Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Turkey families

Christina Tyzzer of Indiana shared this story with me. She writes:

In order for you to fully understand, I have to share the story of Munchkin. Then I’ll give you a little explanation of the photos.

Turkey Girl finally was a Mom again on the second try of the season. Her first nest was destroyed by raccoons and the second almost destroyed, so we really didn’t expect a hatch at all…but Turkey Girl was determined. Out of a clutch of 20 eggs, the poult we named Munchkin successfully broke out of her egg to be an only child on May 31.

These two were quite a team, with lessons every single day on what to eat, how to fly, watch out for hawks, this dog is ok (Impulse, left) that dog is not (any other dog)! When Munchkin was only a few weeks old, I noticed that she was on her own one day, so I got to looking around and found Turkey Girl acting a bit strangely. I didn’t notice an injury, so just watched her closely….so closely in fact that I got to see her lay an egg! She was planning on enlarging her family! So, for the next two weeks she added an egg a day. When I watched Munchkin out playing by herself, I could always hear Turkey Girl’s call and Munchkin’s response, so each knew the other was okay at all times.

Turkeys lay an egg a day until they have enough for a clutch, which from my limited experience can be anywhere from one to 20 eggs. Turkey Girl decided that since this was her third try, 12 was enough and began incubating. This means the hen is on the nest full time. Some turkeys get up once a day to eat and "do their business," but Turkey Girl is very dedicated. I saw her away from her nest only four times in the 28 days it takes for turkeys to hatch. For the first week, Munchkin was always close by or at least in Turkey Call range.

It was about this time that I started letting my one-month-old Incubator Babies out to free-range for the first time. Munchkin was laying peacefully beside Turkey Girl when all of a sudden 32 kids her size come running over from nowhere. It was hysterical! She stood up quickly, her eyes got wide and she backed up…then she rushed forward and laid down for everyone to investigate her. Then she flew up into the tree as if to say "Can you do this?" Unfortunately, they could not…so Munchkin is now a mentor! From that day on she would join Turkey Girl in the nesting box in the evening but the rest of the day was spent playing and teaching her friends. If they weren’t out yet, she would pace in front of the gate until morning role call. It wasn’t long before Munchkin was flying and roosting in the coop with her buddies and only visiting Mom occasionally. You can see the extra set of feet under Munchkin's wing in the photo on the left. I began to feel a bit sorry for Turkey Girl, but she didn’t seem to mind. Occasionally, you could hear her calling to Munchkin and Munchkin always responded and sometimes did visit, but never for long.

Then last Friday night on making the rounds, we saw that Turkey Girl’s hatch had begun and by Sunday morning she had 10 more little ones. She now spends her days being the big Sis.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Pomeranian goslings

A woman on Long Island contacted me about three Pomeranian goslings she found abandoned. She is not in a position to keep them and would like to find them a good home. Please contact me if you are interested.

She found two adults abandoned in the park the week before. Pomeranian geese are distinctive because of their pink bills and feet. I found some in a park in San Diego county a few years back. They turn up every now and again and are definitely worth saving.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Chicken art in the New York Times

Today’s New York Times has a great article on a chicken artist:

HOME & GARDEN July 16, 2009
At Home With Hope Sandrow: Feathering Her Nest
The artist Hope Sandrow keeps a flock of chickens at her Long Island home, turning most of her day-to-day activities into an evolving fowl-focused art installation.

Hope’s Web site is She knows her first rooster as a Paduan, another name for Polish chickens, mentioned in several other posts on this blog in the past.

The site focused on Italian chicken breeds,, tells the story of the varying names this way:

"The first crested chickens seem to have been introduced in Italy around the end of the Fourteenth century. Marquis Giovanni Dondi dell'Orologio, struck by the rare beauty and elegance of these chickens “resembling flowers,” is said to have brought them from Poland, which would explain how come Paduans are also known under the name of Polish, a denomination used also by Mr. Darwin. The Dondi family received their title from John the Third, King of Poland. The old friendship with the Polish royal family was the reason why these large-crested chickens arrived to the city of Padua, where Marquis Dondi proudly kept them in his family estate. A famous medicine doctor and astronomer, Marquis Dondi cultivated the friendship of several celebrities abroad. Thus, in the Sixteenth century the so-called Paduan chickens reached Flanders and Brabant (Fracanzani C. L. ,1996; Périquet J. C., 1994, 1995)."

I have not been able to locate his references, but he is in Italy, a professor at University of Parma, so perhaps those references are European and not generally available in the U.S.

On November 26, 2008, I blogged about another Italian, Andrea Mangoni, who contacted me about his Polveraras, a related crested breed. Andrea is writing a book on the breed and has a web site,, and a blog,, devoted to them. It’s in Italian, but the pictures require no translation!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Blue and Steinbacher Geese

The Blue Goose is a striking light blue color, as these Lavender and Blue birds from Holderread Waterfowl Farm & Preservation Center in Corvallis, Oregon. Dave Holderread has kindly given me permission to use these copyright photos. It is similar to the Gray in size, type and pattern. This goose has never been common but there have been fixed strains. Blue individuals appear in flocks of Gray and Pomeranian geese occasionally. This is arguably the most attractive domestic goose. American Blues have appeared in both the Pomeranian and general Gray populations. This goose deserves to be preserved because of its beauty. American populations may be in part descended from the German Steinbacher, a small fighting goose (geese as well as chickens were once bred for sport) and the only established breed that is routinely this color. This Steinbacher goose sets protectively on her nest in Michigan. The Krebs family imported some from Germany and have successfully bred them here, making a few available to other breeders. Mrs. Krebs took these photos of her birds. Steinbachers have a long history but were not standardized until the early 20th century, after goose fighting was outlawed in Germany.

This goose made her nest from hay, straw and the down she plucked form her own breast. Geese and swans pluck a bare spot to incubate their eggs, other wise their feathers would effectively prevent enoguh warmth from getting to the eggs.

The Steinbacher’s fighting background may make keeping ganders in a flock with others a problem during the breeding season. With people, they are confident and affectionate birds that will defend themselves and their families if provoked.

This gander is very upset at Mrs. Krebs being near the nest.he is trying to attack and bite me "Let me tell you, if they get you, they are like little pitbulls, they bite hard and don't let go," she says. "Even through jeans they can give you a nice bruise and even sometimes break the skin. The goose is making a racket in the background. During laying and nesting time, it is best to leave them alone as much as possible. When you do enter the stall for feeding, don't make eye contact and proceed quickly. Don't turn your back to the gander."

This is not meant to frighten anyone about geese. It's desirable for them to protect their nests. Knowledge of good handling to accommodate their behavior is rewarded by the joy of having such beautiful and interesting birds live with us.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Embden Geese

Embden (or Emden) Geese are the commercial goose that makes its way to the supermarket. Embdens are big white geese, one of the three (the others are Toulouse and African) heavy goose breeds recognized by the APA. The white plumage eliminates the problem of dark pinfeathers in the skin. Occasional gray feathers on young geese usually grow out white as they mature. They have orange bills and deep orange legs and feet. Their eyes are bright blue. They grow rapidly to their full size, 16 to 20 pounds for a young goose. Old geese range from 20 pounds for a female to 26 pounds for ganders. This goose feeds a large family at holiday dinners.

They take their name from the Westphalian city of Embden and are an old breed. Pliny the Elder, the Roman writer of the first century AD, wrote about white German geese in his Natural History.

Harrison Weir, in Our Poultry (1912) describes Embdens and ‘very quiet.’ He cautions against crossing them with other geese, particularly Toulouse, to avoid, among other things, the development of the dewlap and lobe, “the large abdominal fat folds that now so often disfigure our Embdens of late years...” As shown in these drawings that illustrate the differences between Embden and Toulouse Geese, from Dr. J. Batty's Poultry Colour Guide, with paintings done by Charles Francis (second edition, 1979).

He documents their arrival in America to imports from Bremen to Boston in 1821. The two ganders and four geese were described as “being of the purest white – the bills, legs and feet, of a beautiful yellow.”

“I consider them the easiest sort of fowl to raise,” Weir writes.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Autosexing Geese

Autosexing Geese are breeds in which hens and ganders are easily distinguished because of sexual dimorphism in color. Ganders are white and hens are solid color or saddlebacked. This characteristic dates back 1,000 years or more in England and France, longer in Scandinavia. They probably originated in Scandinavia and can be found in areas where Vikings set their anchors.
Being able to tell the sexes apart is a significant advantage in raising geese. In most breeds, males and females are so similar that it's not unknown for a breeder to set up breeding pens that are all one sex. It's possible to examine geese physically to determine sex, but it's difficult and, unless done carefully, can permanently injure the gander. Ganders have a penis, but the genitals have to be inverted by applying pressure with the fingers. Definitely a technique that is best taught by an experienced goose handler.

Males tend to be larger than females, but there's a lot of variation. A small male could be mistaken for a female. Among geese with knobs, the Africans and Chinese, males generally develop larger knobs than females, again with the caveat that there is a lot of individual variation among birds.

Autosexing breeds include: The West of England and Choctaw, important regional types in American agriculture. West of England include gray blotched, saddlebacked or purely gray hens and white ganders. West of England geese may well have been the ones that arrived on the Mayflower. At one time, this goose was well established in New England. They are also known as Old English.

The Choctaw is also called Cotton Patch and Cottonfield Geese. They were originally common in cotton-producing areas from Mississippi to Oklahoma. They probably developed from the West of England and Normandy with some Gray goose infusion. They are very similar to the West of England.

Other autosexing breeds include the Pilgrims, right, a modern American breed that was developed in the 1930s by Oscar Grow, probably from mixed West of England and Gray stock. These birds are photographed at Metzer Farm, a duck and goose breeding farm here in California, The Pilgrim is a gray goose with the autosexing gene added. Compared to the historic autosexing breeds, the Pilgrims are relatively common.

Shetland hens are gray saddlebacks with wide pattern variations. Ganders are white. With yellow bills and pink legs like the Western Greylag, they are the smallest of the autosexing group. They may well be the original type of autosexing geese. They were first imported to the U.S. in 1997.