Thursday, April 28, 2011

Coop Tour Season!

Keeping a few hens in the backyard has become so popular that advocates in many cities have organized tours of local coops. Raleigh, North Carolina chicken lovers have been admiring each other's coops for years. The 6th Annual Henside the Beltline Chicken Tour is May 21st.

Henside the Beltline Tour de Coop is a one-day garden tour that seeks to educate visitors about keeping hens in an urban environment. Learn the how-tos of chicken keeping, meet the chickens and see a wide variety of coop styles. 100% of the tour proceeds benefit Urban Ministries of Wake County, a non-profit organization that provides essential food and medical services to close to 20,000 Triangle residents annually. The 2010 Tour collected 2000 pounds of food and raised $5,300 for Urban Ministries.

For more information or high resolution photos visit our website or contact Rick Bennett at 919-609-9205 or

This list highlights some of them. Check around your chicken friends to find out whether your area has one. If not, perhaps you are the one to get it started!

Alameda, California, May
Albuquerque, New Mexico, July
Atlanta, Georgia, Urban Chicken Coop Tour, May
Austin, Texas, Funky Chicken Coop Tour, April
Bend, Oregon, May
Dallas, Texas, A Peep at the Coops, April,
Davis, California Tour de Cluck, May
Denver, Colorado, October,
Jackson County, southern Illinois, Coops du Jour, June
Milton, Massachusetts Tour de Coops, October,
Phoenix, Arizona Tour de Coops,
Pioneer Valley, Massachusetts, April
Portland, Oregon, July
Salt Lake City, Utah, Tour de Coops, June
Seattle, Washington, July
Spokane, Washington, June,

Monday, April 25, 2011

New Standard!

My 2010 Standard of Perfection arrived! It's beautiful, reflects all the effort that went into it. This is the document you need to participate in exhibition poultry, or be knowledgeable on traditional breeds. Not every breed is recognized, but that's not a limitation. Breeds not currently included can be recognized, as several have been since the last Standard was published in 1998. Most recently, Black Copper Marans were recommended for inclusion and adopted last week.

This was a double challenge, because the Black Copper color has not previously been recognized in any breed. Marans are a French breed -- the silent final 's' is correct, even in the singluar -- with lightly feathered legs. They are known for their dark chocolate brown eggs. Eggs are classified into nine color categories, shown here. Hens must lay eggs of at least category 4 in order to meet the club standard. The proposed standard states that "Marans are best known for their large, russet brown eggs. This is a defining characteristic of the Marans breed, so selection for egg color and size should never be neglected."

The APA will publish the full Standard in its upcoming quarterly Newsletter.

Meeting all the requirements to be accepted by the APA was championed by Dick Dickerson, vice president of the Marans Chicken Club. He will join me Tuesday, April 26 on Andy Schneider's Chicken Whisperer radio program to discuss Marans and their journey to APA recognition.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Joel Salatin

Unconventional farmer Joel Salatin arrived on Cal Poly’s campus to liberate students and local farmers. ”I’m your Christian-Libertarian-Environmentalist-Capitalist-Lunatic farmer,” he declared. This picture of me and Joel was taken at his Polyface Farm in 2008, when I led a group from the Society of Environmental Journalists on a tour.

The Spanos Theater was nearly full of students and locals, and some from outside San Luis Obispo County who came to hear his organic, ecology-restoration message. A third generation Virginia farmer, he turned his intelligence and knowledge to finding new solutions to problems conventional commercial agriculture had caused and couldn’t solve. In the process of increasing production while reducing fuel use and animal disease, he restored the soil on Polyface Farm and became a leader in the growing local agriculture movement. He wrote about his experiences in a series of books, most recently The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer and Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal.

His lunacy is that of being a gadfly to the industrial food system. He rejects raising beef in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations and confining chickens to battery cages or broiler houses. He and his farm were featured in Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma and in the documentary Food, Inc.

“On our farm, we think animals should do the work, even though that runs counter to the machismo of pig iron and diesel fuel,” he said. “If you come home from work and say, ‘Today I made the animals happy,’ you’re a sissy.

At Polyface, cattle are his ‘biomass accumulation restart button,’ grazing the pastures to invigorate the grasses. They move daily to the next ‘salad bar.’ Chickens, either egg layers or broilers, are moved onto the pastures after the cattle, to forage for bugs, worms and seeds, reducing infestations and weeds. Adding corn to the compost entices the pigs to ‘pigerate’ it, turning it over to add air needed for the biological systems to convert organic material into soil.

“Pigs wear a sign on their foreheads: Will Work for Corn,” he said.

He rejects the argument that sustainable farming can’t feed the world. “We grow circles around industrial farmers,” he said.

He encouraged the audience to take individual action to reform the industrial food system. Around 80 percent of the greenwaste in this country goes into landfills. Feeding it to chickens would reduce that and provide eggs in the bargain. Producing eggs near the kitchen would reduce the need for the egg industry. One city in Belgium offers its residents free chickens, to reduce landfill garbage.

“Withdraw funding from Monsanto by discovering your kitchen,” he said.

Cooking unprocessed food at home is the most subversive act an individual can do. Processed food ingredients such as potatoes coast less than processed versions, such as instant mashed potatoes. Start a cooking class. Talk to old people in retirement communities and nursing homes about the good food they remember.

“This movement is a tsunami,” he said. “Monsanto doesn’t know they are dead and gone.

Joel's humorous approach is welcome, but I differ with him on poultry issues. For meat birds, he raises 30,000 Freedom Ranger chickens, a commercial hybrid, rather than a traditional breed. He chooses them because they are faster growing than traditional breeds. They reach market size in 12 weeks, rather than the 6-7 weeks for Cornish/Rocks. Troy Griepentrog, when he was working at Mother Earth News, wrote about his experiences raising Freedom Rangers. He found their rapid growth more like Cornish/Rock crosses than any traditional breed, not surprising since their genetic stock comes from Hubbard, an industrial poultry company. Two of the birds grew so fast that they were not able to walk, one by the age of eight weeks. That bird was slaughtered at that time.

However, I'd like to see him take that next step and raise a traditional breed that would be truly sustainable, in the sense of also being able to reproduce its own flock. He understands this, as illustrated by the example he gave of his son's rabbit line breeding project. That took five years to reach success, but now the rabbits are healthy and breed true.

Salatin was brought to Empower Poly’s Earth Week events by the Real Food Collaborative, a student organization. “If a responsible adult had been involved, it never would have happened,” said adviser Neal MacDougall. Students circulated among the audience collecting donations. No university money supported the event.

“We want to start the conversation about a sustainable food system,” said Tessa Salzman, credited with organizing the event.

Friday, April 15, 2011

White Hollands

White Hollands of the original breed developed in the 1930s probably do not exist any more. The Barred variety was always more popular and they are available from breeders and hatcheries, such as Urch/Turnland Poultry in Owatonna, Minnesota and Sandhill Preservation Center in Calamus, Iowa.

The APA Standard recognized Hollands as a separate breed in both color varieties in 1949. The name harks back to birds that were imported from The Netherlands, but were crossed with White Leghorns, Rhode Island Reds, New Hampshires and Lamonas, another modern composite, to produce a breed with strong production values for both meat and eggs. The Barred variety came from breeding the descendants of the Dutch birds with White Leghorns, Barred Plymouth Rocks, Australorps and Brown Leghorns. Both varieties lay white eggs.

A reader recently inquired about White Hollands, which have probably disappeared. Although the passing of any breed is unfortunate, this was a modern composite that can be re-created, if anyone cares to do so. My inclination is to focus on preserving the foundation breeds.

The Holland is a solid, productive breed that marks a time in poultry history when modern selective breeding was honing its focus on production for individual farms. As the industry has been overtaken by large corporations, that focus has become laser sharp. Breeds like the Holland are useful today, but so are many others. Choose a traditional breed for your flock.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Poultry Breeding and Genetics classic

A friend is searching for additional copies of POULTRY BREEDING AND GENETICS published by Elsevier, 1990. R.D. Crawford is the editor. Please contact me if you have one you are willing to sell.

Much of the 2003 edition of this book is posted online in Google Books. While it isn't the same as having a copy of one's own, it does make it possible to do some research. The concluding chapter, Breeding and Selection by Poultry Fanciers, is written by W.C. Carefoot. Dr. Carefoot was president of the Poultry Club of Great Britain. [Unfortunate that they couldn't have found an American expert.] He credits fanciers with playing a "significant role in providing the raw material on which the poulry industry is based."

"Breeders have out of sheer pleasure conserved the large gene pool of mutations which have spontaeously occurred over the centuries...The production by a skillful breeder of high quality birds of a particular variety will attract sufficient interest to ensure preservation and improvement....Indeed, where a fancier has taken up a breed that is in serious decline and has bred them aggressively, hatched as many chicks as possible, and rigorously culled weaklings and birds with serious defects, it has been amazing how the followers of the particular variety have multiplied."

The Buckeye and the Java are two examples of breeds that have gained followers as small flock keepers learned about them. The Auburn Java is a variety that was lost and is being recovered. Read my report on this remarkable re-emergence in this month's Backyard Poultry magazine. You'll have to get your own copy -- the article isn't posted online.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Elephant seals

Information on Elephant Seals is on my Elephant Seals of Piedras Blancas blog. Thanks for checking in!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Novella Carpenter

The author of Farm City was an engaging speaker at Cuesta College's Book of the Year event yesterday. She's as funny in person as she is on the page.

She started her flock with a meat bird assortment from Murray McMurray that included chicks, ducklings, goslings and a turkey poult. She's now an enthusiastic poultry person on her Oakland urban farm. She's raising money to pay for a Conditional Use Permit, $2,500, to allow her to keep her poultry and rabbits.

She learned from keeping two pigs that small livestock is preferable in a city setting. She continues to dumpster dive for food for her livestock. It sounds funny, and her presentation is entertaining, but it's got tough issues at its heart: at least a quarter of the food we produce we throw away. Retrieving it and putting it to use reduces the amount of waste in the landfills as well as saving the time, money, effort and resources -- read oil -- that goes into producing it.

I wrote about a town in Belgium that gives chickens to its resident for exactly that reason, to reduce the amount of solid waste it sends to the landfill in BioCycle magazine last year.

I volunteered to arrange for the annual Friends of the Elephant Seal fundraiser to be a Zero Waste event. That means finding ways for "all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use." It has turned out to be more difficult than I expected, but I have found a person who has worm bins at local community gardens and would welcome the food waste from the event. With luck, he'll have a worm-bin-on-wheels available by the September event. We can use recyclable dinnerware. I'd heard of compostable dinnerware, but that turns out to be compostable only under certain conditions, which are not available in this county.

Poultry rules.