Thursday, April 30, 2009

Hazardous waste in Texas

My goal on this blog is to provide information about poultry breeds. Some issues transcend that, however. Pollution with toxic materials affects us all. Sharon Wilson in Texas has pursued the issue of pollution resulting from hydraulic fracture drilling for natural gas in the Barnett Shale deposits in Wise County, where she lives.

The chemicals used in this process are so toxic that cattle drinking from runoff are dying, as posted on her blog April 29, As she documents, these processes have been exempted from regulation through effective lobbying and influential patrons.

Thanks for shining the spotlight on these practices, Sharon. They are toxic to chickens and people, too.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Antique Poultry magazines

Mrs. Louise Burr of Oxford, Connecticut has generously donated 41 antique poultry magazines and catalogs to SPPA. Thank you, Mrs. Burr!

The collection includes six poultry and equipment catalogs dating between 1907 and 1916, such as the 1911 Close to Nature Incubator and Brooder catalog shown here.

Pratt's New Poultry Book was published by the Pratt Food Company of Philadelphia in 1907. The booklet sold for 25 cents and promoted Pratt products, such as Pratt's Poultry Regulator (formerly Pratts Poultry Food); Pratts Roup Cure, a scientific preparation of undisclosed ingredients; Pratts Lice Killer, both powdered and liquid forms, both of which are effective against lice on other livestock and premises but are neither poisonous nor explosive -- this may have referred to the practice of using kerosene and other flammable products to kill pests; and Pratts Correspondence School of Poultry-Keeping, $2 for a course worth $35.

Four copies of Poultry Monthly from 1910 are included. The Poultry Item is represented by a dozen issues from 1910 and 1911. Sixteen copies of the American Poultry Advocate from 1910-1913 are included.

The cover of this December 1910 Commercial Poultry attracted me, one of three issues of that title. The geese pictured are not mentioned inside, but are probably American Gray Geese, then a common farm bird but rarely found now in naturally reproducing flocks.

All these magazines contain articles on various breeds and poultry husbandry practices. Bear them in mind when you are looking for information from the early 20th century. The advertising is as informative as the articles, indicating what was for sale and what the advertisers saw as selling points to their publics. Profitability of poultry operations was a major sales pitch ("$12,000 from Plain Poultry in Eight Years! Send for free booklet").

The wide variety of breeds available commercially is always amazing. Large ads for Houdans; Wyandottes (Golden, Columbian, White, Silver Laced); Rocks, Barred, White, Buff and Partridge; Minorcas; Leghorns of many varieties; Orpingtons Buff, Black and White; Polish in five color varieties; Silver Penciled and White Hamburgs; Brahmas; Cochins; Anconas and Black Langshans grace the pages of this issue.

These magazines document past days of small flock poultry raising, when traditional breeds were valued in the marketplace. The times augur well for a return to that position.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day

Mindy Sink contacted me for an article she wrote for the online magazine Mindful Mama, Mindful Mama's motto is: Connecting Mom, Baby and the Planet. Mindy is a coauthor of Colorado Organic: Cooking Seasonally, Eating Locally and author of Moon Denver.

"Thanks to the locavore movement, people around the country are reducing their carbon footprints by finding their food sources closer to home. But for some families, even the movement’s proposed 100-mile shopping radius is just too far, so they’re bringing the farm—chickens, goats, bees, and all—right into their own backyards. "

Tracy in Oregon contacted me about the chicks she acquired in her Willamette Valley, four Australorps and four gold sex-links. The demand was so great that the feed stores selling them assigned customers numbers to impose order before they opened their doors!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

High Plains Prairie Chicken Festival

We're leaving Thursday for Milnesand, New Mexico, to participate in the High Plains Lesser Prairie Chicken Festival. They are not related to domestic chickens, but they are gallinaceous fowl, actually a kind of grouse. This photo of the Lesser Prairie Chicken is copyright by Alan Eckert Photography.

The three species of Prairie Chickens -- Greater, Attwater's and Lesser -- eat more grain than the grouse cousins, but are otherwise similar in lifestyle. Mating is different, though. Grouse cocks defend individual territories, but Prairie Chicken males court in groups. That's what we'll be going to New Mexico to see.

The mating areas are called leks. Alice Hopf, in Chickens and Their Wild Relatives, describes the mating dance:

"Birds stand some ten yards apart and utter their crowing of booming sounds, which are part challenge to the other cocks and part call for the females. The whole ritual may seem hilarious to a human observer, but it is deadly serious to the birds. The act begins with the male doing a little dance, its feet striking the earth so fast that a rolling sound is produced. Then the cock inflates the big orange air sacs on either side of his neck. His tail is spread out and held straight up, his wings droop, and the feathersof his neck rise up. Looking quite ferocious for a chicken, he jerks out his booming calls, which are punctuated as the air sacs become deflated. As though excited by this effort, the cock then jumps into the air, whirls around and struts a defiance to his neighbors.

"When a female arrives at the display station, battle is joined by the males. They rush at each other, with necks extended and tails erect, and the amount of feathers left on the ground is evidence of the intensity of the battle. Eventually, each cock manages to corral a watching hen and lead her away from the arena, and mating and nesting begin."

Lesser Prairie Chickens are under consideration for lsiting as Endangered Species, due to fragmentation and loss of habitat.

The festival includes other bird watching and local environmental presentations. I'm eager to learn more.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Poultry Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Etruscan Rooster sculpture was adapted from an original vase with a small spout behind its head. Terracotta was the usual material used to create these objects, although the Etruscans were such accomplished craftsmen that some examples of bronze survive. Ducks were the most common bird-shaped vases, with roosters being extraordinarily rare—only one other example is known.

Cast stone, hand patinated. Length 7 3/4 in., width 2 3/4 in., height 7 1/4 in.
Etruscan Rooster 80-001759
Member Price: $157.50 each
Non-Member Price: $175.00 each.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Backyard Poultry magazine

The April/May issue of Backyard Poultry features my article on Heritage Breed Options Provide Beauty and Utility, J.D. Belanger, Editor Emeritus, reviews my new book, How to Raise Poultry. He's very favorable, which I consider an honor.
Choosing five breeds to profile for small flocks was difficult. Initially, I thought it would be good to include five American breeds. As I pored over them, I decided that including breeds from the American, English and Continental classes would give some flavor of each of those, plus the Old English Games, because they are so iconic, and the Cubalayas, with their Oriental Game heritage.
Every breed deserves attention. I'm collecting information and organizing it into brochures on as many breeds as I can for SPPA. Thus far, I have brochures on:
Cold Weather Breeds
Columbian Color Pattern
Old English Games
If your favorite breed is not on the list, perhaps you are the one to write about them! Please contact me -- I'll help you get it done. This is a great project for SPPA.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Digital archives

I'm far from an uncritical advocate of electronic media, but this digital age does offer some wonderful resources. Digitized books make literary resources far more available than they are otherwise.

Stephen Kendall donated a delightful book, A Little Journey Among Anconas, Second edition, 1922, to SPPA's growing collection of historic poultry books. This book is limited in physical access, but the entire work can be viewed online at
The book has two color plates, showing the color of the birds. The rest are black & white. It includes diagrams of ideal body conformation as well as photographs. Check this gem out and recommend it to colleagues who are interested in Anconas. They remain a terrific Mediterranean egg breed.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Ventura Poultry Show

The show was great! About 550 birds were exhibited, some of them unusual. Three new SPPA members signed up, and two current members came by to visit. It's always great to meet SPPA members.

A breeding pair of Nene Geese were offered for sale! Nene Geese are the state bird of Hawaii and an endangered species. Special permits may be required to keep them.

There was only a single turkey exhibited, but she was a beauty: A Bourbon Red pullet.

Among chickens, a Fayoumi hen was an unusual entry. Her owner acquired her from McMurray Hatchery, requested simply because she wanted a Fayoumi. This girl was very attractive, but keeps her owner hopping. She is the only hen in the flock who flies over the fence, then digs up the garden. She not only rips up the greens, she digs whole plants out. Her owner considers managing her worth the effort.

Black and Mottled Javas attracted a lot of attention, and sold quickly. The breeder is eager to help other flocks get started on the West Coast. Reviewing the SPPA Jave Brochure last week, I noticed that there are no Java breeders listed in the West. So I was happy to sign her up as a new member and add her to the list.

Attending shows always brings unexpected blessings. I go to as many as I can.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Ventura Seaside Poultry Show

We are off to the show today. Judge Jim Adkins will be there. He is developing a curriculum for adding traditional breeds into poultry management education. I'm eager to hear what he has to say.

Poultry shows are always interesting and fun. Sharing information with breeders helps me keep pace with events in the poultry community.

And take pictures, to post here on Monday.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Chicks Test Smart

Chicks are smart, scientists confirm

Study reveals baby chickens aren't just cute - they are also math whizzes

By Jennifer Viegas

Discovery Channel

updated 9:41 a.m. PT, Wed., April. 1, 2009

Baby chickens aren't just cute - they are also whizzes at math, according to a new study.The study, published in the latest Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the Royal Society's flagship biological research journal, presents the first known evidence that any non-human animal can perform consecutive addition and subtraction calculations on the same set.

These chicks are Dorkings from Joseph Marquette's Yellow House Farm in New Hampshire.

It is also "the very first demonstration of some arithmetic ability in young animals," lead author Rosa Rugani told Discovery News.

Since the chicks could work with numbers up to five, and prior research suggests the limit for human newborns is three, it's possible that chicks could beat babies if the two groups were pitted against each other in a math contest.

Taken as a whole, however, the study supports the theory "that animals and humans share a non-verbal, and even pre-verbal in the case of humans, numerical system" that can perform precise arithmetic on small number sets - "with a limit of three or four" -- and make estimates about larger sets, said Rugani, a researcher in the Center for Mind/Brain Sciences at the University of Trento in Italy.

Rugani and her colleagues tested the arithmetic skills of 17 domestic "Hybro" chicks derived from the White Leghorn breed. To get them accustomed to the experiment objects, the scientists reared the chicks with five yellow toy balls, which the baby chickens accepted as members of their own family.

The chicks "become socially attached to the imprinting object, even though this is an artificial one, and respond by promptly following the ball if it is moved, and by emitting distress calls if the ball is removed, or soft calls when the ball is placed back in their home cage," Rugani explained.

The scientists next set up a room like a darkened theater, with two opaque screens at the front. As the chicks sat in front of the screens, the scientists dangled the balls, tied to fine threads, behind the screens.

The goal of each experiment was to have the chicks choose the largest set. Animals generally gravitate toward larger groups of individuals or things, likely due to a youngster's reliance on others.

The most complex test required the chicks to keep track of the number of balls through addition or subtraction, since balls were transferred either individually or in sets from one screen to another.

Despite the ball disappearing acts, the chicks spontaneously chose the screen hiding the larger number of hidden toys. The birds made their selection by sticking their heads behind the correct screen to see their old "companions."

As for the chicks' ability to work with a larger set than human babies could, the researchers speculate it might have something to do with family size. They suspect chicks might even be able to work with up to 10 balls, because broods often consist of eight to 10 siblings, but Rugani said she and her team haven't yet "investigated the upper limit of chicks' ability in this task."

Since non-human animals appear to have natural math skills, it's now thought that children, whose math abilities far exceed those of chickens as the two species mature, don't need to master the logic of arithmetic tables to add and subtract.

A preliminary study conducted by Harvard researcher Elizabeth Spelke and colleagues showed that five-year-old children could even handle simple word problems like, "Sarah has 64 candies and gives 13 of them away, and John has 34 candies. Who has more?"

"We've known for some time that adults, children and even infants and nonhuman animals have a sense of number," Spelke said. "We were surprised to see, however, that children spontaneously use their number sense when they're presented with problems in symbolic arithmetic."

© 2009 Discovery Channel


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Ancient Roman chickens

A question came up about the Roman mosaic of a Dorking chicken, mentioned in the Backyard Poultry article, Heritage Chickens for Your Homestead. The rooster, with plumage still typical of Dorkings today and five toes, accompanies the god Mercury. The mosaic is from a Roman city on the Danube in what is now Austria, dated to the third century AD. The image appears on page 453 of A History of Domesticated Animals by F.E. Zeuner, 1963 edition, in Chapter 22, Domestic Fowl. The mosaic is on display in Niederosterreichisches Landesmuseum, Vienna.

An even older mosaic, dating back to the first century BC, is in The Burrell Collection in Glasgow, Scotland. The Burrell Collection is housed on the grounds of Pollok House in Glasgow, one of the Glasgow Museums. Pollok Estate has been the home of the Maxwell family since the mid-13th century. The current house is an impressive 18th century mansion. Sir William Stirling Maxwell (1818-1878) collected most of the paintings which displayed in the house. In 1966, the current Pollok House was donated by Mrs. Anne Maxwell Macdonald to the City of Glasgow. Its art collection and 361 acres of surrounding parkland were included. In 1998, management of Pollok House was transferred by mutual agreement from Glasgow City Council to the National Trust for Scotland.

This one is not a Dorking, lacking that fifth toe. It's probably a Game.

The house's beautifully kept gardens, including a collection of over 1,000 species of rhododendrons, are also open to the public. Running through them is the White Cart River, spanned by a bridge built in 1757. The collection is housed in a separate facility on the grounds.

The Greco-Roman Collection comprises approximately 650 objects including ceramics and terracottas, oil-lamps, bronze figurines and helmets, marble sculptures, mosaics and glass vessels, and 120 domestic items from Roman Egypt. The Cockerel Mosaic is about 14 inches high. It’s one of the most popular pieces in the collection. The museum makes use of it in family art classes