Thursday, December 31, 2009

Seven Swans A Swimming

In the 17th century, Mute Swans were semi-domesticated in England. In the Netherlands, they were farmed, for their down, their meat and as ornamental birds, according to Sylvia Bruce Wilmore, in her book, Swans of the World. In the Netherlands, those practices continued until after World War II.

Because all swans in England belong officially to the Royal Family, swans given as gifts would have been marked on the upper part of their bills. Their markings identified the person who had responsibility for them and thus could benefit from them. Marks date back to 1370.

Mute Swans in the U.S., such as this one photographed by Larry Hindman for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, are now regarded as unwanted invaders, trashing the fragile wetland habitat in which they live and chasing out other, more desirable, birds. They retain their mythic grip on people, touching the hearts of those who glimpse them gliding across a misty lake. This ancient Greek art shows Aphrodite, the goddess of love, riding a swan. This dichotomy confounds wetlands managers who want at least to control Mute Swans, if not eliminate them entirely.

“They are a beautiful form of biological pollution,” said Jonathan McKnight, associate director for habitat conservation at Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources.

Others disagree, citing Mute Swans’ circumpolar migratory route, and claim that they have a historic presence in North America, Current wildlife control professionals hunt them to reduce the population, which has been successful.

Tundra and Trumpeter Swans are unquestionably native birds to North America. They remain protected. This graphic from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources shows the differences in the heads and bills of the respective species.

My efforts to find evidence of swan production operations in North America have not found any evidence that they were ever raised commercially here. They are wild birds, the largest flying bird, and formidable aggressors willing to protect their nests. Swans A Swimming remain a lovely image, but one not practical for domestic production.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Six Geese A-Laying

Geese are a passion for me lately. They differ significantly from ducks and other domestic poultry – in their size, their diet and their behavior.

Geese would certainly have attracted the attention of the earliest hunters, as in this fanciful painting of a hunt of 9500 BC, shared with me by Jim Pickette of Nebraska.

Despite centuries of domestication, geese remain seasonal egg layers. Some breeds of ducks, another waterfowl, have become more productive egg layers over time and with selective breeding, but not geese. They retain this aspect of wild behavior.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, in its book on Goose Production,, considers geese ‘under-utilised,’ “although there is a large pool of genetic material available for the genetic improvement of the domestic goose.” The authors identify 96 breeds of goose currently being raised around the world, but concedes that “there are probably more.”

The two main types of domestic geese are those descended from the European Grey Lag Goose and those from the Asian Swan Goose. The European line gives us the domestic Embdens, Toulouse and all their American descendants, such as these Pilgrim Geese from Metzer Farms, The Asian line gives us the African and China breeds, with their distinctive knobs.

The good news about having Geese A-Laying would be that the goslings would soon follow. Geese are excellent parents and protectively raise their young.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Five Gold Rings

Ring-Necked Pheasants can be the poultry interpretation of the Five Gold Rings in the carol. Although they aren’t native birds, they have adapted well to North America. They flourish in the wild and are probably the most hunted bird today.

I included a chapter in How to Raise Poultry on Gamebirds, because they are the wild relatives of domesticated poultry. Breeders who raise them need information similar to that required for successful poultry husbandry.

Hunters are a powerful and well financed group. To their credit, they realized that conserving habitat is vital to maintaining a healthy population of birds for them to shoot. Pheasants Forever,, has been a leader in protecting and restoring habitat for game birds. As they point out on their site, winter weather can be deadly for many species of farmland wildlife unless there is dense sheltering cover and a reliable food source nearby. The thick cattails of wetlands or stiff-stemmed native grasses such as switch grass are examples of good winter cover. If available, pheasants prefer these herbaceous covers because of the density of vegetation at ground level. However, the dense woody habitat of coniferous farmstead shelterbelts is the key to survival in most severe winters when wetlands are filled with snow and native grasses are flattened by ice. Woody plantings elsewhere on the land are also important, and the rules for shelterbelt establishment apply here as well.One of the up sides to making habitat their focus is that the habitat welcomes many other species and confers many other advantages, including ameliorating greenhouse gases.

Game Bird Gazette,, provides good advice to farmers who raise pheasants. They can be raised for meat or for stocking hunting ranges. A white variety eliminates the issue of dark pinfeathers on meat birds. Pheasant tail feathers are in demand for costumes and other decorations.

Christopher Taylor Nature Photography,, which displays this photo, includes a lot of great information about the birds. I especially enjoyed listening to the recording of the call!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Four Calling Birds

As noted last year, the ‘calling’ birds entry is thought to be a corruption of ‘colley,’ meaning coal black birds. Some historic breeds exist only in black, or are traditionally black. Many breeds have modern black color varieties.

American breeds such as Javas, Jersey Giants, sometimes called Black Giants, and the English Orpington, such as Michelle Conrad's magnificent rooster shown here, have influential black heritage. Asian breeds such as Cochins and Langshans, such as this one to the left, have a strong history of black plumage. Sumatras are always black. Black varieties of Orientals are relatively recent, such as Malays and Cubalayas. Among Mediterranean breeds such as the White-Faced Black Spanish noted last year, Minorcas were originally an entirely black breed called Red-Faced Black Spanish. In the Continental category, the old breeds Crevecoeurs, shown here, and La Fleche, noted last year as two of the three French hens, are always black.

Black East Indies ducks are an old breed, although whether they date back to the 17th century is a matter of discussion. Some authorities trace their history back only as far as the 19th century. Cayuga ducks, such as these of Robert Gibson at Yellow House Farm in New Hampshire,, are always black. The recognition of the breed dates back to the 19th century, but it originated from wild American Black Ducks crossing with domestic ducks. In that sense, it is an older breed. A black variety of Runner Ducks is recent, 20th century. Black ducks could fit the description of ‘colley’ birds.

Black turkeys were popular in Europe, after the wild turkey was introduced by Columbus. Colonists crossing the Atlantic to settle in America brought domesticated black varieties with them. Turkeys were often known by their origin as well, such as the Norfolk Black and the Black Spanish.

In domestic poultry, black plumage has an iridescent quality that gives it a greenish sheen, sometimes complemented with violet. The feathers are truly beautiful and eye-catching, suitable for a gift that would honor the season.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Three French Hens

The three old French breeds, Houdan, LaFleche and Crevecoeur, were the subject in 2008. This year, the newer breeds, Faverolles and Marans, are the gift of the day. In contrast to the elaborate crests and combs of the old breeds, Faverolles and Marans have single combs. These are Blue Copper Marans from Whitmore Farms,

The Marans, taking its name from the French city of Marans, was developed around the turn of the 20th century. Although that puts it later than the 18th century origin of the carol, it was created from several ancient breeds, including the de Malines and French Cuckoo or Rennes, an ancient clean legged Cuckoo breed from Brittany. Cuckoo refers to the color pattern of black and white barred feathers.

Marans are not yet recognized by the American Poultry Association, but their dedicated breeders are working to achieve that status. A qualifying meet, a significant event on the road to recognition, was held in September 2009. Although official recognition was not granted, the APA encouraged the breeders to hold another in 2010, with the expectation that the birds shown at that time will succeed in convincing the judges that the breed merits recognition. Birds must show sufficient resemblance to each other to establish the breed type. Black Copper Marans such as shown in these photos from the Marans Chicken Club USA,, are the variety under consideration.

The French standard recognizes eight varieties: Silver Cuckoo; Golden Cuckoo; White; Coppered Black; Black; Wheat; Black-tailed Fawn, and Ermine.

The English strain of Marans has clean legs. The French has feathered legs.

One of the exciting aspects of Marans chickens is that they lay dark chocolate brown eggs. This color chart comes from the Marans Club of France. They would certainly make a delightful Christmas gift, a reminder year round of the bounty of hens.

Faverolles were developed in the mid-19th century Houdans and Dorkings with Asiatic breeds such as the Brahmin and Cochin and the local fowl of the Auvergne region around Faverolles, France. The breed was recognized by the APA in 1914. [For reasons that I have not been able to determine, the ‘s’ is dropped from the Faverolle name, but retained on Marans. Go figure.]

The breeders who developed them wanted a good dual purpose chicken, a large meaty bird good for the table and laying well through the winter. Males weigh in at 8 lbs., females at 6 ½. Their eggs are tinted.

Today, they are kept mainly as show birds, with the attraction of the Salmon color pattern. Faverolles are the only breed with this color pattern. The males and females are very different, the males brightly colored with contrasting colored plumage of black, reddish brown and straw, and the very different and more subdued wheaten female. White Faverolles are also recognized. Breeders continue to work with Black and Buff color varieties. Both males and females have large beards and muffs. This illustration is from Dr. J. Batty’s 1983 reproduction of Lewis Wright’s Poultry. The group illustration is from Harrison Weir’s Our Poultry, c. 1912, and bears his signature.

Faverolles continue to be good layers of delicately tinted eggs and retain their broody and mothering qualitites.

Welcome gifts for the Third Day of Christmas!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Two Turtle Doves

Turtle Doves have a long history with humans,

Turtle Doves convey a message of peace and hope, appropriate for the holiday season. Their symbolism transcends religion: In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the dove was the messenger of revival to Noah on the ark in the Old Testament and the embodiment of the Holy Spirit descending on Christ at his baptism in the New Testament. In India, gods take the shape of doves. This tale of Strength through Unity comes from the Panchatantra Tales, In Islam, Mohammed was attended by a spirit in the form of a dove.

In the U.S., doves and pigeons – the terms are used interchangeably, although sometimes there’s a suggestion of size, smaller birds being doves and larger ones pigeons – are very popular. Their small size puts them within reach of those who live in small homes or even apartments. Literally hundreds of colors and types of pigeons have been developed by fanciers. Stephen Green-Armytage documents a selection of them in his photographs, Extraordinary Pigeons,

The gift of two Turtle Doves confers both the spiritual and the earthly virtues, their beauty reflecting their spiritual power.

In creating the American edition of Harrison Weir’s The Poultry Book in 1912, editors Willis Grant Johnson and George O. Brown decided to include a chapter on Pigeons, even though the English Weir had overlooked the species in the original. “There is an awakening of interest among fanciers for the fancy breeds, while squab-raising has become an important business in many sections,” they explain. They invited J.C. Long of New York to write the chapter, describing him as “one of the oldest and best-known pigeon experts in the country.”
I'd be delighted with such a gift.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Twelve Days of Christmas

I enjoyed highlighting the poultry aspects of the Twelve Days of Christmas in 2008, so I’ll add to what I wrote last year and revisit the subject.

A Partridge in a Pear Tree: Partridges are gallinaceous birds that have not been domesticated. Scientifically, they are in the Phasianidae family,, which includes quail and pheasants. Partridges are further classified in the subfamily Perdicinae, which comprises francolins and Old World quail, These birds are native to Asia, with various species ranging across all kinds of habitat, from mountains to desert. Generally, they prefer open country such as grasslands but others conceal themselves in dense forests.

The Himalayan Snowcock lives in the harsh environment of the highest mountains on earth. The Common Hill Partridge is at home in the thick vegetation of the forest of India and south China. The tiny African Stone Partridge combs the sands of sub-Saharan Senegal to Kenya, a sort of bantam partridge. The most colorful of the group, the Crested Wood Partridge, lives in the tropical rain forests of Southeast Asia, in South Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Sumatra and Borneo. These illustrations are from the Illustrated Encyclopedia of Birds compiled by Consultant in Chief Dr. Christopher M. Perrins in association with the International Council for Bird Preservation.

Among modern chickens, the color variety known as Partridge is recognized in Cochin, Plymouth Rock, Wyandotte, Chantecler and other breeds. It is similar to the Black Red pattern, the name more appropriately applied to game birds according to Dr. J. Batty in his Poultry Colour Guide. This illustration of Partridge Wyandottes is from his book.

Consult the Standard of Perfection for details of the Partridge color pattern description.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Black Java Roosters

A concerned chicken owner in Ft. Lupton, Colorado, north of Denver, contacted me looking for homes for her surplus Black Java roosters, such as these photographed at Garfield Farm Museum in La Fox, Illinois. She received 14 chicks from Duane Urch last spring and, with the perverse luck of the straight run, got only four pullets. Ten roosters are more than she needs, but since Javas are so rare, and Duane’s birds are so highly regarded, she is reluctant to make soup of them. She'd prefer to find places where they would be appreciated as part of a breeding flock. Please contact me if you know anyone who would be interested.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Why traditional breeds?

As with wild endangered species, traditional livestock breeds carry advantages that are significant to integrated, sustainable agriculture. They are vigorous and hardy. They can be self-perpetuating, mating and hatching their own offspring, as Harvey Ussery's hen demonstrates here, They resist common pests and diseases. Their waste, rather than being a pollutant, is an important part of an integrated agricultural operation, returning nitrogen to the soil to enrich it for more productive crops.

Intensive industrial production ignores these qualities in favor of the highest return to the quarterly bottom line. It’s a short-term strategy destined for disaster. Poultry breeds, along with other farm animals, are disappearing, as documented by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, Science Daily noted CGIAR’s 2007 report, Rare Breeds of Farm Animals Face Extinction, CGIAR has created a database to compile information about local African and some Asian breeds, eventually to expand to other developing Asian countries, Latin America and the Caribbean. The Domestic Animal Genetic Resources Information System,, currently lists 124 local chicken breeds. They intend to expand the database to include geese, ducks and turkeys. It’s part of the International Livestock Research Institute,

Attempts at ‘improvement’ with hybrids are often doomed, as this example from a cattle experiment in the 1970s in India,

In North America, awareness of the inherent vulnerability of allowing large corporations to control how we produce food is growing. As consumers learn about the filthy practices that contaminate food and make them sick, they are recoiling from putting chicken and eggs on their plates. Consumer Reports found two thirds of supermarket chickens are contaminated, Families are adding a few chickens to their gardens, gathering their own eggs and buying meat from small producers.

Traditional breeds such as Robert Gibson's Crevecoeurs, an old French breed, shown here at Yellow House Farm in New Hampshire,, are the best choice for small flocks. Most traditional breeds are considered dual purpose, that is, they are good egg layers as well as meaty enough to be good eating. They don’t produce as many eggs as the industrial Leghorn, but they aren’t subjected to the same practices, either, such as being starved to induce molting in order to increase egg production.

The miracle of chickens is that they do lay so many eggs, without much regard to the seasons that govern egg laying in wild birds. That’s what domestication brought us, plenty of eggs, whether there’s a rooster around or not.

Add a rooster, and most traditional breed hens will lay fertile eggs, set on them until they hatch and then raise the chicks to independence. All for the same price: nutritious food and a safe place to live.

Traditional breeds are the best deal around.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

USDA Department of Justice Workshops

The USDA and the Department of Justice have set dates for the 2o10 workshops,!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1OB?contentidonly=true&contentid=2009/11/0572.xml. The original issue the two agencies targeted was monopoly in agriculture marketplaces, but the subject matter has already expanded. They include:

March 12, 2010 - Issues of Concern to Farmers - Ankeny, Iowa
This event will serve as an introduction to the series of workshops, but also will focus specifically on issues facing crop farmers. Specific areas of focus may include seed technology, vertical integration, market transparency and buyer power.

May 21, 2010 - Poultry Industry - Normal, Ala.
Specific areas of focus may include production contracts in the poultry industry, concentration and buyer power.

June 7, 2010 - Dairy Industry - Madison, Wisc.
Specific areas of focus may include concentration, marketplace transparency and vertical integration in the dairy industry.

Aug. 26, 2010 - Livestock Industry - Fort Collins, Colo.
Specific areas of focus will address beef, hog and other animal sectors and may include enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act and concentration.

Dec. 8, 2010 - Margins - Washington, D.C.
This workshop will look at the discrepancies between the prices received by farmers and the prices paid by consumers. As a concluding event, discussions from previous workshops will be incorporated into the analysis of agriculture markets nationally.

The planners seek additional comments to plan these and additional workshops. Submit written comments in both paper and electronic form to the Department of Justice no later than Dec. 31, 2009. All comments received will be publicly posted. Two paper copies should be addressed to the Legal Policy Section, Antitrust Division, U.S. Department of Justice, 450 5th Street, NW, Suite 11700, Washington, D.C. 20001. The electronic version of each comment should be submitted to

This is an opportunity to shape agricultural policy. The overwhelmingly negative responses to NAIS were heard in this past year's Listening Sessions, and mandatory NAIS is now on the back burner. NAIS is, for now, still voluntary. We can make a difference.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Oriental Games

The discussion of Dino-Chicken brought up what’s called the carriage or stance of various breeds, in particular the ones that stand up quite straight and tall. That erect carriage is typical of the large group of breeds known as Games. Oriental Game breeds such as Shamos, Asils and Malays are ancient breeds with this distinctive posture. Modern Games, developed entirely for exhibition, also stand tall.

Game breeds are still fighting birds in Asia and Latin America, but Games are raised worldwide. Regional conditions and preferences have influenced breed development, such as Brazilians, Madagascar Games, and Sumatras. The breeds’ influence goes far beyond the cockfighting pit, though. Game breeds have long histories not only for their value as sporting birds, but for the many other qualities that accompany their strong nature. Their heavily-muscled bodies were valued to increase size in less pugnacious domestic breeds.

The Malay is an old Oriental Game breed, with origins in the misty past of Indonesia. Their distinctive posture identifies them in artwork dating back to the 16th century in Germany. Their heads are broad and strong, with protruding eyebrows and a broad, rounded beak give them an intimidating appearance. These photos, of the wheaten color variety Malays, are of birds belonging to W. Lakenmeyer of Germany and reproduced in Horst Schmudde’s book, Oriental Gamefowl: A Guide for the Sportsman, Poultryman and Exhibitor of Rare Poultry Species and Gamefowl of the World, available from AuthorHouse, Due to these birds’ large size, as much as 32 inches tall and weighing up to 14 lbs., the breed’s wings are insufficient to get the bird into the air to take flight. You hardly have to squint your eyes to see this flock as dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.

The Asil is an ancient Indian breed. The name may come from a Hindustani word for ‘highborn,’ which may refer either to its valuable bloodline or the fact that they were associated with royalty; or it may be traced to an Arabic word meaning ‘pure’ or ‘thoroughbred.’ Either way, the association is similar. Poultry historians differ on the relationship between Asils and Malays, which breed was the ancestor of the other. That they are closely related is not in dispute. The Asil is considered the ancestor of the Cornish, a variety of which is virtually the only kind of chicken sold in grocery stores today. In the 19th century, the breed now known as Cornish was called the Indian Game. Three size categories are raised, with the largest growing as tall as 29 inches and weigh over 15 lbs. This photo shows a Spangled color variety Rajah Asil, one of the small category, less than 19 inches tall, bred by Mr. Schmudde. His trio of red Asils are the Ghan color variety.

Shamos originated in Thailand from Malay breeding, imported to Japan in the 17th century. Today Japan considers them a national breed, and they have been protected by law since 1941. ‘Shamo’ is generally translated from Japanese into English as ‘fighter.’ Adults are 23 to 31 inches tall, with a drooping back line and tail. They are divided into four size categories, ranging from 2 lbs. to over 12 lbs. This pair of Black red Shamos belongs to Sakaguchi of Japan. The Black Shamo rooster was bred by Dirk Henken of Germany.

The characteristics of these breeds suggest that relations to dinosaurs may not be far. They are not well known outside the poultry world, but their strength, intelligence and size are traits well worth preserving.

Their aggressive personalities require some careful handling. Roosters may need to be separated from each other and the hens, to avoid carnage. However, they are unquestionably smart and can make excellent companion birds. When raised with humans, they are friendly and playful. We had one hen who was among the sweetest birds we ever owned. We called her Angel.

All these photos are from Mr. Schmudde’s excellent book. He has performed a valued service to the poultry community by collecting the information on Oriental Game breeds and compiling it in a single volume. If you are interested in historic poultry, you must include his book in your collection.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


60 Minutes, the CBS News magazine, reported on the relationship between chickens and dinosaurs, Prevailing theory, based on the scientific evidence, is that chickens are descendants of dinosaurs.

The video of chickens began with an attractive Golden Polish rooster, which the first person to comment on the story remarked upon. A few years ago, the most likely place the news team would have gone for video of chickens would have been a commercial producer. Instead, they showed some attractive traditional breed birds.

In my mind, that's an indication that people know more about chickens than they did a few years ago. Awareness is increasing.

On a more recent time scale, The Java came to the U.S. at least by 1835 from the East Indies (hence the name) and were admitted to the Standard of Perfection in 1883. As a high-class market fowl, its breeding was desirable and contributed to development of the Black Jersey Giant and the Barred Plymouth Rock. Indirectly, their influences reached many other breeds, including Orpingtons and Australorps. Javas are probably the source of yellow legs and skin in Dominiques.

They had nearly disappeared by the end of the 20th Century, but in recent years, attention from specialty breeders and historical societies has given the breed a second chance. Garfield Farm Museum in La Fox, Illinois,, in the 1990s has played a significant role in the recovery of the Java breed as part of its commitment to historic stewardship.

Garfield Farm is an 1840s living history farm and inn museum. In the course of its breeding program of Black and Mottled Javas, which are black and white, a pure white strain appeared in 1999. While this is no longer recognized by the standard, it is a legitimate variety and may find official recognition some day. Breeders are nurturing it with an eye to campaigning to have it included in the Standard of Perfection again.

The farm museum supplies Java eggs to hatch at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry’s “Genetics: Decoding Life” exhibit. That connection has supplied thousands of chicks to breeders around the country.

The museum breeds over 8,000 Java chicks each year. Out of those, two brown ones showed up in 2004, the remnants of the Auburn variety that disappeared in 1870. The Auburns are significant for their contribution to the Rhode Island Red.

Senior Exhibit Specialist Tim Christakos has shared the rare birds with local breeders who are nurturing the Auburns toward sustainable populations.

“We know they are not going to go extinct now,” he says.

Javas are a heavy breed, with cocks at an ideal weight of 9.5 lbs. and hens at 7.5 lbs. Like many historic breeds, Javas grow more slowly than industrial hybrid cross birds that feed our retail appetite for chicken.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thanksgiving turkey

Several people have asked for my advice on what kind of turkey to get for Thanksgiving. Farms vary in the kinds of turkeys they raise, and the conditions under which they raise them. I called around to some local markets to determine what they were selling and at what prices. You can do the same in your area.

My preference is for a heritage variety turkey. That’s the cause I took on when I got involved with traditional breeds. However, I’m persuaded that many small turkey producers are doing a good job with Broad Breasted White turkeys, the dominant commercial breed. Humane treatment of the birds during their lives matters to me.

Check Web sites and talk to local meat market employees to find out what is available in your area. Consider what kinds of businesses you are supporting with your purchase.

Some terms

The claim of ‘No Hormones’ is somewhat specious, since giving hormones to any kind of poultry is against federal law. It’s not actually a competitive claim, since none of them are given hormones.

‘Organic’ is a legally defined term that requires products to meet standards set by the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board, It includes the farm’s practices as well as what is fed to the birds.

Turkeys are not vegetarians – on pasture, they love tasty grasshoppers and worms – although some sites make claims about vegetarian diet.

‘Free range’ or ‘free roaming’ means that the birds ‘have access’ to the outdoors, but what that involves varies widely. A small door to a concrete pad doesn’t mean what the consumer may envision, birds happily scratching their way across a grassy field.

‘Natural’ suffers from a similar lack of clarity. As Consumers Union reported in 2000,, its legal marketing definition is so loose as to include all meat products.

‘Heritage’ means, to me, a variety established by small flock methods that can mate naturally. In my mind, that excludes the Broad-Breasted Bronze, which was developed as a commercial bird in the mid-20th century. Heritage varieties – Bronze, such as this hen of Mike Walters', Black, Bourbon Red, Buff, Midget White, Narragansett, Royal Palm and Slate -- have received attention as deserving to be saved by Slow Food USA on its Ark of Taste,

The usual supermarket turkey is a Broad-Breasted White, a commercial breed that became dominant in the mid-20th century. Its breast, which produces the white meat so popular, is so large that the male is physically unable to mount the female and mate naturally. All Broad Breasted turkeys are produced via artificial insemination.

Local contacts

I began close to home in Cambria, at Soto’s Market, 927-4411. They are offering Diestel all natural, free-range turkeys, out of Selma, CA. Diestel Turkey Ranch,, offers a full line of turkeys, from the standard Broad Breasted White to heritage varieties, although the site doesn’t give specifics. A flyer from the meat counter offered Broad-Breasted Bronze turkeys as Heirloom birds, a variety I would not include in that category. The photos look like Bronze and Bourbon Red. They offer a Petite Young turkey said to be mature and dressing out at 6-10 lbs. Can it be a Midget White? $2.99/lb. The smallest turkeys are typically10-12 lbs. Soto’s gets hens only, up to 26 lbs.

Heading south to Morro Bay, Spencer’s Fresh Markets, 772-8103, sells Mary’s Farms,, Foster Farms and Norbest turkeys. Mary’s turkeys are free range and organic, $1.99/lb. Foster Farms, California,, BB White turkey, $1.39. Norbest is a marketing cooperative,, selling BB White turkeys from farms in Utah and Nebraska, $1.59/lb.

Moving on south to San Luis Obispo, New Frontiers, Foothill Blvd., 785-0194,
offers Diestel and Mary’s turkeys. Heidi’s Hens is Diestel’s certified organic line. Mary’s all free range, The Diestel’s start at $1.99/lb. Mary’s organic turkeys are $3.79/lb.

Mary’s Free Range Heritage turkeys are raised in Fresno, California. Mary raises Narragansetts, such as this handsom tom belonging to Robert Gibson of Yellow House Farm in New Hampshire,, Bourbon Reds, Royal Palms, White Hollands and Standard Bronze. They don’t label according to variety. Sizes vary. Mary actually gets her heritage variety turkey poults (chicks) from Frank Reese in Kansas,

Trader Joe’s, the popular niche supermarket,, has two kinds of turkeys under its own label: Fresh, Young Brined All Natural Turkeys ($1.79/lb., 12-22 lbs.) and Glatt Kosher All Natural Turkeys ($2.29/lb., 12-16 lbs.). The company says that they are raised in the USA and are antibiotic-free, not free-range. Beyond that, the employee I talked to at the local San Luis Obispo store searched around but determined that the company considers all additional information proprietary and declines any further comment.

Trader Joe’s is known for its high quality products, but I’m uncomfortable with any business that doesn’t permit customers to learn more about what they are buying. From what I’ve heard about brining, it’s intended to bring flavor to a bird that otherwise doesn’t have much. Kosher rules are strict and I’m certain that Trader Joe’s has observed them with the kosher turkey, so perhaps that’s a more flavorful product.

Nature’s Touch Nursery and Harvest in Templeton, 434-3062, has Branigan’s organic, free range turkeys from Woodland, California, All sizes sell for $4.50 per pound. Deadline to order holiday turkeys is November 11.

Grande Foods Market in Arroyo Grande , 489-1584 and Paso Robles Health Food, 238-3987
Linda told me their turkeys are Broad Breasted Whites from Harmony Farms in Simi Valley, which I was unable to find listed on the Internet. Perhaps they have no need of a Web site – Linda says the markets have sold nothing but Harmony Farms turkeys for years and they are excellent. The birds arrive on the Monday before Thanksgiving, flash frozen. They are sold by size, $2.89/lb for 10-19 lb. birds, $2.79/lb. for birds over 20 lbs. They are available for pickup on Tuesday. The birds are not organic but they are carefully raised and customers love them. Sounds like a good buy at the price.

Isla Vista Food Co-op, 6575 Seville Rd., 968-1401,, is offering a Buy One, they’ll Donate One organic turkey to the Santa Barbara Food Bank. A nice offer. Shelton’s Turkeys are broad-breasted whites.

Local Harvest,, lists a variety of heritage turkey suppliers. Unfortunately, the closest one is in San Bernardino. The others range as far as Wisconsin and Virginia, and the prices are very high, over $100 plus shipping.

I’m encouraged to see diversity and competition in the turkey market. Read what the producers tell about their operations online. Look at the photos of how their turkeys live. Check around your area and see what you come up with. Personally, I ordered one of Mary’s heritage birds from New Frontiers, $5.79/lb. I’m voting with my wallet.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Poultry Survey

Attention Poultry Breeders: Mother Earth News would like your opinions about poultry breeds. Whether your favorite is the Cubalaya, such as Jim Zook's shown here, or Rhode Island Red, all breeders are encouraged to particpate. The more opinions are expressed in this kind of survey, the more useful the results will be.

If you have several years experience raising chickens, you are invited to participate in a Mother Earth News survey to identify characteristics of various breeds of chickens. This information will help guide people in selecting breeds for their flocks. An article about the results will be published in the April/May 2010 issue of Mother Earth News magazine.

The new survey is designed to identify traits of various breeds and hybrids of chickens, such as egg-laying ability, temperament, potential for broodiness. The magazine would like you to share your opinions. At the end of the survey, you can see the current survey results (and get ideas about some breeds you might like to try yourself).

This survey will take 15 to 20 minutes to complete. To begin, here is a link to the survey: You can also find it on the Mother EArth News Web site,

Categories in the survey:

American breeds

Asiatic and English breeds

Mediterranean breeds

Continental breeds

Miscellaneous breeds Egg-laying Hybrids Hybrid Meat Chickens

Thanks for your participation!

Cheryl Long, Editor in Chief

Troy Griepentrog, Senior Associate Editor

Mother Earth News

1503 SW 42nd Street

Topeka, KS 66609-1265

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Chicken Art

Don't miss Koen Vanmechelen's exhibition focusing on the chicken in his art, as reported in today's Washington Post,

Vanmechelen's "Cosmopolitan Chicken Project," a multimedia exhibit opens Saturday evening at the Conner Contemporary Art gallery, featuring photographs, video, taxidermy and livestock and smelling faintly of chicken poop. The Conner show is Vanmechelen's first solo exhibit in a U.S. gallery. The artist is also known for his "Cosmogolem" project, a series of towering wooden sculptures symbolizing children's rights.

Jamie Smith, the curator of Conner Contemporary, first learned of Vanmechelen's work while studying in Belgium on a fellowship several years ago. She went to a contemporary art museum in Hasselt, saw his chickens, and thought, "Well, this is the cutting edge of realism."

At Connor he'll be showing only three chickens -- all Jersey Giants purchased specially for the exhibit from a farm outside of Charlottesville. After the show ends in December, a friend of Smith's will take them in, where they will live out the rest of their days in comfort and seclusion.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Loyl Stromberg, Grand Old Man of Poultry

Modern poultry is blessed with a lot of inspired leaders. Among them, Loyl Stromberg stands out as the Grand Old Man of Poultry. Here's picture of us at his home in Minnesota.

Now 95 years old, he has not only witnessed but participated in many of the changes that the 20th century brought to poultry husbandry. He remains the driving force behind the National Poultry Museum. He’s written six books on poultry and traveled the world.

“My best years have been since I turned 70,” he said recently from his home in Pine River, Minnesota. He now lives on the two-and-a-half acres his father bought in 1945 for $5,500. The family used the cabin as a vacation retreat until they built a permanent home in 1972. Loyl was researching his book, “Poultry of the World,” at that time.

He is an indefatigable correspondent (P.O. Box 400, Pine River, MN 56474-0400). He never fails to include colorful flyers with poultry facts or updates on the Poultry Museum.

On his world travels, he saw the Netherlands’ Poultry Museum in Amsterdam and became determined that the U.S. should have its own museum to honor and preserve this significant part of our history. By 1994, the first building was dedicated, on the grounds of the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs, Kansas. Loyl and other poultry leaders, including Dr. John Skinner of the University of Wisconsin, donated machines and materials that reflect poultry history, such as bone crushers and an Oats Sprouter – two important poultry tools that heralded improvements in chick starter and poultry nutrition. Dr. John Salsbury and his family of Charles City, Iowa, have been generous supporters.

Examples of early incubators include the coal, oil and kerosene burners that preceded electrical incubators. The museum has a three-deck Jamesway incubator. The most popular of its vintage was the Old Trusty, which sold for $15 at the turn of the 20th century. In 1902, over 200,000 of these were exported from the U.S. to other countries.

Artifacts and documents almost immediately outgrew the building. A second building opening in Summer 2009, as reported in Backyard Poultry magazine,

Loyl’s interest in rare breeds drew him to Neil Jones, who founded the Society for Preservation of Poultry Antiquities in 1967. The organization floundered in those early months, and Loyl’s impassioned article on the plight of isolated breeders in the July 1967 Poultry Press galvanized support and launched the new organization.

Enthusiasm flagged again by 1971, and Jones resigned. Loyl convened a meeting to save the SPPA at the Apache Plaza Show in Minneapolis in October 1971. Enough breeders were willing to commit the time and energy to make the organization succeed. Officers were elected, including Loyl as First Vice President, and objectives defined.

“He twisted several people’s arms to get them to take officers’ jobs,” said Duane Urch of Urch/Turnland Poultry in Owatonna, Minnesota, who took the position of secretary-treasurer in 1971 and served in that role until 1978. Mr. Urch served several years as first vice president and was president from 1989-1996.

“The SPPA owes their life to him,” he said.

Loyl produced the first Breeders Directory, he and his wife doing all the work and then paying for the printing.

“He has provided encouragement and money at a couple of key times,” said Craig Russell, SPPA president.

Loyl continues to support SPPA and often contributes to the quarterly Bulletin.

“Loyl has been a tireless friend of the SPPA,” said Mr. Russell. “He has been responsible for whatever success the SPPA has enjoyed.”

I’m grateful to have spent time with Loyl and consider him a friend. Thanks for all you have done for poultry and the SPPA, Loyl!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Hampton Bays, Long Island has added a small flock of guineafowl to its Squiretown Park to control ticks, The five birds are doing their job enthusiastically.

Guineafowl are galliform birds native to Africa, but have been domesticated and are good egg and meat birds. They are popular for insect control because, unlike chickens, they don't tear up and eat the landscaping. Bugs are their prey, and they are voracious eaters.

Guineas were popular on Victorian tables, but have mostly been lost to modern cooking. Guineas can be a good choice for a small flock. They are also beautiful, and are bred in a bewildering variety of feather colors, as shown by Ralph Winters' stock at his Iowa farm,

How to Raise Poultry includes a chapter on Guineafowl. These unusual birds are worth investigating for your poultry operation.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Delaware chickens got their name from the Delmarva Peninsula, the geographic area comprising Delaware and Maryland that has been the site of intensive poultry production for the last century. In the 1940s, Barred Rock males were crossed with New Hampshie hens to produce a dual purpose commercial bird. The resulting occasional almost completely white sports were bred into a spearate breed with the Columbian color pattern, with irregular barring from the Rock side replacing the lustrous greenish black in the hackles, tail and wings.

One of the advantages of raising Delawares is that when the hens, such as this one, are bred to New Hampshire or Rhode Island Red males, the resulting chicks are sex-linked (white males, red females), making it easy to distinguish males from females from the start. Males can be raised as broilers and females as laying hens.

Don Schrider, formerly of the American Livestock Breeders Conservancy, wrote about Delawares in Backyard Poultry in 2007,

Although originally developed as a production breed, its attractive color caught eyes and it was recognized for exhibition in 1952.
Jamie White of Florida sent these pictures of the flock he has started. They are handsome birds, indeed, and well worth maintaining. Thanks, Jamie.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Buckeye chickens, a hearty, resilient breed developed to withstand harsh Ohio winters, are getting more attention lately. Chef Emeril Lagasse,, demonstrated how to cook them on a recent show, The recipe is here: Look for an article I wrote on them in the next issue of Backyard Poultry magazine, This flock belongs to Bryan Oliver of South Carolina, who breeds Buckeyes as well as Dominiques.

Chef Emeril makes some important points: These birds, which take longer 14-16 weeks) to reach table size than the commercial Cornish/Rock cross (5-6 weeks) require different cooking methods. Slow moist heat helps tenderize the chicken and bring out its flavor. Otherwise, the meat will be tough.

As with all foods, some technique is necessary to produce the best results. Thanks, Chef Emeril, for giving the spotlight to Buckeyes and the idea of traditional breed poultry.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ventura Poultry Show

I'll be attending the Sixth Annual Bash at the Beach Poultry Show, hosted by SeaSide Feather Fanciers, in Ventura, California on Saturday, October 24. It includes the Rosecomb Bantam Federation National. Judges are Jeff Halbach, Tracy Hill and Troy Laroche.

The fairgrounds are right next to the beach -- how great is that?
"We are expectiong strong competition in the show room, as the Bash at the Beach has become one of the premier shows in California," writes show organizer Dave Anderson, also APA president. "We are expecting exhibitors from across the country."
I expect to see excellent birds such as this Spangled Orloff Bantam Cock that took Best of Breed at the 2007 Southern Ohio Poultry Show. The photo was taken by Neil Grassbaugh, who handles photography for many shows.
I'll take my own pictures and post them on my return. I'll have the privilege of traveling by train, the Pacific Surfliner, from my home on the Central Coast. The train route is one of the most scenic in the country, right along the ocean.
Is there anything more fun than poultry shows?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Dominiques are considered the first American breed. Their French-sounding name hasn’t always caught on with those who are otherwise devoted to them. Your grandmother may have called them her Dominikers. Historically, the name may be traceable to chickens, probably old French Cuckoos imported from Dominica. They may have provided the name but only a small part of the Dominique’s genetic background.

Dominiques are the rock solid dual purpose bird, comfortable as roasters or fryers at 7 lbs. for mature cocks and 5 lbs. for mature hens, and steady, reliable layers. They lay brown eggs.

Their slate-barred feathers are the color pattern known in other breeds as cuckoo. That color pattern may have provided protective camouflage for them when they found their own living by foraging in the barnyard. Dominiques are still good foragers.

Although their origins are clouded in history, the International Correspondence Schools Reference Library on Standard-Bred Poultry (1912) says they were plentiful in the United States by 1820 and were documented on Ohio farms by 1850. ICS cites Rose Comb White Dorkings and Black Javas as being among their forebears. Other 19th century writers, such as Lewis Wright in The Illustrated Book of Poultry (1880), credit the Rose-comb Cuckoo Dorking and the Scotch Grey, with the comb of a Hamburg. Harrison Weir in The Poultry Book (1912) cites the Dorking influence, but notes that Dominiques have only four toes and yellow, rather than white, shanks. He quotes T.F. McGrew’s opinion that Hamburgs had substantial influence.

SPPA president Craig Russell credits Cuckoo Dorkings and Hamburgs with giving rise to the Dominiques, with the yellow skin and legs coming from Javas in the 19th century.

Their barred feathers are similar in color to Barred Rocks. The black/slate varies in shade, and the barring is irregular. The males have longer sickle feathers. Their bright yellow legs stand out. Getting the rose comb perfect is a challenge to breeders. It may lack the required spikes or the spikes may be misshapen. Tail angle in both males and females can be difficult to perfect. Dominique tails should stand at a jaunty 45-degree angle. This flock of Dominiques belongs to Bryan Oliver, SPPA member who is also secretary of the Dominique Club of America,, who took the photo.

Kansas breeder and SPPA vice president Monte Bowen says, “The Dominicker is a bird that lays very well. I can depend upon eggs from those girls when nothing else on the place is laying. They lay well all through the winter, and will go broody sooner than the other breeds. I encourage broodiness in the birds and let them set when and where they want. I find I can move a broody hen to a quieter spot with no trouble. They will stay on a nest and do a marvelous job of raising their young. They are calm, gentle setters and are not hazardous to the health of the keeper. They squawk and ruffle up when I check the nest, but never peck. Once the chicks arrive, they become a bit more territorial, but I also encourage that in the birds. A hen that won’t protect her clutch is not worth too much.”

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Central Coast Feather Fanciers Show

was held October 10-11 in Paso Robles, California. Over 1,000 birds were shown. A photo album, 2009 CCFF Show, has been posted on Picasa at
This Frizzle Old English Game Bantam rooster was among the entries. Thanks, CCFF, for another great show.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Just Food

Owen Taylor is Training and Livestock Coordinator for Just Food, a New York City co-op whose mission is "to unite local farms and city residents of all economic backgrounds with fresh, seasonal, sustainably grown food."

Just Food has built three more coops in community gardens - all of which work with children. The chickens are doing great!

"It's a serious issue - it's no yolk," said Mayor Dave Cieslewicz of Madison, Wisconsin, when his city reversed its poultry ban in 2004. "Chickens are really bringing us together as a community. For too long they've been cooped up."

"Chicken has become the symbol, a mascot even, of the local food movement," Owen was quoted in an article about urban chicken keeping at World Watch Institute,

This photo of Abu Talib in the Bronx, at the one-acre farm he has tended for years, captures the affection between him and this hen.