native plants, birds and animals. The chickens appear to be benign, not causing problems for other birds or plants. Most people find them charming. Several tourists on the beach yesterday watched a mother hen and her chicks scratching away in the sand, finding tasty bits to eat.

The chickens living here today have a generic Red Junglefowl appearance, although they vary a lot. I saw one today that looked distinctly like a Sumatra. They got a boost after Hurricane Iniki in 1992, when chickens that were kept in small flocks were released in the storm's fury.

I photographed this rooster in Allerton Garden, an 80-acre garden created by the Allerton family and now managed by the NTBG,, for the Allerton Gardens Trust.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Kauai and Illinois

Plans have changed, and changed again. The Environmental Journalism Fellowship at the National Tropical Botanical Garden,, took top priority, but I hated cancelling my visit to Garfield Farm Museum's Rare Breed Day, I rehearsed the talk I planned to give at my local Toastmasters meeting,, where the other members praised it. So I didn't like disappointing Garfield Farm or myself.

My husband enjoyed the talk, too, so this morning he volunteered to give it! He will be my proxy at Garfield Farm in La Fox, Illinois. He'll also have my book and the other books in the FFA Livestock Series,, as well as "Presenting the Turkey," "Farm Animals Dot-to-Dot" and more.

I'll be occupied with the fellowship for the next week, but will post and respond to questions as time is available. If you can't be in Hawaii, go to Garfield Farm. That's what I would be doing!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Raid on Craig Russell's property

On March 21, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals officers raided the property and home of SPPA President Craig Russell. One hundred fifty-four animals were seized. Seventeen charges of animal maltreatment were filed against Craig on March 28 in Snyder County Magisterial Court. A hearing date, originally set for May 14, has been set back to June 14.

The Russells are represented by counsel and are contesting all charges.
This picture of me and Craig, with SPPA Show Coordinator Don Cable in the foreground, was taken at the Crossroads of America Poultry Show in Indianapolis in November 2006.

The charges pertain to things such as moldy hay (he has it, but certainly wasn't feeding it to any of the animals). Other charges relate to a dog who had a plastic barrel for a doghouse, which they say is inadequate, and a ewe that has been crippled for years but has often been the first to the food and gives Craig a lamb or two every year.

Events unfolded as follows:

SPCA officers had visited Craig on March 1, but never got out of the truck. One of them indicated that he would call the following week to set up an appointment to do an inspection. Craig’s god-daughter died unexpectedly March 3. On March 5, Craig called the Danville SPCA shelter and informed them that he would be out of town for the funeral, but he would be available the following week. The person with whom he left that message thanked him and told him the manager would contact him then.

Craig did not hear from them again until the March 21 raid.

Two SPCA officers claim that they visited the farm March 7, conducted an inspection and talked to Ruth Russell, Craig’s wife. She never saw them, and they would have needed her permission to inspect the property. No meeting took place that day. The SPCA claims they gave Ruth oral instructions of required changes to avoid further action. A severe snow storm that day created near-blizzard conditions that would have made a visit difficult.

There is no documentation of any meeting or notice of required changes.

The SPCA claims that on a drive-by inspection March 20, they found that the required changes the Russells had never been informed of had not been made. That inspection was the basis for obtaining the search warrant used to raid the Russell property March 21.

The meeting on which the SPCA rests its claims never occurred. No inspection was ever made and no changes were ever requested.

The Russells have not been allowed to see their animals. The SPCA will not even tell them where the animals are being held. This includes two dogs, two cats and parrots that are pets.

Since the story hit the papers, Craig has had a lot of community support and has heard from others who have had animals seized and been accused of neglect and cruelty. The SPCA has appealed one case all the way to the state Supreme Court, even though all previous judges have found the charges baseless. In that case, the animals have not been returned after more than two years.

Whatever the SPCA's complaints, this should have been settled with a discussion or, at worst, a citation. In the event, SPCA workers, state police and an assistant DA arrived in force and spent hours going over the property, refusing Craig and Ruth access to their home until after 4 pm. They treated Craig and Ruth like criminals.

This extreme action suggests some personal or political agenda. It sounds paranoid, but this situation is really crazy. Craig is a great animal advocate and would never countenance maltreatment, much less be guilty of it.

The officers of SPPA stand behind the Russells. They are confident that all charges will be found baseless and all animals returned to home.

Messages of support and donations can be sent to the Russells at 1400 Jones Hill Road, Middleburg, PA 17842.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Breeds and varieties

Speaking to a non-poultry group today reminded me that the public needs basic information about chickens. Defining the difference between breeds and varieties is important.
A breed is defined by its body conformation, comb and feather quality. A variety is a color, comb, muff, tuft, or feather variation within a breed. Breeds breed true, that is, their offspring are reliably similar to them at least 50 percent of the time. Breeding true is a requirement for being recognized by the American Poultry Association and being included in the Standard of Perfection.
These chickens, photgraphed by Corallina Breuer, are both Silkie roosters. That is their breed. One is the white variety and the other is a color variety called partridge. Partridge coloration includes rich red on the head and lustrous, greenish black feathers on the hackle and neck with narrow touches of brilliant red.
Other differences frequently found are Rose Comb and Single Comb varieties, recognized in Dorkings, Leghorns, Rhode Island Reds and other breeds.
Comb variations are often unacceptable in exhibition birds, so make sure you check the Standard for what is required of your breed.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

National Tropical Botanical Garden

The National Tropical Botanical Garden invited me to attend its Environmental Journalism Fellowship program, It's a week of classes and field experiences on Kauai, the Garden Island of Hawaii.

The materials from the program explain: The NTBG is a network of five gardens in Hawaii and Florida, encompassing tremendous ecological diversity and a broad range of tropical plant species. The mission of the NTBG is to enrich life through discovery, scientific research, conservation and education by perpetuating the survival of plants, ecosystems and cultural knowledge of tropical regions.

One of the reasons I wanted to attend is to understand the tropical ecosystems better so that I can understand Avian Influenza better.

The NTBG includes a newly-incorporated not-for-profit Institute for Ethnomedicine, which studies plants used by indigenous ethnic groups for medicinal purposes. It is working to develpp village-based pharmaceutical industries in Samoa and Tonga and focuses on the preservation of indigenous cultures. The institute participates in equitable benefit-sharing activities for any discoveries made from its research.

The program includes meals made from traditional foods, so I look on this as a rare opportunity to learn about traditional Hawaiian foodways.

"Each day during this intensive course, we will leave in the morning and not return until late in the evening," the syllabus says. I'm packing my sandals.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Central Illinois Poultry Show

This Saturday, May 19, I will set up the SPPA table at the Central Illinois Poultry Show at Exposition Gardens in Peoria, Illinois. This show attracts Standard and Bantam chickens, Turkeys, Waterfowl and Guineas. So if you are in the area, come by. As poultry shows traditionally are, it is free to the public.

Coop-in starts at 6:30 am and judging begins at 9. The show concludes in the afternoon.

In this picture, poultry judge Butch Gunderson of Wisconsin shows how to place your fingers between the chicken's legs to hold it for judging. Additional photos in my book, "How to Raise Chickens," show how the judge examines a bird and tells what the judge is looking for.

SPPA will donate a Marans cookbook to the raffle. I'll have Backyard Poultry magazines as well as SPPA literature at the table, and of course I'll sign copies of my book.

Friday, May 11, 2007


Garfield Farm Museum in la Fox, Illinois,, has been instrumental in recovering the Java, a breed that originated in the Indonesian island for which it was named. Javas came to the U.S. around 1835 and are considered an American foundation breed.

In this picture from Garfield Farm, Javas sit on the fence with Narragansett turkeys. Most Javas are black, but a white strain appeared during hatching large numbers of eggs, and eventually an auburn strain emerged.

Buffalo gnats, nasty biting insects, have hatched in such large numbers that they are killing chickens in West Central Illinois. A breeder in Golden, Illinois reports that 25 of his best Black Java breeding birds were killed by the gnats. Only two of his Auburn Javas were killed and none of his Whites, so color made a difference on his farm.

However, in a news story from the Qunicy Herald Whig,, a poultry farmer reported her entire flock of three-week-old Cornish Rock crosses, a white hybrid, was killed.

Pyrethrin sprays have some effectiveness against the gnats. DEET is also useful, but more toxic than pyrethrins. Physical means of keeping the gnats off birds, such as fans, are helping. The gnats are day feeders, so birds may be protected by keeping them in a dark barn.

The gnats' three-week life cycle depends on cool running water, below 75 degrees. As the land dries out and gets warmer, hatching will abate. Until then, these critters will be a plague.

Anyone with experiences with these insects is invited to share your story here.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007


A local chicken owner contacted me the other day with some surplus chicks. She had ordered the requisite 25 from a hatchery, but was limited by Madison’s local ordinance to four hens. So she was willing to part with the extras.

Chicks are shipped in batches of not less than 25 because that number maintains the warmth they need to survive the trip. Newly hatched chicks are the best to ship, because they do not need food or water for the first 24 hours. They are still absorbing nutrients from their gestation, so they tolerate the shipping process without much disruption or mortality.

This chicken owner was getting started with Buckeyes, an impressive American breed named for its color and its origin in Ohio, the Buckeye state. Their feathers are a rich, deep chestnut. The limitations of electronic reproduction can’t do justice to the color in this excellent photo, taken by Corallina Breuer. Make it a point to seek out Buckeyes at the next show you attend and appreciate their color.

One friend adopted four of the chicks, hoping that his broody Cochin would take them on as her own. She started out a bit chilly, but the chicks were following her around. Slipping babies under the wing of a sleeping hen after dark can help the hen and chicks bond.

One can’t help but think about how miraculous such an event must be for a maternal hen. No setting required, here’s your family!

Another contact reminisced about the chickens he helped his mother raise back when he was a pre-schooler, in 1926-27. “I recall how proud the old hen was as she led her new brood across the yard,” he wrote.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Red Junglefowl

A remarkable young man with a taste for adventure and a passion for chickens is going to India to pursue the wild antecedents of domestic chickens.
Red Junglefowl still live in the wild state in India and other parts of Asia. Tomas Condon, a student at the University of Connecticut, will spend the next month traveling the area in search of these rare birds.
He has established a relationship with Dr. Raul Khul of the Wildlife Institute of India in Dehradun. He will confer with Dr. Khul before setting out to photograph and video Red Junglefowl in their wild state.
Although the birds can and do interbreed with domestic chickens, pure birds have been identified in northern India, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal. Mr. Condon hopes to bring some of these birds back to the U.S.
If he is able to get the requisite import documents, he will bring birds back to breeding programs at New York's Central Park Zoo, the Bronx Zoo and private breeding flocks.
Avian Influenza has not been reported in the areas where Mr. Condon will be seeking Red Junglefowl. Biosecurity practices require testing and quarantine to protect against spreading any disease.
I only wish I were going with him! I'll have to be satisfied with his reports, which I will share as I get them.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Conner Prairie

Conner Prairie,, is a living history museum in Fishers, Indiana, just northeast of Indianapolis. The site manager there is an advocate of historic breeds and has a special interest in chickens, so the museum offers chicken events and makes its chickens available to visitors.

In this picture, costumed interpreter Mike Goss introduces young guests to a chicken in Conner Prairie's 1836 Prairietown. This chicken looks like a Light Brahma to me, which would be historically accurate for that period. Documentation for the breed indicates that birds of the breed, then called Brahma Pootra, were imported to the U.S. for the first time in 1846 from China. Their large size and regal bearing attracted many fanciers. They lay brown eggs and are known for their calm temperament, making them a good choice for their role as historic interpreters to the public.

We are traveling through Indiana and plan to visit Conner Prairie, which we first visited when we attended the Crossroads National Poultry Show in 2006. It is a wonderful site, well worth making time for a vacation visit.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Contaminated chicken feed

Chickens at around 30 broiler poultry farms in Indiana have been fed feed contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine and related compounds, The chemicals have been identified as contaminating wheat gluten added to the feed, the same route whereby pet food that has killed many animals was contaminated.

The chickens have already been processed into meat and are in stores and on your table. Commercial chickens are overwhelmingly Cornish/Rock hybrid crosses like the ones in this picture from the USDA.

The Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture,, have not initiated any recall of the chicken products in question, since there is no documented harm to humans from the chemicals, or from eating chicken contaminated with them.

More than 100 brands of pet food have been recalled since the contamination was identified March 16. Sixteen pet deaths have been confirmed, but the true total is unknown. The FDA is tracking around 8,000 reports.

This episode is shining the spotlight on how food animals are raised and how chicken meat gets to our tables. It’s not a pretty picture. These chemicals have been identified. What else are you eating along with your fried chicken?

The industrial model which American agriculture has adopted produces a lot of food at low cost, but its vertical integration makes it vulnerable to massive failure. Contamination disperses through the system rapidly and is then delivered to food retailers in many states within a short period of time. It’s on our tables and in our mouths, making us the test of what sickens us.

We need a strong food system to feed every American. The greatest strength lies in a diversified food system that offers fresh food from a variety of local sources, not a vertically integrated corporate conglomerate that treats animals as industrial units contributing to the bottom line.

Your own small flock of chickens, or the eggs and meat you buy from a local farmer, is the best assurance of safe, nutritious food.