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.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Buying Local

Local Harvest advocates for buying local:

Most produce in the US is picked 4 to 7 days before being placed on supermarket shelves, and is shipped for an average of 1500 miles before being sold. And this is when taking into account only US grown products! Those distances are substantially longer when we take into consideration produce imported from Mexico, Asia, Canada, South America, and other places.

We can only afford to do this now because of the artificially low energy prices that we currently enjoy, and by externalizing the environmental costs of such a wasteful food system. We do this also to the detriment of small farmers by subsidizing large scale, agribusiness-oriented agriculture with government handouts and artificially cheap energy.

Cheap oil will not last forever though. World oil production has already peaked, according to some estimates, and while demand for energy continues to grow, supply will soon start dwindling, sending the price of energy through the roof. We'll be forced then to reevaluate our food systems and place more emphasis on energy efficient agricultural methods, like smaller-scale organic agriculture, and on local production wherever possible.

Cheap energy and agricultural subsidies facilitate a type of agriculture that is destroying and polluting our soils and water, weakening our communities, and concentrating wealth and power into a few hands. It is also threatening the security of our food systems, as demonstrated by the continued e-Coli, GMO-contamination, and other health scares that are often seen nowadays on the news.

These large-scale, agribusiness-oriented food systems are bound to fail on the long term, sunk by their own unsustainability. But why wait until we're forced by circumstance to abandon our destructive patterns of consumption? We can start now by buying locally grown food whenever possible. By doing so you'll be helping preserve the environment, and you'll be strengthening your community by investing your food dollar close to home. Only 18 cents of every dollar, when buying at a large supermarket, go to the grower. 82 cents go to various unnecessary middlemen. Cut them out of the picture and buy your food directly from your local farmer.

Or Buying Nothing:

Buy Nothing Day is your special day to unshop, unspend and unwind. Relax and do nothing for the economy and for yourself - at least for a single day.

Can you really buy absolutely nothing for just one day? You might say “Sure!” but can you ACTUALLY go one whole day without transacting ANY business? Are you totally debt free so that you can go a whole day without accruing interest on your mortgage? Are you off the grid so that you can go a whole day without paying the power company? Do you have ANY utilities? Water, Sewer etc? Do you have a cell phone? Do you have stocks or other investments that transact business in your name every day without your input? Do you have other debts, such as credit cards that accrue interest? Can you really go one whole day without buying anything? Try it!

Of course, we say this not to push you to attempt the impossible or go to extremes. We just want everyone to think about how integrated these transactions are into our daily routines.

Here at, we believe every day should be buy NOTHING day.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Mother Jones on holiday turkeys

Listen to your Mother:

So you've got your free-range turkey. This beautiful portrait is painted by Carolyn Guske. Your potatoes are strictly heirloom varieties. The cranberries for your sauce come from the local organic bog. Feeling pretty good about your Thanksgiving dinner, are you? Not so fast: The environmental footprint of food isn't always what you'd expect. Last Thanksgiving, PBS Need to Know took a hard look at the subject, from a diverse range of perspectives. In its podcast, which is definitely worth another listen, we hear from geophysicist Gidon Eshel, NASA agronomist Cynthia Rosenzweig, bestselling author Anna Lappé, agricultural analyst Philip Thornton, and animal rights activist Tara Oresick.

By now, most of us are aware of the outsized environmental footprint of meat. As Anna Lappé, author of Diet for a Hot Planet: The Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It, points out, the production of one pound of beef can require as much as 16 pounds of livestock feed. And that's to say nothing of all the waste associated with raising livestock, the methane and nitrous oxide emissions generated by the cattle, and the carbon dioxide created by trucks and tractors that transport feed and animals.

Of course, not all meat is as resource intensive as beef. Similarly, not all vegetables are as innocent as you might think. Geophysicist Gidon Eshel, whom I interviewed for my piece on whether or not vegetarianism is always greener than eating meat, says that in order to lessen the environmental impact of our diets, we should look at the efficiency of foods: How much energy is required to produce them, and how many calories do we gain? From this perspective, labels like "organic" and "local" aren't always the most planet-friendly choices. In colder climates, local spinach and mesclun, for example, are frighteningly inefficient because they have to be grown in greenhouses.

And the efficiency of foods can vary dramatically depending on where and how you live. Livestock expert Philip Thornton argues that Americans use cattle very differently from people in other parts of the world. In Kenya, families often depend on one or two cows for income: The animals provide not only milk and/or meat, but also fertilizer, so their overall energy yield is much greater. In some climates, raising livestock can actually require fewer resources than growing crops.

So how efficient are the foods on your Thanksgiving plate? The answer may surprise you. (Hint: Turkey is not as bad as you might think. Phew!) For the answer (plus an inside look at an Adopt-a-Turkey program in upstate New York, and more) listen to the podcast:

When you've heard that, check out Slow Food's support of a California 4-H project that's applying thoughtful practices to raising turkeys.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pat Foreman's West Coast schedule

Pat is co-host of the Chicken Whisperer radio program and a friend. She is the author of City Chicks, Chicken Tractor, Day Range Poultry and other books. She is visiting the West Coast from her Virginia farm. I've featured her therapy hen Oprah Henfry in this blog.

Her events for the next month are listed below. Find one near you and meet her!

November 15 Goleta 11:30am-1pm at Fairview Gardens Program for Wild Roots School
Contact Erin Boehme
Fairview Gardens 598 North Fairview Avenue, Goleta, CA 93117

November 15th, Santa Barbara, Tuesday, 7-9p, Faulkner Gallery, 21 E. Anapamu St SB. CA 93101, $10/students $5
Contact; Margie
Sponsored by: Permaculture Credit Union, Santa Barbara Permaculture Network, SB Chapter Weston Price Foundation, SB Chapter Slow Money, SBCC Students for Sustainability Coalition, SBCC Center for Sustainability

November 16th, Meiners Oaks, (near Ojai) Wednesday, 6:30p, Farmer and the Cook, 339 West El Roblar Drive Ojai, CA 93023-2212
Contact: Margie 805-962-2571
Sponsored by: Santa Barbara Permaculture Network and the Farmer and the Cook

November 17th, Filmore, Thursday, 6pm potluck 7pm, book talk,
Contact: Gerald Fitzgerald. Gerald 805-625-4365

November 19th, San Diego, Saturday, 1pm- 3pm Book Talk $20 general $15 Friends of the Farm, 2550 Sunset Avenue, San Diego 92154
Farm tour 3:30pm & 4:30pm Farm-made, organic sourdough wood-fired pizza and potluck
Contact: Mel Lions
Sponsored by: Wild Willow Farm

November 20th, Silverlake, Sunday Workshop TBA Edendale Farms 2131 Moreno Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90039 (Silver Lake)
Contact: Dave Kahn (323) 454-EGGS (3447)
Sponsored by: Edendale Farms

November 22nd, Los Angeles, Tuesday, 7:30pm, book talk, LA Eco Village, 117 Bimini Place LA CA 90004 Fee: $5 to $15 sliding scale
Contact: Lois Arkin Reservations required: 213/738-1254 or
Sponsored by: Los Angeles Eco-Village

November 23rd, Solvang, Wednesday, 2:30 – 5:30p, Table Ask the Chicken Expert, Solvang Farmers Market
Solvang Famers Market

November 26th, Santa Barbara, Saturday, /9a – 1p Tabling Ask the Chicken Expert , Santa Barbara Farmers Market,

November 27th, Ojai, Sunday, 9a-1p, Ojai Farmers Market, book signing Tabling Ask the Chicken Expert
Contact: Carla Rosin
Sponsored by: the Ojai Farmers Market

November 28th, Ben Lomond (near Santa Cruz) Monday, 3-5pm, Mountain Feed Bin, book signing 9550 Hwy 9 CA 95005.
Contact: Jorah (831) 336-8876
Sponsored by: Mountain Feed Bin, SLO Food Santa Cruz

November 28th, Santa Cruz, Monday, Green Grange Hall, 7pm -9pm book talk 1900 17th Avenue Santa Cruz, CA 95062-1806 (831) 476-6424
Contact: Dave Shaw,
Sponsored by: The Officers of the Green Grange Hall (Live Oak Grange), SLOW Food Santa Cruz

November 29th, Campbell (near San Jose) Tuesday 5:30pm, French Culinary Institute, Campbell 700 W Hamilton Ave Campbell, CA 95008
Contact Rany Prambs
Slow Food - Santa Cruz - French Culinary Institute

November 30th, Petaluma, Wednesday, 3-5p, Petaluma Seed Bank book talk and signing 199 Petaluma Blvd. North Petaluma, CA 94952
Contact: Paul Wallace (415) 518-0333
Sponsored by: The Petaluma Seed Bank

December 1st,Berkeley, Thursday, 7-9pm, Ecology Center . book talk and signing 530 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley CA 94702
Contact: Allison Moreno (510) 548-3402
Sponsored by: the Ecology Center Berkley

December 3rd, Muir Beach, Saturday, 2:30p, Slide Ranch, book talk and signing 2025 Shoreline Hwy CA 94965
Contact: Charles Higgins (415) 381-6155
Sponsored by: Slide Ranch

December 4th, Albany, Sunday,2-4p, Albany Library, Edith Stone Room, Chicken Whispering talk 1247 Marin Avenue Albany CA 94706,
Contact: Catherine Sutton Catherine Sutton
Sponsored by: Transition Albany ?

December 5th , Fresno Monday, TBA
Contact Tom Willey

December 6th, San Luis Obispo, Tuesday, 6pm, Ludwig Center, book talk and signing 864 Santa Rosa Street SLO CA 93401,
Contact: Teresa Lees
Sponsored by: SLO Permaculture

December 7, Santa Monica 8:30am - 1:30pm Tabling Ask the Chicken Expert, Santa Monica Farmers Market Arizona Ave. (between 4th & Ocean)
Santa Monica Farmers Market
Sponsored by Office of Sustainability & the Environment City of Santa Monica

December 7th, Los Angeles ,Wednesday, 7:15p, talk Costa Acupuncture 10200 Venice blvd #109b, Los Angeles, CA 90232
Contact: Shirley Schecker
Sponsored by: Santa Monica Weston Price Foundation Whole Food Nutrition Meetup

December10th, Goleta Saturday, 10a-1p,Workshop Gardening with­ and for ­Chickens $40 /early Bird discount $30 paid by Nov 30
Fairview Gardens To sign up go to or contact (805) 967-7369
Center for Urban Agriculture at Fairview Gardens 598 North Fairview Avenue, Goleta, CA 93117

December 10th,Westchester, Saturday, 7pm, Holy Nativity Church, 6700 W. 83rd, Winchester CA book talk and signing
Contact: Michelle Weiner, 310-780-1051
Sponsored by : Transition Culver City

December 13th, Tuscon, Tuesday TBA
Contact: Rhiwena 520-396-3266 Rhiwena Slack
Sponsored by: The Watershed Coop,

December14th, Gilbert (near Phoenix) Wednesday, TBA 23517 South 182nd Street Gilbert, AZ 85298
Contact: Jeff.. (480) 516-6317
Sponsored by: Chicken Scratch Ranch

December17th, Santa Fe , Saturday, 9a-1p, , Santa Fe Farmers Market, book talk and signing
Contacts: Dorothy and Mary 505-988-4226
Sponsored by: Collected Works Book Store,

December 18th, Los Alamos, Sunday, 2pm, TBA.
Contact: Katie Watson 505-662-0460 Katie Watson
Sponsored by: Pajarito Ecological Center,

December 19th, Tuscon, Monday, 5:30-7:30pm, Native Seed Retail Store 3061 N. Campbell Ave., Tucson AZ 85716.
Contact: Belle Star
Sponsored by: Native Seed,

December 20th, Silver City NM ,Tuesday, TBA
Allyson info

December 21st, Kingston NM ,Wednesday, Black Range Lodge
Catherine Wanek

Friday, November 11, 2011

Chicken jobs

The New York Times takes note of people applying livestock to local work:

In terms of social cachet, agricultural start-ups are a long way from Silicon Valley. But the phenomenon seems to be gaining steam.

Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, a nonprofit that matches willing farmhands with organic farms seeking temporary help, has become, for the 4-H crowd, what Stanford’s computer science department has been for Silicon Valley. In the last three years, membership in the group’s United States branch has quadrupled, and among a certain set of college-age agriculturalists, the organization has become a verb (as in “Did you WWOOF last summer?”).

Jason Stroud, 44, of Red Hook, Brooklyn, has been raising chickens since he was 19. He said he thinks many newcomers to the sustainable agriculture world are making a high-tech mountain out of a Bronze Age molehill.

“It’s simpler than one would think,” he said of modern-day homesteading. “Peasants with zero education were doing this hundreds of years ago.”

After his regular work, restoring high-end antiques, dried up earlier this year, Mr. Stroud began advertising his farm skills to fad-chasing urbanites: for a price, he would build them backyard chicken coops and teach them to care for the birds.

The offer was so well received that Mr. Stroud estimates that nearly half of his income now comes from chicken consulting. He dispenses advice on a Web site called Red Hook Chicken Guy, where he lists the benefits of chicken farming in Brooklyn. (Reason No. 10: “It’s just a cool thing to do.”)

“It’s a good opportunity for kids who have gone to college with degrees in Hungarian literature that they owe $300,000 on,” he said, chuckling.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Communities welcome chickens

Anne Constable writes about how Santa Fe, New Mexico residents are dealing with chickens:

The Eldorado community still isn't completely sure about how it feels about sun-tracking solar collectors sprouting in the subdivision south of Santa Fe.

Now it faces another issue that could divide residents: backyard chickens and goats.

Some say that having a few hens and nannies is a way to live more sustainably; others argue that barnyard animals are smelly, spread disease and would draw more coyotes and rodents to their neighborhoods.

The subdivision's covenants are somewhat ambiguous on the subject.

The section pertaining to household pets states that "no animals, birds or poultry" are allowed, except for "recognized household pets" that may be kept for the "pleasure and use" of occupants.

That language clearly allows residents to have cats and dogs, as well as other inside critters like parakeets, guinea pigs, lizards and fish. But on the surface it would seem to rule out Rhode Island Reds and nubians.

But maybe not.

Some residents say the covenants could be interpreted to allow them because they are as much family pets as the dog and cat.

The board of the Eldorado Community Improvement Association (ECIA) has asked its Sustainability Planning and Education Committee to look into the matter and decide whether to recommend changes in the ECIA's guidelines to clearly permit such animals — and to decide under what conditions they would be permitted. The guidelines assist the board in interpreting the subdivision's covenants.

A working group of the committee, led by Eduardo Krasilovsky, is doing research into how other communities have dealt with the issue and will prepare a report for the committee presenting both sides of the issue, possibly by the end of the year.

"There is no easy answer to this," the ECIA's lawyer, John Hays, said.

In an informal opinion, he said the question hinges on whether hens and goats are generally "recognized household pets." He suggested that one way to address the issue would be to present it to the community. If the community's sense is that hens and goats are OK, then that would support Eldorado's "recognition" of them as household pets.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Deviled Egg Day

Terry Golson, author of the Farmstead Egg Cookbook, gave this advice in the April/May issue of Backyard Poultry magazine:

First… Hard Boiled Eggs

Is the recipe for hard boiled eggs necessary first? Yep! If you’ve ever had an egg that was so tough you could bounce it off the wall,, or an egg with a green lined yolk, or an egg that you couldn’t peel, you need these directions.

That ugly green tinge to a hard-cooked egg yolk is from a reaction of the iron and sulfur in the egg yolks that occurs at high heat. To prevent that just use this method, which cooks but doesn’t boil the eggs. This low temperature will yield a firm, but not rubbery, texture.

Fresh hard cooked or hard boiled eggs can be notoriously hard to peel. Just try removing the shell from an egg laid the previous day, and you’ll end up tossing out half of the white along with the shell. As an egg ages, the membrane around the white begins to separate from the shell. This allows for easier peeling. However, as an egg ages the flavor deteriorates, so the best eggs to hard-cook are between one to two weeks old.

To hard-cook eggs:

Place the eggs in a pot and cover with 2 inches of water. Bring the water to a simmer. Don’t let the water come to a rolling boil. As soon as the water is simmering, cover the pot and remove from the heat. Set a timer for 12 minutes for small, 16 minutes for large, and 18 minutes for jumbo eggs.

Meanwhile, fill a bowl with ice water. When the timer goes off, drain the water out of the pot. Then shake the pot back and forth so that the eggshells crackle all over. Immediately immerse the eggs in the ice water. The water will seep under the shells and loosen them from the whites.

When the eggs are cold to the touch, remove them from the water and peel. Any tiny pieces of shell stuck to the eggs can be rinsed off under the tap. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to four days for optimum quality.

Now that you have the perfect hard-cooked eggs, whip up a batch of heavenly deviled eggs.

Deviled Eggs

6 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and cut lengthwise
1/4 cup mayonnaise (I add this a spoon at a time till I get the right consistency)
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
1 Tablespoon juice from Sweet Pickles (the secret ingredient)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Paprika or Old Bay Seasoning for garnish

Remove yolks from whites, place in a small bowl and mash well with a fork. Add remaining ingredients and mix until smooth. Fill the shells with the mixture and sprinkle lightly with paprika. Cover and refrigerate. ENJOY!

Variations: You can add one (or more) of the following ingredients to change the flavor or add some kick to your deviled eggs:

1 teaspoon horseradish

1 teaspoon chives

Green olives, cut lengthwise

2-3 dashes hot sauce

1 teaspoon sweet red pepper, scallion or green onion or celery (each finely chopped)

1/2 teaspoon onion, garlic or celery salt

1/2 teaspoon Worcester Sauce

(Eliminate table salt when using any of these ingredients.)