Sunday, August 30, 2009

What's the Standard?

The Standard of Perfection is the American Poultry Association's official guide to the poultry breeds it recognizes: Chickens, both Large Fowl and Bantams; Waterfowl, Ducks and Geese; and Turkeys. The American Bantam Association has its own Bantam Standard,, including both chickens and ducks. The two organizations collaborate but there are some differences. They define exactly what each breed and variety should be. At exhibitions, judges compare each bird to the definition in the Standard in making their determinations.

The question came up from a breeder who is raising a flock of Delawares, his pullets shown here. He wasn't sure exactly what characteristics he should be selecting in culling his flock and keeping breeding birds. You do not have to join the APA to purchase a copy of its Standard, Both black & white and color editions are available.

Some prefer the black & white illustrations, created over 1914-1952 by artists such as Arthur O. Schlling, Franklane L. Sewell, Louis Paul Graham and I.W. Burgess. Color paintings were first included in 1983, most of them done by Diane Jacky. The Bantam Standard includes some black & white line drawings and devotes an entire page to each breed illustrated. Not all breeds and varieties are shown.

Delawares are a modern composite breed developed from the cross between Barred Rocks and New Hampshire hens in the Delmarva Peninsula in the 1940s. They are a dual purpose breed growing into a large table bird, roosters reaching 8.5 lbs. and hens 6.5 lbs., and good layers. Their beautiful Columbian color pattern is so eye-catching that the breed was accepted for APA recognition in 1952. Crossing the hens with a Rhode Island Red or New Hampshire rooster results in sex-linked chicks that are easily separated into Columbian-pattern males and solid red females

A copy of the Standard is necessary to breed any birds successfully. Selection is partly art, and your eye will develop over time. Seek guidance from experienced breeders, who can advise you on the nuances of individual breeds.

As the custodian of these standards, the APA carefully protects its copyright. Use descriptions and illustrations only with permission.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Poultry art

Carolyn Guske is painting farm animals, She has beautiful portraits of American Buff Geese, shown here. She also has portraits of cattle and pigs. The portraits are available as Giclee prints, a process of reproducing art on watercolor paper that creates prints virtually indistinguishable from original watercolors. She also reproduces them on notecards. Perfect for me -- I like to delight the people I write to with beautiful cards.

Carolyn has spent the past 30 years as an artist, applying her skills and talent to film animation, excellent training for painting animal portraits. Her native California is the best possible location for that. She's worked on film animation projects ranging from Sponge Bob to Roger Rabbit and The Little Mermaid, as well as one of my favorites, Spirit, the Stallion of Cimarron. In television animation, she's worked on Bambi 2, Woody Woodpecker and Jungle Book 2.
Carolyn brought all that art experience to the farm during a break between projects and began painting the animals she saw there. "I received such personal satisfaction from rediscovering watercolor after a 20 year hiatus that my focus turned," she says. "I intend to paint every rare breed farm animal. Having a subject you are passionate about is paramount."
Her hope is to communicate her impression of the beauty and personality of each animal, such as this Midget White Turkey. By bringing attention to these rare breeds, she hopes to increase appreciation for our agricultural heritage.
She is looking for beautiful animals to paint. She prefers to travel to the farm and take her own photographs, from which she paints the portraits. Contact her at
Some amazing artists have applied their talents to domestic animals over the years. Robert Frost, in his poem about hsi favorite chicken, describes her as "one a Sewell might have painted," referring to Franklane L. Sewell, some of whose paintings are still used by the American Poultry Association to illustrate its Standard of Perfection. The current issue of the Standard is dedicated as a tribute to the artists of black and white portraits, with Arthur O. Schilling leading the list.
Welcome, Carolyn, to the distinguished ranks of poultry artists. I look forward to seeing more of your work and sharing it with friends.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mad City Chickens in Santa Barbara

What a delight to be greeted by over 200 enthusiastic chicken lovers! They came to view Mad City Chickens,, and then talk about chickens. Katherine Anderson, local farmer who raises chickens and turkeys, and Loren Luyendyk,, a carpenter who builds chicken coops, also answered questions.

The Santa Barbara Library’s Faulkner Gallery is a beautiful room. People squeezed in, some sitting on the floor. They were all good humored and eager to get help with their chicken questions and willing to help others.

Bob Banner of Hope Dance is planning another Mad City Chickens showing in San Luis Obispo for September 10. I’ll post it here as soon as it is confirmed.

I’ve seen the movie several times now. It’s a Feel Good movie as well as documenting the backyard chicken situation and the legal particulars of Madison, Wisconsin. Watching it with an appreciative audience makes it all the more enjoyable.
People often ask what the legal requirements are in their communities. I’ve put together summaries for San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties, which I’m happy to share. Many communities post their ordinances online, so you may be able to locate the relevant ordinance yourself. If not, contact the planning and zoning department of the governing body that has jurisdiction over your property. My experience talking with the people who are there to answer questions is that they are helpful and knowledgeable. They are getting a lot of questions about chickens, so they are current about the situation in your community.

Mad City Chickens in Santa Barbara

What a delight to be greeted by over 200 enthusiastic chicken lovers! They came to view Mad City Chickens,, and then talk about chickens. Katherine Anderson, local farmer who raises chickens and turkeys, and Loren Luyendyk,, a carpenter who builds chicken coops, also answered questions.

The Santa Barbara Library’s Faulkner Gallery is a beautiful room. People squeezed in, some sitting on the floor. They were all good humored and eager to get help with their chicken questions and willing to help others.

Bob Banner of Hope Dance is planning another Mad City Chickens showing in San Luis Obispo for September 10. I’ll post it here as soon as it is confirmed.

I’ve seen the movie several times now. It’s a Feel Good movie as well as documenting the backyard chicken situation and the legal particulars of Madison, Wisconsin. Watching it with an appreciative audience makes it all the more enjoyable.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Comparing Cornish Rock crosses with Turkens

Eatwell Farm, a certified organic farm near Dixon, California, south of Sacramento, will compare customers' reactions to Cornish Rock crosses and Turkens when they process flocks of each in September. The farm purchased 450 Cornish Rock chicks this past week. They will be ready for slaughter at the end of September, the same time as the Turkens the farm started in July,

Turkens are also known as Naked Necks, the name under which they are recognized by the American Poultry Association. Their history is undocumented, with most tracing them to Transylvania in Eastern Europe, but Harrison Weir in Our Poultry (1912) records that they are from Japan. It's not impossible that separate strains with fewer feathers were independently developed. Although they have been around for a long time -- Weir quotes an 1810 source and Lewis Wright mentions them in his 1890 Illustrated Book of Poultry -- they were only added to the Standard in 1965. Four color varieties were recognized at that time: Red, White, Buff and Black.

The Turken name is derived from Turkey Necks, and perhaps the fanciful idea that they are somehow the result of crossing chickens and turkeys. This cross has never occurred. Other names by which they are known are Gillikins and Nudes. This photo by Corallina Breuer shows a Light Brahma rooster and a Red Naked Neck rooster.

The advantage of the naked neck gene is that the birds have half the feathers of other breeds, making them easier to pluck. Nevertheless, they are hardy fowl, withstanding even cold conditions well. They are good layers and dress out as good meat birds, cocks weighing around eight and a half pounds and hens six and a half pounds.

Check my blog entry for February 19, 2008 for a report about a cooking event organized by Frank Reese in Kansas to compare several traditional breeds.

I look forward to following Eatwell Farm's experience and reporting it here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Restaurant chickens

Pizzaiolo, an Oakland restaurant,, has installed its own chickens. When these six pullets start laying, their eggs will be part of the restasurant's fare. They include Buff Laced Polish and Exchequer Leghorns. The LA Times carried an article on the front page on August 18,,0,1964942.story.

Owner Charlie Hallowell concedes that his small flock won't ever lay enough eggs to serve the 250 customers who come to the restaurant, even on a slow night. But I applaud his ingenuity and in this case, it's the thought that counts. He's making a point about knowing where our food comes from, eating local and treating livestock humanely. Those chickens will do a lot to educate his customers, who are welcome to visit the coop.

Local food advocates are sometimes accused of being elitist, promoting food that is too expensive for an average budget. Hallowell is a graduate of Alice Waters' Chez Panisse, but he's located his business in Oakland and serves $10 pizza. Topped with an egg, $1 extra. He lives, with his wife and two children, in the apartment above the store.

Here in Cambria, south of Oakland, Fog's End Bed and Breakfast keeps four hens to provide fresh eggs to the guests, I met the proprietors through chickens. They had recently acquired chicks and we connected when they had questions about getting started. The girls have done well and enjoy their life among the backyard grape vines.

These businesses are responding to their customer's wishes. We are all heading in a good direction.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Helping Animals One Search at a Time

You may not have heard of the Society for Preservation of Poultry Antiquities. It’s been around since 1967 and has had 501c(3) nonprofit status since 2002. Its mission is to protect and preserve, for historical, educational and recreational purposes and in the public interest, standard-bred domesticated poultry, waterfowl, turkeys and guineas. The Helping Animals One Search at a Time Contest,, can raise awareness of the organization and its cause.

SPPA’s mission covers a lot of birds, and the breeders who dedicate their lives to them are nearly as rare as the breeds themselves. SPPA needs more members, whether they are able to breed historic birds or not, to keep these breeds going.

Although chicken and eggs are enormously popular foods, the breeds raised by the industry have been designed to meet very narrow needs: high egg production and rapid conversion of feed to meat. They are genetically very limited, lacking the variety of color, size, behavior and many other traits that have made poultry such a welcome companion to human life through the ages.

Historic breeds continue to delight the eye with their colors, from the glossy greenish black plumage of Sumatras to delicately edged feathers of Golden Laced Wyandottes. Their combs range from the crown of the Buttercup to the jaunty tailed rose comb sported by many breeds, including the tiny bantam that bears its name, shown here in a painting done by poultry artist A. O. Schilling.

Crested breeds such as the Polish, like this Golden Laced bird belonging to Fred Anderson, are often pictured as Bad Hair Day chickens, but crests trace a long history back hundreds of years for their usefulness.

Some, like the Brahma, have feathered legs, such as these from Tom's Chicken Farm. This photo also illustrates the size differences between large fowl and bantam birds, only one quarter to one third the size. Others such as the Dorking have clean legs. Many breeds retain broodiness, the instinct to set on eggs for three weeks or longer to hatch their own chicks and then tenderly raise them. Their example is so touching that we call a doting mother a Mother Hen.

Those bright characteristics please the eye and warm the heart, but the value of their genes may impress the more practically minded. If a foundation breed such as the Dorking disappears, its genes are gone forever. Losing those genes may also take with it resistance to disease and ability to overcome other challenges, yet unimagined but perhaps vital in the future. The narrow genetics of modern poultry production is inherently precarious. A whiff of even a low pathogenic form of Avian Influenza can wipe out an overcrowded poultry shed of 40,000 birds. Without the historic breeds, there would be no way to retain those valuable strengths. As yet, viable poultry eggs and sperm cannot be frozen and regenerated.

Poultry are accessible livestock, requiring simple care that puts them within the abilities of children and people with disabilities. More communities are welcoming chickens in backyards, peacefully clucking and producing delicious eggs. Many whose lives have left them battered have found healing in caring for chickens. Women often wistfully remark, “I’ve always wanted to have chickens.”

SPPA supports poultry advocates everywhere. It has organized an initiative to encourage the First Family to add chickens to the White House Organic Garden, posted on this blog March 27. The members provide advice to those who are working to change local laws to allow chickens in their communities. They help novices get started and experienced breeders who are looking for answers. We’re not only saving poultry. We’re saving the world. Join us through

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Mad City Chickens

We had a great time last night at the showing of Mad City Chickens arranged by Bob Banner of Edible SLO and Hope Dance, I appear in the film, so Bob invited me to speak to the assembled group and answer questions.
They were a terrific audience, enthusiastic and involved. Not all have chickens yet, but those who don't are thinking more seriously about getting some after seeing the film. Those who already have chickens were helpful in volunteering their experiences. I especially appreciated the woman who told about her grandmother's recipe for chicken pie, that begins "Take a two-year-old chicken..." Chickens today are considered too old and tough to eat if they get any older than six or seven weeks, the age at which Cornish-Rock crosses, the industrial meat breed, are sent to slaughter.
That's unrealistic for any traditional breed, which grow much more slowly. They also develop flavor as they grow. Chickens used to be taken from the flock for the table at a variety of ages: young ones were the friend chicken of summer, older ones the roast chicken of fall. Older birds were cooked longer in moist heat for chicken pies, fricassees, soups and other delicious meals.
Roosters were often caponized, neutered much as steers are, to grow larger as roasters for large families and celebrations. Capons are still available, but many cooks are no longer familiar with them. I'm exploring the possibilities of having cooking classes and writing about cooking less familiar poultry, from capons to duck and goose.
Mad City Chickens will be shown again in Santa Barbara Tuesday, August 25, 7pm at the Santa Barbara Public Library / Faulkner Gallery on Anapamu Street in Santa Barbara. I'll attend that showing, too. If you are in the area, join us.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tillie Lays an Egg

Terry Golson, who wrote Tillie Lays an Egg, invited me to join her on two book events in Los Angeles last week. On Thursday, Terry read Tillie to children at the Palms-Rancho Park branch of the LA City Library. On Sunday, Chevalier's Bookstore on North Larchmont held a HenCam Party.
Erik Knutzen and Lora Hall, neighbors from Echo Park, brought Peckerella, one of Lora's chickens, a Barred Rock hen, to be the honored guest. Erik and his wife, Kelly Coyne, wrote The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-sufficient Living in the Heart of the City, published by Process Self-reliance Series. Their site is

Children get such a thrill from seeing a live chicken! It reminds me that most are not fortunate enough to have their own. But once they and their parents meet one, it becomes more possible.
Terry's husband Steve decorated the coop back at Terry's Massachusetts home for the occasion. The coop was displayed on the live feed via Terry's Hencam, and linked from my site,
We all had so much fun. Chickens bring out the best in people. Peckerella even laid an egg during the party!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

African and China Geese

Knobbed geese include both African, one of the three heavy goose varieties, and China or Chinese geese, a light variety. The size difference is significant, Africans weighing 18 lbs. for the goose and 22 lbs. or more for the gander, and China 10 and 12 lbs. equivalents. Really, as Samuel Cushman says in the article included in the 1912 edition of Harrison Weir’s The Poultry Book’s chapter on The Domestic Goose, the Chinese are “more on the bantam order.” Both have a more upright stance than other geese, and long, swan-like necks. Writers newly acquainted with them in the 19th century occasionally classified them as swans, as seen in these White and Brown varieties of China Geese from Metzer Farms,

Both were separately recognized in the first Standard of Excellence in 1874, but with different weights, separated by only four pounds between African and China geese, according to The Poultry Book, p 1103, which gives weights of 20 lbs for the African gander and 18 lbs. for the goose.

Other names applied to both include Guinea (dating back to the Willoughby, 1635-1672, a time when ‘Guinea’ was used to describe anything foreign), Indian (which took on a similar role in the 19th century), Hong Kong, Spanish, Swan, Polish, Muscovy, Siberian, Russian. The first description of African geese in America is attributed to Caleb Bement’s 1845 American Poulterer’s Companion. I have not located a copy of the 1845 version to check, but the 1856 version, a copy of which is housed at Harvard’s Graduate School of Business Baker Library, is posted at Google Books.

The band of white now favored by such authorities as Dave Holderread of Holderread’s Waterfowl Farm and Preservation Center in Corvallis, Oregon to separate the satin-black bill and brown knob of mature Africans is disdained by Theodore F. Jager of Connecticut, who edited The Poultry Book’s chapter on The Domestic Goose. He states that the Standard requires an all-gray head, and he ascribes any white to “impurity of breeding.” Samuel Cushman is quoted from his article in Reliable Poultry Journal in the section admiring it: “A line of white feathers clean cut and distinct, close to the base of the bill, is considered a desirable feature in show birds.”

They were known as prolific egg producers, as many as 60 or more annually. William Rankin, noted goose breeder of the early 20th century, claims one of his laid 68 eggs in one year. He also claimed he knew a goose who lived to be 101 years old and died as a result of being kicked by a horse. She had left the nest of 15 eggs she had laid to defend it against the horse, grabbed his tail and sustained her fatal injury.

Tracking such changes over time is challenging. Today, African and China Geese have that recognizable knob on their heads, between their eyes. The knob develops to its full size over several years. Although generally males are larger and have larger knobs than females, this is not a reliable way to sex African or China Geese. Both sexes vary too much in size. African Geese also have a dewlap, a bag of skin hanging down under the chin. Neither should have a lobe, although the large Africans may get a bit of a paunch.

Both make excellent meat birds as well as egg layers. China Geese are the most prolific layers of all geese today. Both also are good setters, with good fertility and hatchability, and good parents. They reliably raise their own goslings.

African Geese such as these belonging to Harvey Ussery in Virginia,, are recognized in the Brown color pattern and in solid White. The Brown have black knobs and the Whites have orange knobs. The Brown are abundant, but the White variety is rare. A Buff variety is also raised. China Geese are recognized in Brown and White varieties.

They thrive even in cold climates, although the knobs of the Brown variety may show temporary orange patches that gradually disappear if they get frostbitten.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Learning about poultry

The increased interest in keeping chickens in the backyard has generated demand for information about how to keep birds. My books are a partial answer to that, and they certainly help, but there's nothing like a class to help you get started.

There's one coming up this weekend, August 8 in Denver. Kenzie Davison offers a two-hour class at the Denver Urban Homesteading: Local Market and Reskilling Center, 10 am. Register at

In Raleigh, North Carolina, Bob Davis' Chicken Keeping 101 classes will be repeated by popular demand October 31 and November 1, Meet at Room 159, Kilgore Hall, NC State University. Pre-registration not required.

In Madison, Wisconsin, Pam Karstens has been spreading the word in her City Chickens 101 classes for years. Her last class was in May and others will be scheduled in the future. If you are in the area, connect with the Mad City Chicken Coop Tour August 15, noon to 4 pm,, on the Calendar of Events.

Seattle, Washington's Tilth City Chickens 101 will be offered September 19 in the YOungstown Cultural Arts Center, They are very active and if you live there, check out the list of classes they offer.

In Warwick, New York, Mark and Barbara Laino give classes at their Midsummer Farm. Classes run six or seven times a year, and the Lainos coordinate the spring classes with the arrival of chicks, which they will also sell to eager prospective chicken raisers. $36 fee. They also offer a variety of other classes.

Where ever you live, there's probably someone offering a class to help you get started or improve your flock. Contact me for help if you have trouble finding a place. You can be the change you are seeking.