Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Salmonella egg recall

Retired microbiologist and backyard chicken fancier John Ingraham explains that three proteins in the albumen of healthy chickens help eggs resist contamination naturally, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129472951#commentBlock. The NPR Morning Edition story is illustrated with this picture of a nice Silver Laced Wyandotte.

I wasn't aware of these biochemical facts, which hep explain why, although it's possible for any chicken egg to be infected with Salmonella, I've never heard of anyone being sickened by an egg from a backyard flock.

The FDA released its report on the filthy conditions at the farms that are the source of the recent Salmonella outbreak, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129545903. Four to eight feet of manure piled up and spilling out the doors, and the report avoids mentioning the living conditions of the chickens. A poultry veterinarian from the University of Minnesota comments on how he doesn’t see anything to be alarmed about.

This is the industry mentality that makes these deplorable conditions possible, even defensible. As Temple Grandin said in her book, Animals Make Us Human, “Chicken welfare is so poor that I can’t talk only about the core emotions in this chapter. I have to talk about chickens’ physical welfare as well.”

Monday, August 30, 2010

Chicken workshop

Cynda Williams held a Backyard Chickens Workshop at the NOFA/Mass Summer Conference, August 13.

"Raising backyard poultry has been gaining in popularity in Massachusetts," reads a press release from NOFA/Mass. "Chicken supply stores all across the state report a major spike in business. Joleen Jurczyk who works at the Greenfield Farmer’s Cooperative Exchange compared the first of three orders for baby chicks between 2009 and 2010: 'Last year there were around 800 chicks in one order and this year there were 1,800 chicks in that same order. It’s been an extraordinary increase.'

“ 'Whenever there’s a lot of new people coming into a new hobby like this all at once, there can be a bit of a learning curve to climb,' said Ben Grosscup, Extension Events Coordinator for NOFA/Mass."

Cynda recommended my book, How to Raise Chickens, to her eager students. Thanks, Cynda. I hope they find it as useful as you have.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Egg recall

As the Salmonella contamination egg recall continues to unfold, consumers are getting a better picture of how eggs get to their tables. Democracy Today’s Amy Goodman, http://www.democracynow.org/2010/8/24/largest_egg_recall_in_us_history, interviewed Food & Water Watch’s Patty Lovera, assistant director of the food safety group and David Kirby, journalist and author of the book Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy and Poultry Farms on Humans and the Environment. Website: “AnimalFactory.com” http://animalfactorybook.com/.

These massive recalls of contaminated food illustrate the vulnerability of allowing our food system to become dominated by a small group of corporations and individuals. John Sheffius of Boulder Daily Camera captures the political relationship in today's cartoon, http://www.cagle.com/politicalcartoons/PCcartoons/sherffius.asp.

Protect yourself from eating contaminated eggs by washing your hands, countertops and utensils after handling raw eggs. That will avoid transferring any Salmonella that may be on the shell to other foods.

Cook eggs thoroughly. Temperatures of 155 degrees will kill Salmonella. That means firm yolks with no liquid.

Keep eggs refrigerated. Cool temperatures retard bacteria growth, reducing the amount of bacteria.

Eggs can be washed in cool water with a splash of bleach. Warm water will open the pores in the egg shell and can force bacteria inside the egg.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I'll be talking with Andy Schneider, the Chicken Whisperer, today about Junglefowl, http://www.blogtalkradio.com/backyardpoultry. Special guest is Tom Condon, now a graduate student in biology at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia. He's studying behavior in game birds, which fits into his work with wild Junglefowl. He visited India two years ago to see the birds in their natural habitat. Here he is riding an elephant into Rajaji National Park.

He found that wild birds at the edges of the park are freely interbreeding with domestic birds. Since the wild birds' characteristics are usually dominant, the domestic qualities aren't noticed, but dilute the natural genetic purity.

Junglefowl are recognized by the American Bantam Association for exhibition. Prescribed weights are 26 ounces for cocks and 22 ounces for hens. In captive flocks, Junglefowl tend to grow larger naturally. Selecting for small size is important in captive breeding for exhibition.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Egg recall

After identifying Wright County Egg in Galt County, Iowa and Hillandale Farms, also in Iowa, as the sources of Salmonella contamination, the companies have recalled half a billion eggs, http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm223248.htm. Wright County Egg first recalled 380 million. Hillandale Farms has now recalled 107.4 million. Generally, USDA is responsible for egg safety at what are called breaker plants or egg products processing facilities. In these facilities eggs are broken and pasteurized. The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for shell egg safety and egg products once they leave the breaking facility.

On the Internet, information about these companies is sketchy. A press release from the Humane Society of the United States, http://www.humanesociety.org/news/press_releases/2010/08/egg_recall_081810.html. says that Wright County Egg confines over 7.5 million hens. Hens are confined their whole lives in cages so small each hen has the amount of space equivalent to a piece of 8 ½ x 11 letter-size paper. This is defended as humane and reasonable, what it takes to produce cheap eggs.

This contamination event, which is blamed for sickening 1,200 people thus far, may help educate the public about how their eggs get from the chicken to the table. The companies date them using the Julian calendar, otherwise used for astronomical events. It’s obscure – I can’t figure out how to tell when these eggs were laid. The recall covers eggs shipped since May 16.

The lack of transparency in the industry helps hide their shameful practices. Keeping consumers ignorant of how food is produced allows them to squeeze more profit out of production, regardless of how inhumane or filthy the conditions.

Mother Earth News documented better nutrition in eggs laid by chickens who range free,
http://www.motherearthnews.com/Real-Food/2007-10-01/Tests-Reveal-Healthier-Eggs.aspx. Protect yourself and support better lives for chickens by raising your own hens or buying eggs from a local small flock producer.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

List your birds in the SPPA Breeders Directory!

The Society for Preservation for Poultry Antiquities is compiling the 2011 edition of its acclaimed Breeders Directory. Join now and list your birds.

You do not need to be actively breeding birds or selling them. The Breeders Directory documents rare and historic breeds, regardless of size of flock.

“It’s important to know what breeds are being kept and how many there are,” said SPPA second vice president Mary Ann Harley, who is managing the project. “We use this opportunity to compile a census of the breeds as well.”

For those who are raising birds for sale, the SPPA Breeders Directory is an invaluable and unique resource. It provides contact information for the breeders who are maintaining breeds that would otherwise remain undocumented. Since there is no breed registry for poultry, SPPA provides the service of keeping track of the various breeds.

All breeds and varieties are included in the Breeders Directory, whether recognized by the APA-ABA or not. An oversight suggested that only recognized breeds would be included. That is not correct.

“SPPA welcomes all poultry breeds, varieties and their breeders,” said SPPA first vice president Monte Bowen, who is also the Bulletin editor.

Forms for listing are included in the SPPA Bulletin, sent to all members. Send a check or money order to Dr. Charles Everett, 1057 Nick Watts Rd., Lugoff, SC 29078 or go to http://poultrybookstore.com/ to join and receive a form.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Cooking Heritage Poultry

Backyard Poultry magazine has my article about Cooking Seasonal Chickens in the current August September issue, http://www.backyardpoultrymag.com/issues/5/5-4/seasonal_chickens.html. Both Joseph Marquette of Yellow House Farm in New Hampshire and Steve Pope, who is working with Frank Reese's Good Shepherd Ranch in Kansas, were kind enough to talk with me about what they have learned from cooking breeds such as Buckeyes, New Hampshires, Dorkings, Barred Rocks and Sussex.

This Baked Chicken A la Tucson by Ann Knowles was the grand prize winner at Good Shepherd Ranch's heritage chicken recipe contest, http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2010-07-28/features/ct-food-0728-choice-chickens-add-20100728_1_heritage-turkeys-chicken-recipe-contest-heritage-foods.
Here she poses with her winning dish, and later with Chef Pope.
Her dish uses an orange juice, chili and tequila rub that also acts as a basting liquid for a bird that braises in a covered pan. Slow moist heat is crucial for success with cooking heritage birds raised on free range. The birds developp stronger muscles with more taste, but they are tough when cooked like supermarket chicken.
Thanks, Joseph and Steve, for helping the public learn how to appreciate heritage chickens.