Saturday, December 31, 2011

Purely Poultry giving away Marans chicks!

Tyler Danke of Purely Poultry writes:

We didn't send a newsletter last month because we were busy putting together the 2012 catalog. We happy to tell you it is nearly finished - we expect it to be in the mail or
check out our our web site. Many birds are available for order now!

Like most businesses, the sales volume at Purely Poultry goes through cycles. We are gearing up for our busiest time of year, and looking for one or two more people to work part-time, from home as independent contractors serving as customer service representatives to help our customers by phone and email. Read our job posting, and if you feel you would be a great fit, send your resume to, and also comment about your poultry experience on BYC.

To celebrate the fact our customers were wonderful throughout 2011, and that we now have birds available for ordering, we have decided to give away 11 Black Copper Maran chicks. To enter, simply send an email to with FREE CHICKS CONTEST in the subject line. The 11th entry we receive will be the winner.

We hope that you are as excited about the upcoming year as we are!

Friday, December 30, 2011

ALBC looking for a new Executive Director

ALBC is circulating this notice. Know anyone who fits the description?

The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy
has partnered with Alford Group Executive Search to find its next Executive Director. Based on our knowledge about your role in the not-for-profit sector, we wanted to make you aware of this exciting opportunity and ask that you help us identify candidates that would be energized by leading this organization.

The Executive Director, while retaining internal management and oversight responsibilities, is expected to serve as the primary external face of the organization to its various constituencies. The Board desires a candidate who will lead the organization from its current position, bring strong financial expertise, and build on further organizational growth as defined by the current vision and a collaboratively developed strategic plan.

The Executive Director role at ALBC will provide an experienced and successful leader with the opportunity to oversee a well-regarded and unique conservation organization that is making a substantial societal impact as part of the larger movement toward local, sustainable agriculture in the United States that promotes genetic diversity. Reporting to and working closely with a highly-engaged Board of Directors, the Executive Director will oversee all aspects of the organization, including vision-setting and strategic planning, fund development, staff management, finances, programs and membership. The selection process will focus on past leadership success in similar organizations and a demonstrated passion for, and full commitment to advocating the mission of The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. Please click on the Opportunity Guide for more information.

Founded in 1977, The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy is the only not-for-profit membership organization in the U.S. working to conserve rare breeds and genetic diversity in livestock. These breeds are threatened because agriculture has changed. Industrial food production now favors the use of a few highly specialized breeds selected for maximum output in a controlled environment. Many traditional livestock breeds have lost popularity and are threatened by extinction. These traditional breeds are an essential part of the American agricultural inheritance, and the loss of these breeds would impoverish agriculture. Thus, ALBC is working to conserve them through programs which include research on breed population size, distribution and genetic health; research on breed characteristics; gene banks to preserve genetic material from endangered breeds; rescues of threatened populations; education about genetic diversity and the role of livestock in sustainable agriculture; and technical support to a network of breeders, breed associations, and farmers.

All qualified individuals are encouraged to apply online with their cover letter and resume at Inquiries will be held in strict confidence. Questions regarding the position may be addressed via email only to Kathryn Sime at

Thank you for your time and consideration!


Heather Eddy, CFRE
President and COO


From Nettie Metcalf, who developed the Buckeye at the turn of the 20th century: her account of what she did is now posted on Google Books. Original sources are the best way to determine what was done, and I'm grateful to her for writing it, to Pacific Fancier of April 1909 for publishing it and to the Internet for making this resource available.

No chicken breed is perfect, but many Buckeye breeders figure they have come close enough in their breed. They extol the virtues of vigor, resilience and disease resistance in a bird that grows to a solid size and lays plenty of eggs. Their buckeye-color feathers and friendly, easy-going disposition win the eye and the heart. They have played an interesting role in poultry history, giving their breeders the honor of carrying the torch into the future. This lovely pullet belongs to Chris McCary of Alabama.

That’s a lot for one breed to live up to, but Buckeyes are equal to the task. W.H. Card, identified as a judge and breeder in the article he wrote about Buckeyes in the March 1913 issue of American Poultry Advocate, describes them with affection: “Their flesh-carrying ability being as natural as their vigorous, active disposition, there is never any loss of weight by persistent and constant foraging when on free range. In confinement they show no phlegmatic tendencies, being always busy and on the move without nervousness or seeming discontent, therefore keeping in the best of flesh and fettle at any season of the year.”

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Laying resumes!

I got up this morning thinking that I'd have to have a serious discussion with my White Dorking. She hasn't laid an egg for a couple of months. She went through her first molt in November. She took it rather hard, even lost her dominant place in the pecking order.

Chickens are said to require 14-16 hours of daylight in order to lay eggs, but my observation is that lengthening days, even if shorter than that, brings on laying.

Sure enough, just as I was losing patience with her, she laid a beautiful large tinted egg!

Her Buttercup companion hasn't laid for a while, either. She molted a couple weeks later than the Dorking, also taking it hard. The two brown egg layers, a Partridge Rock and a Speckled Sussex, have laid through the declining days thus far. The Buff Orpington, new to the flock a couple of weeks ago, lays regularly, three or four eggs a week. I expect that will pick up as the days get longer, but I'm impressed that she's hanging in there.

Thanks, girls!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

African and China Geese

Vest Pocket Farmer inquired about information for a neighbor who has acquired some African geese. There's isn't much available. Dave Holderread is the reigning expert but there are other knowledgeable people out there. Time for a new book on the subject! Here's some historical background on 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, in the 2010 Standard. 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. These African geese happily range on Harvey Ussery's farm in Virginia.

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 Willis Grant Johnson’s 1912 edition of The Poultry Book, p. 1103, which gives weights of twenty pounds for the African gander and eighteen for the goose, sixteen for a Chinese gander, fourteen for a 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 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, December 12, 2011

Oprah Henfree

Pat Foreman visited California on a book tour for her City Chicks. She was lecturing on permaculture and using chickens to enable local food. At one of her first stops at Fairview Gardens in Goleta, she met the resident flock. One chicken, a Buff Orpington, walked up to Pat, and ate from her hand. The hen was willing to be picked up and enjoyed the human company. She was dubbed the West Coast Oprah HenFree, since Pat was not able to bring her East Coast Oprah Henfrey on the plane from Virginia. Pat asked the flock owners to borrow the hen and become a co-presenter at the workshops on the remainder of her tour across the state. They agreed and a travel saga began.

Later the next evening, at the upscale Santa Barbara Public Library, Ms. HenFree was sitting on Pat’s arm during the workshop introductions. The hen was curious about the podium and decided to step onto it and proceeded to the top. Pat offered her the microphone and she clucked into it with a lot to say. She was an instant hit with the crowd.

This hen with star quality reminded Pat of the therapy hens she has in her own flock at home in Virginia. They include a Buff Chantecler, the same golden color but a different breed an Americana and a commercial hybrid hen.

Oprah traveled in a special carrier that had lots of window space so she could enjoy the magnificent California views. She spent the next month touring California and charming audiences. She spread the message that hens are charming, clean, entertaining beings that have multiple skill sets. One of their skill sets is as bio-mass recyclers. Chickens can help divert kitchen, yard, leaf and garden residuals from the trash collection—and transform that “waste” into compost, topsoil and eggs. Yes, chickens, working as clucking civil service workers can even save BIG TIME taxpayer dollars.

The hen kept Pat company as they traveled over 2,800 miles up and down the state and she participated in over 50 workshops, news and radio interviews and book signings.

As Oprah and Pat traveled, Pat saw that Oprah had a different message after her stay in Los Angeles. The Occupy Wall Street movement was making news and Oprah HenFree realized she could be the voice for the 99 percent of hens who are caged in miserable conditions for commercial meat and egg production. Chickens can “Occupy Back Yards and Enable Local Agriculture” has become be her rallying clarion cluck. It just might become the “Cluck Heard Around the World”.

As Pat’s tour concluded back at Fairview Gardens, Pat felt reluctant to re-introduce Oprah to the flock where she might fade into oblivion as just another hen. She asked whether I’d be willing to add Oprah to my small flock of four backyard hens. I was delighted.

From her new home in Cambria, Oprah will continue to serve her caged sisters.

The Orpington is an English breed developed at the end of the 19th century. The original birds were black, but the buff color was very popular at the time. It was introduced in the mid-19th century and breeders eagerly bred it into many breeds to satisfy poultry fanciers’ demand. The Standard of Perfection specifies eight pounds for an Orpington hen, but Oprah weighs less than that. She is probably a pullet, a hen less than a year old.

She laid only a single egg during her California tour, but chickens typically stop laying during the short days of winter. Her feathers are in beautiful condition, so she must have molted before meeting Pat. Chickens stop laying during their annual molt. I expect she’ll start laying again after the Winter Solstice, as she settles in with her new flock.

My White Dorking hen was standing on top of Oprah’s cage when I opened the coop this morning, intensely curious about this development. Oprah has already indicated her preference for black oil sunflower seeds.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Books for Christmas

2011 has been a great year for chicken books! For the chicken lover on your list, or to help those who want to get you something you will enjoy, here are some of the excellent books that were published this year:

Of course, that's assuming that you already have my books, How to Raise Chickens and How to Raise Poultry. If you buy them through my site, I'm happy to inscribe them for you. Email me to let me know how you want the greeting to read. Free shipping through Christmas!

Pat Foreman's City Chicks comes first to hand, since she's currently on book tour throughout the West. The subtitle explains her goal: Keeping Micro-Flocks of Laying Hens as Garden Helpers, Compost Makers, Bio-recyclers and Local Food Suppliers. Pat has put her life's experience with chickens into this solid volume. It's a handbook for keeping a few hens in the backyard for suburban and urban enthusiasts. It' s comprehensive in advice and information but includes much more, such as Seven Outrageous Chicken Tricks. Novices will get a new perspective on chickens as their partners in gardening as well as the information to succeed. Pat's warmth and good humor come through.

Kelly Klober's informative reminiscence, Talking Chicken, is like spending time with Kelly on the porch. It's filled with solid husbandry information as well as background on traditional breeds. Every backyard flock of hens is one less customer for the egg industry, but hybrid egg breeds are an extension of that industry. Traditional breeds are gaining attention and support and Kelly's expertise is invaluable. A book focusing on husbandry of heritage breeds might have been considered too narrow a few years ago. Acres USA has done chickens a service by publishing Kelly's book.

Harvey Ussery's long-awaited Small-Scale Poultry Flock appeared this year. Harvey's been a dedicated contributor to Backyard Poultry magazine over the years. He takes on the practical challenges of poultry keeping and reports his experience in improving on husbandry and business. He's thoughtful and devoted to the idea that a small homestead can produce a good living and a great life. He's living that life and shares his knowledge and experiences in this collection. His book is unique in many respects, including the series of color photos showing how to butcher your birds. Not gory! Harvey's also an advocate for traditional breeds.

Andy Schneider has made a name for himself as the Chicken Whisperer. Pat Foreman is his co-host on a daily radio broadcast, on which I an a guest once a month. Andy partnered with Brigid McCrea to present a book of chicken basics, The Chicken Whisperer's Guide to Keeping Chickens. Lots of colorful pictures make it a welcome introduction to chicken keeping. Series 1 of his Chicken Collector Cards is available, too. Great stocking stuffer for kids, conversation piece for holiday parties.

Apart from the practical advice books, Susan Merrill Squier has applied herself to the interface between chickens and humans and written Poultry Science, Chicken Culture: A Partial Alphabet. Squier is a professor of women's studies and English at Penn State. Her attention was turned to the chickens she kept in her backyard the past seven years and she has written about how humans deal with the blessings chickens bring into our lives, how we include them in plays and films, how we have brought scientific knowledge to bear on reshaping them to serve our industrial food system and what that means for our lives. It's a fascinating book but not a casual read. The thoughtful and dedicated chicken lover will appreciate this unusual work.

No book list would be complete without Jerome D. Belanger's Complete Idiot's Guide to Raising Chickens. His background of writing and publishing Countryside magazine for more than 30 years gives him insight into the rural lifestyle and enriches his book on chicken basics. Backyard Poultry magazine also collected articles from the magazine into an anthology, For the Love of Poultry. Harvey Ussery appears many times in these pages, as do I and many other poultry writers. Even those who have saved every issue will enjoy this compilation in one convenient volume.

The American Poultry Association brought out its new edition of the Standard of Perfection this year. This is an invaluable reference that every breeder relies on, so your chicken person may already have a copy. A copy of the color edition would be an appreciated addition. Diane Jacky's portraits are beautiful. Reproduction is on shiny paper, to capture the colors. A few copies of the special Limited Edition may still be available. They occasionally show up on eBay. Keep it in mind.

For the bantam exhibition fancier, consider Pat Lacey published her history of the American Bantam Association, All Cooped Up, in 2010. This is a valuable reference and historical document. Her careful research and knowledge of the events that influenced the ABA answers questions a bout who did what when and how the ABA became the significant organization it is today. As a historian myself, I'm grateful to Pat for putting this information into our hands.

If none of those suit, or you want more, check this blog for other reviews. There are poultry books for everyone on your list.

One last recommendation: buy them through your local bookstore or feed store. Keep your dollars circulating in your local economy.