Thursday, March 27, 2008


These Brabanter roosters need some hens. Julie Drigot of Little Prairie, Wisconsin, hatched four chicks in summer 2007, but all four were males. She culled two and kept two, which she thought were a pair. When the 'pullet' began to crow, she realized that they both were roosters.

She is very attached to them now and eager to find some hens. She is open to exchanging one of the roosters for one or more hens or placing both in a good home where they will be appreciated.
Brabanters are an old Dutch variety which disappeared and was recreated in the 20th century. They have a narrow, flattened crest, a tricorner beard and a comb with two V-shaped horns.
In the United States, they are raised in Cream and Gold varieties. These are the Cream variety. A few SPPA members raise them. Birds this rare have the special value of being a genetic resource. Let's get them together with some hens to create a small flock and raise the genetic base of this rare and beautiful breed. Contact me at to get in touch with Julie and her boys.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Robert Frost on chickens

Robert Frost, who lived as a farmer in New Hampshire for much of his adult life, wrote a poem about his favorite chicken. It's "A Blue Ribbon at Amesbury," and is included in my book, the only other place it is reproduced outside the Complete Poems.
When I contacted the estate for permission to reprint the poem, the administrator was unfamiliar with the poem. She told me no one had ever asked for it before. So I feel honored to have brought this poem to a wider audience.

In honoring him on the Writer's Almanac,, Garrison Kiellor writes: "Robert Frost became one of the most famous poets in the United States. He said, 'A poem begins with a lump in the throat; a homesickness or a love-sickness. It is a reaching out toward expression, an effort to find fulfillment. A complete poem is one where an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found the word.'"
This photo is from the Robert Frost page at Eastern Illinois University,

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Poultry Art

This watercolor rooster was painted by Jennifer Spotten of the Central Coast Feather Fanciers. In this case, it arrived at my house via the postal service, as a postcard announcing the meeting. What a delightful way to brighten the day. Receiving charming cards like this one makes going to the mailbox an adventure!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Layers for Sale

Central Coast Feather Fanciers,,the local poultry club here in California, is holding its fund raising Layer Sale at Templeton Feed Store in Templeton April 5. Club members have raised the chicks into pullets and they are ready to lay, $15 each. Buff Orpingtons, New Hampshires, Ameraucanas and Rhode Island Reds will be available. Orpingtons and New Hampshires and Rhode Island Reds all lay brown eggs. Ameraucanas lay blue eggs,

Club members will also bring surplus stock to sell, which will make exhibition quality standard breeds available. This is an opportunity to acquire exceptional stock at reasonable prices. The funds support the club's annual show, October 4 at the MidState Fairgrounds in Paso Robles. CCFF will purchase its own cages for this year's show.

This photo of a Dorking laying hen was taken at Plimoth Plantation,, in Massachusetts. She is a Red Dorking, a breed that likely would have come with the Pilgrims and provided them with eggs.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Poultry Art

Artist Lee Becker donated a copy of this card to each participant at the Cooking Heritage Chickens in the Heartland event in Lindsborg, Kansas last month. It's a reproduction of her painting of a Barred Rock.

Lee was attracted to the livestock on Frank Reese's Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch,, and began painting them. She now has a series of portraits of Rare Breeds. Her work is displayed at Small World Gallery in Lindsborg,, where she is an Artist in Residence. She works in watercolors, pastels, acrylics and hand-colored linoleum cuts.

This card will remain in my collection. I went looking for a card to send today, and found that I have many that are so beautiful that I am unwilling to part with them! This is one of them.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Columbian color patterm

Reading “The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson, got me thinking about the Columbian color pattern in chickens. Larson’s book is about the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, the Columbian Exposition. It was a fabulous enterprise, intended to outshine Paris’s Exposition of 1889, crowned by the Eiffel Tower. The Columbian Expo’s answer to that was the Ferris Wheel.

The book is a wonderful history, exploring the personalities that designed and built the fair and how their genius and perseverance brought the fair into being. Larson ties the story of the fair to the crimes of a serial killer who lured his victims from the activities surrounding it.

I’d heard that the Columbian color pattern was introduced at the Expo. But as I researched the question, no documentation for that was in the records. The Illinois State Library’s site on the subject,, specifically states that the poultry exhibit “contained no special novelties.”

Craig Russell, president of the SPPA, helped me out. He found that legendary Wyandotte breeder B. M. Briggs developed the pattern and gave it its name, in honor of the Expo, although it was not introduced there. He had started with Silver Laced Wyandottes when they were still known as American Seabrights. He is considered the originator of the White variety and was certainly the first to advertise Whites. He published a number of descriptive articles and pictures of the variety.

In 1887, Mr. Briggs started working on a Light Wyandotte, with the color pattern of the Light Brahma, as pictured here from Tom’s Chicken Farm, Mr. Briggs' eye was caught by the two white pullets with striped hackles one of his customers produced from crossing a Barred Rock male on a White Wyandotte female. He acquired them and the following year crossed them to very typey White Wyandotte males. He began selecting birds from those offspring approached the ideal type and pattern he envisioned.

By 1893, Briggs felt the new variety was ready to introduce. Whether he took the name to honor the fair or promote his new color is not recorded. The Columbian Wyandotte received APA recognition in 1905. The Columbian Rock was recognized in 1910, and the Columbian Leghorn in 1929.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Antique Poultry Magazine

The August 1911 Poultry Item is one of the magazines donated to SPPA by Lester Markham. The cover shows a sweet White Oprington hen in her Blue Ribbon picture. The Poultry Item was published by the Item Publishing Company in Sellersville, Pennsylvania. It includes articles on Barnacle Geese, Advice for the Would-be Exhibitor, Are Hens Profitable on Farms?, Good Horse Sense the Main Factor in Poultry Raising, Poultry on a Town Lot and the Great Missouri National Egg-Laying Contest. I like the list of proverbs, that includes such gems as "He that stays in the valley will never get over the hill," and If you would enjoy the fruit, pluck not the flower." There is a lengthy section reporting on shows and clubs.

More wonderful insight into those grand days of poultry!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Out There magazine

The Spring issue of Out There magazine is available, free, in Tractor Supply stores. It features two articles I wrote for this special Chicken section. One is about feeding chickens and the other is about poultry beyond chickens: ducks, geese, swans, turkeys, guineafowl, peafowl, gamebirds such as pheasants, quail and partridge, and ratities, which are ostriches, emus and rheas. Those other species of domestic poultry are also the subject of my next book, How to Raise Poultry, which will be published Spring 2009.

Other articles are about a family enjoying their flock, Passion for Poultry: The McCollough family finds their bliss in birds, and Build a Chicken Coop. Check for more poultry articles.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Sumatra chickens

I gave a short talk with slides to my local Toastmasters group today, about Raising Poultry in Small Flocks. It reminded me that not everyone -- in fact, very few people -- understand how beautiful and varied chickens are.

Sumatras, for example, such as the ones above, photographed by Corallina Bruer. They are a land race, a breed little changed by human intervention with selective breeding. They knock your eyes out, with that glossy iridescent plumage. They were a complete surprise to the group.

It was satisfying to introduce these people to the world of traditional breed poultry. And a good reminder to me that not everyone knows a Sumatra from a Dominique! I shall expand my horizons to share this information with more groups.

Toastmasters International,, is a terrific organization I joined because I needed to improve my public speaking skills. Being prepared to advocate for poultry and small flock owners requires me to be ready at any time to make the case. Toastmasters provides a route to learning how to speak effectively, but also helps increase understanding of how organizations work and how to get the job done in a group. Every meeting is a challenge and the group helps me improve. I'm very grateful to be a member.

It's like being in a class, only much better because each person takes responsibility for one or more aspects of the meeting. One person makes a formal evaluation, which is a listening and speaking skill of its own, while others count the number of times you say 'aahh' and 'umm', another listens for grammar and another times the length of the talk. Speaking for the appropriate length of time is important, for the experience you get as a speaker and as a courtesy to your audience.

I was flattered today, when the person operating the timer became so engrossed in my talk, he forgot to check the time! My seven-minute talk went on for nearly 11 minutes. A fault that can perhaps be forgiven, with such great material.

Friday, March 7, 2008

La Bresse and other French chickens

A caller stumped me yesterday asking about La Bresse chickens. He'd seen them written up in culinary magazines as the Best Chickens. I called around and asked my experts, but only one had heard of them. He thought someone in California had some a few years ago. Barry Koffler's lists them as not having yet been brought to the U.S.

Their blue legs and adoring press, such as and, certainly give them cachet. The difficulty of importing birds or even hatching eggs from Europe at this time makes it advisable to find a breed already here. There are many historic breeds in need of conservation.

The Marans, for instance, here pictured in the cuckoo color pattern in a photo by Corallina Breuer. It's a French breed, and although it doesn't have blue legs, it does lay chocolate brown eggs. The North American Marans Club attributes its development to crossing of the local chickens with the fighting chickens sailors brought with them on ships that visited this port. The local birds gave the breed its hardiness in damp, marshy climates.

Although not yet recognized by the American Poultry Association, a clean-legged variety is recognized in England. The French version has feathered legs. You may see both kinds in the U.S. The American Marans Club., was established in 2005.

The North American Marans Club compiled a cookbook, which is available through this site. It features recipes from celebrities such as Martha Stewart, who favors the breed,, members of the British Marans Club and myself.

Thursday, March 6, 2008


The National Animal Identification System,, is on track to become the law of the land. Many small flock owners oppose the program as overly burdensome, expensive, intrusive and requiring them to violate religious beliefs. Undeterred, the USDA continues to promote it. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-MN, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, is prepared to stop mincing words and make it mandatory,

Mary Zanoni of Farm for Life has dedicated her attentions to opposing NAIS. Her Newsletter this month provides detailed analysis of the NAIS Business Plan and how it addresses horses, cattle, sheep and goats specifically. She takes apart the history of the sheep scrrapie program and how it is being used to implement NAIS. Other existing animal disease programs are also being used to compell animal owners to participate in NAIS by registering their premises, numbering all their animals and reporting all animal movements.

Large corporate livestock operations want this program, and they are welcome to it. Forcing it on every small flock owner and small producer is wrong. Learn more from organizations like Farm for Life, P.O. Box 501, Canton, NY 13617, (315) 386-3199, the Northeast Organic Farming Organization,, the Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association, and

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


This Buckeye rooster lets out a crow! His photo, by Corallina Breuer, captures his glowing burnished chestnut plumage.
Buckeyes were developed in Ohio and named for the Buckeye state. Buckeyes are the large horse-chestnut nuts of this color.
Buckeyes have a pea comb, small and close to the head, which withstands cold. It doesn't freeze during cold Midwestern winters.
This cock probably weighs in at the maximum weight for exhibition, nine pounds. Steve Pope, one of the chefs at the recent Cooking Heritage Chickens in the Heartland, cooked Buckeyes in his Chicken Soup with Butterballs. He said it was difficult to describe exactly what 'butterballs' are. They were delicious, light dumplings.
In the kitchen before cooking, the Buckeye carcasses looked like small turkeys. They dressed out well and certainly cooked up with a fine, light but intense flavor.
A reader contacted me this week for sources of Buckeye eggs and chicks. Breeders are taking an interest in this sturdy and beautiful bird, developed especially for life in the great Midwest. It's an excellent choice for a small flock.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Solitary chickens

A reader who acquired two Brahma bantams asked what to do after a predator took one of them. The remaining bird was lonely.
Chickens, like these Barred Rocks at Ryon Carey's farm in Kansas, are social birds. They live in flocks and are at something of a loss on their own. Solitary chickens often forge relationships with a cat or dog or other animal, to need their social needs.

Chickens are well known for their pecking order. It's an important part of a chicken's day, jockeying around to reinforce social position and occasionally experiencing a change.

Start with no fewer than three chickens. One is often lost to a predator or other incident. Then the remaining two will at least have each other, until you can get more.

Communities such as Madison, Wisconsin,, limit backyard chicken to four hens. If you can legally do so, plan on a small flock of eight to ten, even if you do not plan to keep a rooster and breed them. Having a few more avoids sad situations such as a single hen.