Thursday, May 28, 2009

More NAIS Listening Sessions scheduled

The USDA has scheduled six additional Listening Sessions on NAIS. Thus far, the places and dates haven't been posted to the USDA site, but are announced in the Federal Register. Pass the word and attend if possible. Contact me or Mary Zanoni of Farm for Life,, if you would like help preparing your presentation.

From the Federal Register:

SUMMARY: This is a notice to inform the public of six upcoming meetings to discuss stakeholder concerns related to the implementation of the National Animal Identification System. The meetings are being organized by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

DATES: The meetings will be held on June 9, 11, 16, 18, 25, and 27, 2009, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.

ADDRESSES: The public meetings will be held in Jefferson City, MO (June 9), Rapid City, SD (June 11), Albuquerque, NM (June 16), Riverside, CA (June 18), Raleigh, NC (June 25), and Jasper, FL (June 27).

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Dr. Adam Grow, Director, Surveillance and
Identification Programs, National Center for Animal Health Programs, VS, APHIS, 4700 River Road, Unit 200, Riverdale, MD 20737; (301) 734–3752.

Although preregistration is not required, participants are asked to preregister by sending APHIS an e-mail at or calling 301–734–0799. In the subject
line of the e-mail, indicate your name (or organization name) and the location of the meeting you plan to attend. If you wish to present comments during one of the meetings, please include your name (or organization name) and address in the body of the message. Members of the public who are not able to attend may also submit and view comments via the Federal eRulemaking Portal at

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Urban chickens

Indeed! I was blessed to visit an urban garden and an urban farm in New York City on my recent visit. Walt L. Shamel Community Garden is in the Crown Height section of Brooklyn, managed by Greg and Debbie Anderson.

That's me on the right, talking with Rodney Duncan, a volunteer at the garden, Greg and Debbie. They have taken a vacant lot and turned it into a community garden in the past five years. Local residents are assigned sections where they grow whatever they like. Tomatoes are popular.

They keep seven chicken s there for their eggs and the delight they add to the garden. While we were there, the girls roamed the garden, enjoying scratching and pecking.

We also visited Abu Talib, who has cultivated the one-acre Taqwa Community Farm in The Bronx, two blocks from Yankee Stadium, for 17 years. Tallie took over the site after the city had demolished the duplex that had proved otherwise resistant to efforts to eliminate drug dealing. He planted fruit trees right away, so he has mature pear, apple, peach, cherry, nectarine, plum, apricot, crabapple and fig trees now.

Community members garden their plots in the farm. Kids play on the playground structure that was donated. "Kids bring the family in," he says.

His ten chickens occupy a comfortable coop and provide eagerly sought eggs.

He's got a hydroponic project in the works. I look forward to hearing how that works out.

Visiting these gardening projects and seeing how they influence the community around them was inspiring. The flower beds around the trees on Dean Street in Brooklyn were all carefully kept. Growing plants soothes us and keeping chickens warms our hearts. These are wonderful projects that help all around them.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Chickens inside the Beltway

Hot Chicks: Legal or Not, Chickens are the Chic New Backyard Addition,, writes Adrian Higgins in the 14 May 09 Washington Post.

The story includes a slide show of these lively chickens. The flair people have with their chickens delights me: one rooster is T. Boone Chickens.

This blog will be on hiatus for a few days, while I travel to New York for a panel on Brave New World of Media and Journalism, While I'm in the Big Apple, I'll visit with some other Urban Chicken people. Full report when I return.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Wyandottes are mentioned as early as 1873, but were not admitted to the APA Standard of Perfection until 1883, when the Silver Laced variety, represented by this rooster, whose photo graces the Wyandotte Breeders of America site,, was admitted. Their origins are variously reported as New York State and England, both of which are reflected in early references to them as American Sebrights and Sebright Cochins. The Silver Laced large fowl has the color and pattern of Sebright bantams.

They reflect their Asiatic ancestry in their yellow skin. Their eggs range in color from light to rich brown. Their rose combs with a downward curved spike are distinctive, probably inherited from their Spangled Hamburg forebears. Note the comb in this drawing, done by J.W. Ludlow for Lewis Wright's original Illustrated Book of Poultry. It was reproduced by Dr. J. Batty in Lewis Wright's Poultry, 1983.

The comb remains a significant point for breeders. Its small size close to the head makes it resistant to freezing, an advantage in cold climates. Dark and Light Brahmas gave them size and color pattern, although the Dark Brahma color markings are unacceptable in the breed now. All Wyandottes have rose combs regardless of feather color. They feather quickly as they grow. They are substantial birds, with mature males weighing 8 ½ lbs. and hens 6 ½ lbs.

In 1890, Lewis Wright wrote in the Illustrated Book of Poultry: “A breed like this has supplied a distinct gap in existing poultry classes, giving a large fowl with admirably useful qualities, combines with the beautiful laced marking, and a handsome shape.”

Wisconsin breeders developed Golden Laced Wyandottes from a Partridge Cochin/Brown Leghorn cross rooster and a Silver Laced Wyandotte hen. They were admitted to the Standard in 1888, along with the Whites. The White variety was selectively bred from sports that appeared spontaneously in Silver laced flocks. At first, the white sports were considered an embarrassment, an indication of lack of purity in the flock.

“Efforts were made to shield the fact until it became known that they would be advanced as a true variety of the Wyandotte family;” Mr. T.E. Orr writes in the 1912 edition of Harrison Weir’s Poultry Book. “Then many willingly acknowledged the presence of the White in their yards.” Orr is credited with starting his Wyandotte breeding operation in Pennsylvania two years before Wyandottes achieved APA recognition.

Orr was the breeder editors Willis Johnson and George Brown turned to when they were updating The Poultry Book to increase the information about the breed. They called Wyandottes “ …one of the most important breeds of fowls of American production. Indeed, they might be properly called our most popular breed, when all varieties are considered.” They noted that Weir originally dismissed Wyandottes in a brief, vague account, which they corrected by soliciting a more detailed account from Orr.

As Wyandottes gained popularity, their advocates developed Buff, Black, Partridge, Silver Penciled, Columbian and Blue varieties, which are now recognized. Fanciers raise Cuckoo, Barred, Buff Laced, Violet Laced, Red, Blue Laced Red, Buff Columbian and other unrecognized varieties.

The Columbian color pattern which now graces varieties of many breeds got its name from the Wyandottes exhibited at the 1893 Columbian Exposition, the World’s Fair, in Chicago.

The poultry magazines dating to the early 20th century recently donated by Mrs. Louise Burr shows many highly competitive advertisements for Wyandottes. The back cover of the August 1910 copy of Commercial Poultry has four competing breeders offering White, Buff and Partridge Wyandottes, in Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.

An excellent dual purpose breed for the small flock owner and exhibition poultry keeper. Beautiful and productive, with a whisper of mystery in its past. Consider Wyandottes for your flock.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Heritage Breeds label

Frank Reese,, has been a leader in breeding and raising standard poultry and creating a market for it. This year he plans to breed 15,000 standard turkeys, 40,000 standard bred chickens, 500 ducks and 200 geese. He sells them through a local market, online through Heritage Foods USA,, and through his site.
This new label has been approved by the USDA, a complicated process. It includes those descriptive words, Heritage and Standard Bred, and specifies that the chickens are not younger than 16 weeks old. Typical industrial chickens are slaughtered before they are seven weeks old.

He breeds Standard Bronze, Bourbon Red, Narragansett, Black and White Holland turkeys. His standard-breed chickens include Cornish and Barred Plymouth Rocks. The ducks are Rouen and Aylesbury and the geese are Dewlap Toulouse and Embdens.

Frank has also championed the cause of Standard-Bred Poultry, creating the Standard Breed Poultry Institute and writing a definition of Heritage Chickens, see the blog post of February 20, 2008. His work has attracted substantial media interest. Thanks for your work, Frank, and for keeping me posted!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Newspapers, radio, Internet

Bill Morem, columnist for the local paper, the San Luis Obispo Tribune, wrote about me in today's edition, The radio interview with Andy Schneider, the Chicken Whisperer, aired live this morning and will be posted Monday afternoon at My site is included in this new environmental Web site, Cal Poly Organic Farm,, featured an article I wrote about keeping chickens in this week's CSA member Newsletter, not yet posted to the site.

It's a lot of attention, but it's the result of a lot of things coming together at the same time. Interest in local food, concern about food safety and security, growing awareness of loss of genetic diversity and just plain chicken attraction all go into the mix. I'm grateful to be in a position to respond to questions people have about chickens and other poultry.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Radio Interview

Andy Schneider, better known as the Chicken Whisperer™, contacted me to be a guest on his radio program May 9. It airs at 9 am Eastern but all shows are later posted to his site.

From his site, He has become the go-to guy across the nation for anything chickens. Over the years he has helped a countless number of people start their very own backyard flocks. He is not only a national radio personality, but also a special contributor to Mother Earth News Magazine, Grit Magazine, and Farmers Almanac. He is the owner of Atlanta Pet Chickens, Classroom Chickens, and is the Founder/Organizer of the Atlanta Pet Chicken Meetup Group that has quickly grown to over 575 local members! He has been featured on CBS News Atlanta, HD News New York, NPR, Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Front Page Story), New Life Journal, and many other local and national publications. He is currently working with CNN and Farmers Almanac TV on stories about keeping backyard poultry. In fact, he is currently working on a "How To" video series called “Backyard Poultry with the Chicken Whisperer™” with Farmers Almanac TV that should be released this spring!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Dorkings in Rome

Dorkings are clearly the breed depicted in Roman mosaics. Five-toed chickens with Dorking plumage are described by Pliny and Columella, Roman writers of the first ce ntury AD. This depiction of Mercury with a Dorking rooster dates to the third century AD. It was unearthed at Carnuntum, which served as the Roman capital of the Pannonian Province on the Danube, in today’s Austria. It is reproduced from Frederick E. Zeuner’s A History of Domesticated Animals. He credits it to Niederosterreichisches Landesmuseum, Vienna.

Other historians set the date of their arrival in England later, to 1066 with the Norman conquest. They take their name from the English market town in Surrey. A breed with such a long history is inevitably of historical interest and discussion. This breed exerts a powerful attraction.

I'm grateful to librarian Karen Dunn of the Steenbock Memorial Library at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, for helping me locate this book and remarkable ilustration. We both wished we could see this in color. Perhaps one day we will travel to the museum in Austria and I shall take my own picture!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Brahmas, Campines and Cochins

This illustration is from Dr. J. Batty and Charles Francis' Poultry Colour Guide, 1977 and 1979. A second edition was published in response to demand for the book after it was first published. Dr. Batty wrote the text and Mr. Francis painted the portraits.

The top row shows Dark and Light Brahmas. The center row shows Silver and Gold Campines. The bottom row shows Buff and Partridge Cochins.

The book was part of the collection of Louis Meyi, donated to SPPA in 2008. It includes 25 full page color illustrations, most featuring three breeds. They include ducks, geese and turkeys as well as bantam and large fowl chickens. The book also includes a line diagram of a chicken and drawings of ideal combs.

An SPPA member contacted me today for information about Campines and I was happy to send her text from Harrison Weir's Our Poultry and The Poultry Book along with this illustration. One of the values of this collection to SPPA is that it can help members with their research.

The relatively recent publication of this book may account for its valuation at $30. It's a treasure and a vaulable addition to any collection.

Monday, May 4, 2009


Our church had a workshop on Self-Sufficiency last weekend. I had a table on Chickens.
Not everyone can keep chickens, but the more people who do, the more local food networks will improve. When more people are growing their own food, the community is safer from food disasters.
A food crisis doesn't necessarily have to invovle food at all. A strike in Southern California a few years back created problems, because the Teamsters Union supported the striking grocery clerks and refused to deliver to supermarkets where workers were on strike. An oil crisis could reduce diesel and gasoline, making it difficult to transport food.
Food itself could be affected. It could be contaminated and unsafe to eat, or simply not in adequate supply.
The best way to protect ourselves against food shortages is to support local food networks. That can mean buying eggs from your local producer if you aren't able to raise your own. If you are able to keep your own chickens and ducks, keep enough to share or sell some of the eggs.
For fruits and vegetables, purchase those you can't grow yourself from local producers. Keeping them in business keeps the community food-secure.
Many people who attended the workshop were very enthusiastic about chickens. Several already had their own and others had ordered some. The comment I heqar most frequently at church is, "I can't have them where I live." So I contacted most of the local government entities and asked them abou regulations on chickens in their communities. They were all helpful and well informed, because they've been getting a lot of inquiries about chickens.
I wrote up a brief summary of local laws to hand out to people. The people who approached me at the workshop didn't much need it, as they were already on board. But I'm sure it will be useful in the future.

Friday, May 1, 2009

NAIS Listening Sessions

have been scheduled,
Locations and other details are being posted as they are finalized. Stakeholders may pre-register for a session here:

Thursday, May 14
Harrisburg, PA
Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center
2300 N Cameron Street
Harrisburg, PA 17110

Monday, May 18:Pasco, WA
Trac Center 6600 Burden Blvd.
Pasco, WA 99301

Wednesday, May 20
Austin, TX
Embassy Suites Hotel Austin Central
5901 N IH-35
Austin, TX 78723

Thursday, May 21
Birmingham, AL
Cahaba Grand Convention Center
3660 Grandview Parkway
Birmingham. AL 35243

Friday, May 22:
Louisville, KY
Crowne Plaza,
Louisville, Airport
830 Phillips Lane
Louisville, KY 40209

Wednesday, May 27
Storrs, CT
University of Connecticut Storrs Campus - Bishop Center
One Bishop Circle
Storrs, CT 06269

Monday, June 1
Loveland, CO - TBD

On-site registration will begin at 8 a.m. on the day of each meeting. All persons attending must register prior to the meetings. Although preregistration is not required, participants are asked to preregister by sending APHIS an e-mail at or calling 301-734-0799. In the subject line of the e-mail, indicate your name (or organization name) and the location of the meeting you plan to attend. If you wish to present public comments during one of the meetings, please include your name (or organization name) and address in the body of the message. Members of the public who are not able to attend may also submit and view comments via the Federal eRulemaking Portal at<>.

For further information contact: Dr. Adam Grow, Director, Surveillance and Identification Programs, National Center for Animal Health Programs, VS, APHIS, 4700 River Road Unit 200, Riverdale, MD 20737; 301-734-3752.

"APHIS seeks to gather not only producer comments and concerns, but also potential or feasible solutions to create a program producers can feel comfortable supporting. The listening sessions will include information about the current program, as well as an opportunity to give public testimony or ask program-related questions. Discussion sessions related to NAIS’ cost, impact on small farmers, privacy and confidentiality, liability premises registration, animal identification and animal tracing will allow producers to provide their input on ways to make the program into something they can support."

Both are important. This is an opportunity to influence policy. Secretary Vilsack has said that he favors mandatory NAIS, but the force and magnitude of the opposition have clearly influenced him to hold off on requiring all livestock owners to register their premises, tag each animal and report every animal movement.

He asks for suggestions to resolve the opposition. I'd advise simply making it voluntary. Those who wish to participate and see value in it for them, may do so. Those who don't will not be required to. That means not imposing other onerous requirements on those who choose not to participate.

I'm encouraged that this administration is at least willing to hold off on imposing mandatory NAIS. Previously, no consideration of choice was involved.