Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Chicken Whisperer Brahmas

I talked with Andy Schneider and Pat Foreman this morning on the Chicken Whisperer's radio program, http://www.blogtalkradio.com/backyardpoultry. All programs are archived there, so you can listen at your convenience.

As always, we got involved in an interesting discussion about chicken genetic mapping. I'm not aware of whether mapping of the various breeds is being done, but other resources are available. The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research http://www.cgiar.org/, has created a database of local African and some Asian breeds, http://dagris.ilri.cgiar.org/. They’ve got 124 kinds of chickens, http://dagris.ilri.cgiar.org/browse.asp?SC=4&BN=&dlPageSize=4, but the ducks, geese and turkeys are not posted yet. The Food and Agriculture Organization surveyed geese some years back, http://www.fao.org/docrep/v6200t/v6200T0n.htm.

I'm encouraged that the United Nations is taking an interest in supporting local traditional breeds, rather than imposing industrial birds that will surely fail in the developing world.
These are the illustrations I mentioned from the Reliable Poultry Journal, dated 1902. They are by Franklane Sewell,
distinguished poultry artist. He's the one Robert Frost mentioned in his poem, "A Blue Ribbon at Amesbury," about his favorite chicken: "In her we make ourselves acquainted/With one a Sewell might have painted."
The caption reads: "The above chart is prepared to assist in a correct understanding of the ideal shape and color of individual feathers in all sections of Dark Brahma males (females). It is, so far as it goes, an illustrated standard of these requirements; the outline, too is that of an ideal standard-bred well matured Brahma cockerel. By studying this chart section by section the breeder may become familiar with standard requirements to the extent that he can better select from his own flock the birds most desirasble for breeding and exhibition and so be aided in his efforts to produce the correct type in Dark Brahma males."
Check this blog's archives for a series on Asiatics, including Brahmas, in January 2009.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Annual Pullet Sale

Central Coast Feather Fanciers, the local poultry club, sells pullets every year for its annual fundraiser. A pullet is a young hen in her first year. This year’s chicks arrived on January 6 and they are doing well.

Club members raise the chicks until they are about four months old. They start to lay at around age five to six months. Buying the pullets allows new poultry owners to get started with birds that are grown and fully feathered. They don’t require special handling as chicks do.

The sale will be Saturday March 20, 8 am, at Templeton Feed Store in Templeton, California, but they are sometimes willing to sell to individuals before the sale.

They have Ameraucanas, like the hen at the top of the page with her attractive muffs, which lay green eggs. They also have Barred Rocks, such as the one at right, New Hampshires and Australorps all of which lay brown eggs. Price is $15 each.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Turkey history

Scientists have determined, through ancient DNA testing, that turkeys were domesticated at least twice, once in Mexico and separately in the American Southwest, both about 2,000 years ago, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/09/science/09obgobble.html?emc=eta1.

Turkeys were important to Central American native cultures. Sabine Eiche reports in her book Presenting the Turkey that Peter Martyr, an early 16th century Italian historian, recorded that thousands were raised and consumed by the court of Emperor Montezuma. Prescott's 1844 History of the Conquest of Mexico relies on Montezuma's written household accounts showing that 8,000 turkeys were eaten in one year. Hundreds were also fed to the carnivores and raptors in Montezuma's menagerie.
Wild turkeys have developed subspecies as they adapt to conditions across North America, http://www.nwtf.org/NAWTMP/about_wild_turkeys.html. All turkeys remain the same species, however, and interbreed freely. In the past, farmers welcomed wild turkey toms into their domestic flocks for a year or two, to invigorate the flock with different breeding.

They also get free and become feral. These turkeys showed up in Christina Tyzzer's yard in Indiana two years ago. She was so enchanted by them, she has gone into the turkey business!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


The USDA has announced that NAIS is being reborn as a new, flexible system, http://www.aphis.usda.gov/traceability/. That announcement has been greeted with enthusiasm, such as this article in the New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/05/business/05livestock.html.

However, the USDA may be changing NAIS in name only. Mary Zanoni, founder of Farm for Life, http://www.farmforlife.org/, and a tireless critic, examined the USDA Fact Sheet only to find that it indicates few changes.

"Premises ID will be mandatory in all disease programs," she reports. "For chickens, everybody who is in NPIP or who has to get testing to show chickens is in a 'disease program.'

"The Fact Sheet further explains USDA definitely insists on keeping the NAIS premises ID database it has gathered to date. They refuse to admit that most people have been hijacked into that database, instead characterizing participants as virtuous civic-minded types engaged in fighting disease," she writes.

This is disappointing, because the motivation for changing NAIS was the vocal resistance to it by small farmers. Wendell Berry vowed he would be willing to go to jail rather than participate. Instead of real change that supports small, sustainable agriculture, the USDA comes up with a cosmetic spin to befuddle the people who should be their constituents.

Sustainable agriculture is an idea whose time has come. Continuing to serve the interests of industrial agriculture rather than the agricultural change we need will only perpetuate the disastrous food and environmental situation in which we find ourselves.

And small farmers are willing to continue to resist, if USDA continues to pursue this policy.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


There aren’t many Kraienkoppes around, but they could suit some small flock owners. They are a good practical bird for the small homestead.
They lay plentiful medium to small, white or tinted, eggs. They are an exception to the rule that earlobe color reflects egg color, white earlobes indicating white eggs. Kraienkoppes should have red earlobes. The hens excel in broodiness. So production can be uneven.

Historically, Kraienkoeppe (German spelling) come from the German/Dutch border region, in the East Dutch province of Twente in Enschede, Ahaus, and county of Bentheim. That area remains the center for them. They were first shown in Holland in 1885. They were shown in Germany at the 1925 German Poultry Youth Show in Hannover. This illustration is from the Bilder Atlas des Geflugels, 1954, in the SPPA collection.

The Kraienkoppe was derived from the Pheasant Malay, an Oriental Game. The German Association of Breeders of Kraienkoeppe and Bantam Kraienkoeppe also credits Belgian Game, Dutch landraces, and Leghorns in their background.

The Kraienkoppe was recognizable as a breed in Europe in the early 1800s. Here in the USA the Kraienkoppe is not recognized by the APA. Kraienkoppes were recognized in the German Standard in 1926. That Standard specifies:

Breeding Goal: An early maturing laying hen with 180-200 eggs in the first year of lay, 150-160 in the second year; non-broody; very rich in tender white meat; minimum weight for hatching eggs is 58-60 grams; shell colour: white to tinted.
General Impression: A sleek, powerful type of country chicken, giving the impression of a game bird; especially in the head, and then carriage, and thighs; the tail that is set wide and carried ‘attached’; tight feathering, which gives them protection from moisture; feathers on both sides of the quill are narrow; a trusting but very lively temperament.

In the German Standard Roosters weigh about 5 ½ - 6 1/2 lbs., hens 4 ½ - 5 ½ lbs. American birds are much smaller, roosters 4 – 4 ½ lbs, hens 3 – 3 ½ lbs. Although the German standard specifies that Kraienkoppes are non-broody, all the American ones are broody and good mothers.

George McLaughlin in Oklahoma, who has lost his heart to his Kraienkoppes, is experimenting with a Buckeye cross to increase their size.

George observes: “They don’t feather pick at all. They are extremely vigilant regarding predators, especially from above. They are friendly, from arm’s length, yet scandalous and flighty. This is not a 'cuddly breed.' Kraienkoppes become alarmed when one so much as pauses to focus a camera on them.”

Additional attributes: “They handle high temperatures extremely well. They can and do fly. They have a high level of vitality and disease resistance. The roosters are not aggressive towards each other. Fertility and hatchability are excellent.”

They are excellent foragers, and eagerly consume all kinds of insects, but they disdain small animals that other breeds relish, such as mice and lizards.

Several breeders I talked to have given up their Kraienkoppes in the last year. Their independence proved troublesome to their breeders, who replaced them with more docile and friendly breeds. Since they are not recognized by the Standard, they are not a popular exhibition breed. They exert a strong hold on those whose hearts, like George’s, they capture. They need attention and would be an unusual breeding project. If that’s your goal, Kraienkoppes could be your next flock.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Avian Ambassador

Sirocco, New Zealand's celebrity kakapo parrot, is the Spokesbird for the United Nations International Year of Biodiversity, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUmfdrMwiHE. What a great choice! He's clearly a bird of great charisma.

Sirocco caught the public eye in 2009, when he was featured in a BBC documentary, Last Chance to See, and tried to mate with the presenter. That appearance, posted to YouTube, got half a million hits and turned him into a celebrity, http://tinyurl.com/ye4qfhs.
I admit I'm unfamiliar with his species, the kakapo. Sirocco is one of only 124 kakapos left, but even that is considered a success because the population is increasing.
The International Year of Biodiversity is shining attention on the importance of biodiversity, http://www.cbd.int/2010/welcome/. Genetic diversity is important in domestic livestock as well as in wildlife. Support conservation of traditional poultry by starting a flock in your yard.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

SPPA Breeders Directory

The Society for Preservation of Poultry Antiquities is preparing the next edition of its Breeders Directory. The Breeders Directory is the most significant document SPPA publishes. It list all members, what they are raising, and how to get in touch with them.

Because rare breed flock owners are as rare as the breeds themselves, it’s invaluable for finding people who know the historic breeds and have stock for others to add to their flocks. If you are raising traditional breed chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys or guineafowl, you should be listed in the Directory.

Breeds are the repository of genetic diversity in domestic animals such as poultry. Breeds breed true. A breed has a unique appearance, productivity and behavior.

Breeds are a package deal, not a collection of individual traits such as comb type and body conformation. We cannot know all the traits that comprise a breed. To lose one is to lose the entire genetic package. All chickens are the same species and share some genes, but others are unique to the breed. Ducks, geese, turkeys and guineas similarly share traits within their species but carry others that make them quite different, both from other domestic breeds and from breeds that remain wild.

Breed health depends on maintaining a viable population size in geographically separate flocks. Birds raised in different environments, under the supervision of breeders pursuing different breeding strategies, will insure a healthy, strong breed.

The information form for SPPA members will be included in the April issue of the SPPA Bulletin, the quarterly publication. SPPA vice president Mary Ann Hanley will compile the information from all the forms submitted. Forms need to be in her hands by June. The new directory will be available in September.

If you aren’t a member yet, join now, through http://poultrybookstore.com/ or by sending a check for $15 to Dr. Charles Everett, 1057 Nick Watts Rd., Lugoff, SC 29078.