Tuesday, January 31, 2012


“My grandfather had special chickens. He called them Banties.”

Bantams are the introduction to chickens for a lot of people. They aren’t a breed, but an entire set of chicken breeds. They are just like full-size chickens but only one fifth to one quarter, 20 to 25 percent, the size. “You can have ten bantams in the space you would need for two large fowl,” said Doris Robinson, director of the joint American Poultry Association-American Bantam Association Youth Club. “Bantams are for folks who want chickens in their backyard but don’t have enough room for large fowl layers.”

Most bantam breeds are small versions of breeds recognized by the American Poultry Association. Some, however, have no corresponding large fowl breed. Those are considered True Bantams. They include Japanese, Vorwerks, Nankins such as Don Cable's hen and her chicks, Belgian Bearded d’Anvers and Belgian Bearded d’Uccles, Dutch, Rosecomb, Sebrights, Silkies and Junglefowl, the ancestor of all domestic chickens. There are also bantam ducks.

There’s a certain Wow factor to bantams.

“I have yet to meet a kid who didn’t say, ‘How cute!’ about a Silkie,” said Laura Haggarty, chairman of the ABA’s publicity committee.

Bantam eggs

Many bantams are excellent layers, although their eggs are, predictably, small. One friend prefers her bantam eggs to large fowl eggs. She finds one large fowl egg not enough, and two too many. But like Goldilocks and her porridge, two bantam eggs are Just Right.

Bantam eggs weigh only 1 to 1 ¼ ounces. A large chicken egg weighs 2 ounces, the usual ingredient in recipes. A small egg weighs 1 ½ ounces, extra-large 2 ¼ ounces, jumbo 2 ½ ounces. Figure accordingly for cooking and baking. Weight isn’t the sole consideration: the proportion of yolk to white is higher in bantam eggs, which may affect some delicate gourmet recipes. If in doubt, give yourself time to try using bantam eggs in the dish before preparing it for a special occasion!

Kids and Bantams

Bantams can be a good way for kids to get involved in poultry. Their small size makes them easy for small hands to manage. Most are gentler than large fowl birds. With some supervision, they can take responsibility for care and husbandry. They are easier for children -- and adults -- to shampoo for a show.

“Bantams are the ideal gateway for kids to get involved with chickens,” said Mrs. Haggarty.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Klinka Steps Up!

Klinka the Hen Saves a Bird of Another Species
By Kim Bartlett

This afternoon I looked out the window to the backyard to check on my pet chicken Klinka and saw that she was chasing the cat Osiris who has a little bird in his mouth. She pursued Osiris until he dropped the bird and it flew through the chain link fence to safety. Then Klinka patrolled that area of the fence for a few minutes. I always heard that chickens would bravely confront predators to defend their chicks, but Klinka chased a cat to save an unrelated bird, not even of the same species. January 24, 2009

Kim Bartlett, President of Animal People, Inc.
Postal mailing address: P.O. Box 960, Clinton WA 98236 U.S.A.
Email: ANPEOPLE@whidbey.com.
Website: http://www.animalpeoplenews.org/
We believe that the Golden Rule applies to animals, too.

Kim's Klinka

Back in February 2009, Klinka was attacked and severely injured by a coyote, as reported on this blog. She has certainly come a long way! Thanks, Kim, for bringing me up to date.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Being a mother to turkeys

I've got several stories in How to Raise Poultry giving examples of smart turkey behavior. I'm looking forward to seeing his film, My Life as a Turkey!

From New Scientist:

To lift the lid on the lives of turkeys, naturalist Joe Hutto became a full-time "mother" to a brood of poults. What did he learn?

You lived with wild turkeys in rural Florida for over a year. How did it all begin?
I had been experimenting with the imprinting phenomenon - in which young animals become attached to the first moving object they encounter - for years, with many types of birds and mammals. Wild turkeys are difficult to come by, so when I lucked upon some wild turkey eggs I decided: OK, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

These turkeys regarded you as their mother. Was that a lot of responsibility?
It was, because wild turkeys are precocial - they are born fully alert and ambulatory and don't stay in the nest. They have to imprint at birth so they know who mum is, and they can't be left alone at all. I realised that if I was going to do this project then it was going to be a 24-hour-a-day commitment, which I was willing to do.

What did being their mother mean in practice?
I had to be with them before daylight so that when they flew down from the roost their mother was there waiting, and I had to remain with them until after dark. If I tried to leave before it was completely dark they would fly down and try to follow me, and then they were left on the ground, where they were vulnerable to snakes or weasels.

Was your research scientific?
It started out as a science project but it became more than that to me. I found it impossible to avoid a very personal involvement, so a certain scientific empiricism and detachment was immediately lost in the process.

Were there any specific skills you had to teach the turkey poults?
Not at all. Their innate understanding of ecology was complete. They knew everything from birth, and the knowledge is very specific. That was one of the most surprising things about the study. From birth they knew exactly which insect they could eat and which was dangerous. I didn't have to intervene and say: "No, no, don't try to eat that wasp." They knew not to eat the wasp.

Did you learn to talk "turkey"?
They sort of taught me their language. Researchers had identified 25 to 30 calls in wild turkeys that I was familiar with. But I learned that wild turkey vocabulary was much more complex than I had realised - within each of their calls were different inflexions that had specific meanings. For example, they had an alarm call for dangerous reptiles, but what I learned was that in that call there were specific inflexions that would identify a species of snake. Eventually when I heard a certain vocalisation I knew without question they had found a rattlesnake.

So turkeys are not as stupid as their reputation suggests?
No. But I think the first thing we do when we domesticate an animalMovie Camera is breed the fine evolutionary edge out of them. They lose that well-honed razor's edge of survival that causes them to be clever, independent and a survivor. In some sense we breed the brains out of them.


Joe Hutto is an ethologist. As well as turkeys, he has studied Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and has spent the past six years living with mule deer. My Life As A Turkey, a documentary on his time with turkeys, came out on DVD last month

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Mobile processing unit up for auction

Thanks to Sugar Mountain Farm for posting this:

The state of Vermont build a mobile poultry slaughter unit at a cost of $93,000 back in 2008. That unit is up for auction with a price of $7,600 and no reserve. The auction ends January 13, 2012 at 6:18 PM EST. Ultimately, the unit sold for $61,000. A good deal, and I hope we will soon hear that it is being used.

This is your chance to get a nearly brand new, stainless steel, USDA/State inspect-able, fully outfitted poultry slaughter unit for 8¢ on the dollar. It comes complete with a very nice stainless steel scalder and plucker. You can see the interior at the links below.

I hope that someone will buy this for use ideally in Vermont rather than it getting sold as junk. Unfortunately it is being sold in an out-of-state auction in New York and may vanish from the Vermont agricultural landscape, perhaps just going for the scrap metal – it’s filled with valuable stainless steel.

Read more:
NicheMeatProcessing Case Study
Mobile Processing Units Case Studies
Interior Photos

That funny looking box of dots in the lower right corner of the photo is called a QR Code. I’m testing out using it. If you point your iPodTouch, iPad or phone with a camera and appropriate software on it at that it should scan the QR Code and take you to the web page for the auction. Let me know if that works.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Chickens in Chicago

The Chicago Tribune's Home and Garden section takes notice of backyard chickens:

You don't need to be a farmer to have chickens. Keeping chickens in an urban setting is fun and educational, provides companionship and access to fresh eggs, and can even be useful for gardening.

Why do people do it? It is well-established that chickens allowed to free-range and supplement their diets with grasses and bugs produce tastier, nutritionally superior eggs. A Mother Earth News study in 2007 revealed that, compared with commercial eggs, pastured eggs contain two-thirds more vitamin A, two times more omega-3 fatty acids, three times more vitamin E and seven times more beta carotene.

But besides the better-quality eggs, there are other good reasons to keep chickens.

Jacob Komisar, a teacher in New Haven, Conn., spent more than a decade as a vegetarian. He and his wife started keeping chickens as a way to provide ethically raised, nutrient-dense animal protein (eggs) and to educate their son about the proverbial circle of life.

"We've become entirely too disconnected from our food as a society," Komisar says. "There was a time when every family had a few chickens (for both eggs and meat). It's not a big investment, and when compared to similar quality eggs and meat, it's actually not any more expensive."

Only two of his chickens are currently laying; they produce about 10 to 12 eggs per week. The flock consumes about one $12 bag of feed per month, which brings the cost of the eggs to about 72 cents per dozen (that was not a typo, but it does take into consideration that three-fifths of the feed goes to the non-laying hens).

Is it practical? The five chickens that live in the Komisar yard reside in a 12-foot-square chain-link dog run and sleep in a cedar doghouse to which he added nesting boxes and a roosting pole.

He has received nary a complaint from the neighbors. "The vegan anarchists in an apartment on the other side think it's cool. There's an older lady who lives behind us who said that she grew up on a farm and liked seeing the chickens running around my yard."

Some cities have archaic laws regarding chickens, but in many cities across the country it is perfectly legal to keep them. Check your municipal code before you start.

Where do you buy chickens and supplies? The Internet is a wonderful resource for finding local chicken-keeping supplies. There also are more specialized urban homesteading stores like the Biofuel Oasis (biofueloasis.com) in Berkeley, Calif., and the Urban Farm Store (urbanfarmstore.com) in Portland, Ore., which provide supplies for chicken keeping, offer classes and can offer information on where to buy chicks.

There are many breeds of chickens; get one that is right for you. For instance, some breeds are better scavengers and can thrive on a mostly scavenged diet, while others will fail to thrive without a full grain regimen. Some breeds lay more eggs than others. It will take a little research; don't just buy the cheapest you find.

It's all fun and eggs until … Keeping a backyard flock can be treacherous at times. "My wife heard bizarre noises from the coop at 1 a.m. and made me go out to see what was going on," Komisar says. "I found myself face to face with what I can only imagine was a 350-pound raccoon.

"I ended up just picking up a stick and poking it a lot until it left so I could figure out how it got in. But after many incarnations, my chicken run is now more secure than Fort Knox."

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Marans joined the APA's recognized breeds in 2011

The Black Copper Marans was accepted into the Continental Class of the APA Standard of Perfection in April. Getting a breed, and a new color variety, recognized is a demanding process and it hasn’t been smooth all along the way for the Marans. Dedicated breeders have overcome the problems and APA leadership is satisfied that the breed is worthy of the showroom.

Although Marans were not formally recognized even in their native France until the early 20th century, the breed traces its roots back to the 13th century. This Cuckoo Marans, a traditional variety, is from Feathersite. The official history notes the marshy areas around the port city of Marans gave rise to a locally adapted breed. Those birds were crossed with games brought into port on ships. Brahmas and Langshans were added to them in the 19th century as those breeds acquired popularity. The first record of them at a show was in 1914, followed by organization of the Marans Club of France in 1929. The club established a Standard in 1931. Marans have been known for their dark brown eggs throughout the years.

A major point of discussion for Marans is whether their legs should be lightly feathered or clean. French Marans had lightly feathered legs, but after the birds crossed the English Channel in the 1930s and were first shown in England in 1934, breeders selected clean-legged birds. A separate clean-legged variety developed, but was not recognized. The Marans Club of Great Britain was organized in 1950.

This difference sparked contention over the years, and three separate Marans clubs were founded and disbanded by the early 21st century. In 2007, when Dick Dickerson of Tennessee and Bev Davis of Florida got involved, there wasn’t any functioning Marans club. They knew they’d have to start one in order to get the breed accepted into the Standard. They formed the Marans Chicken Club, http://www.maransusa.org/. They decided to pursue the French, feather-legged standard. The Marans Club of America, founded after personal differences, http://www.maransofamericaclub.com/, also honors the French standard.

“With every breed club, politics can get involved and lead to hard feelings,” said APA judge and Standards Revision committee member Pat Malone of Texas. “I’m glad I have a really good relationship with the people in both clubs. We’ve met and they are free to contact me at any time. I count them all my friends.”

“Feathered legs can be bred into a flock by breeding a feathered-legged cock to a clean-legged hen, then breeding the pullets back to father.

Most of the world recognizes French type with feathers,” Mr. Dickerson said. “The first six months it took some explaining to people, but all have switched over now universally.”

Mr. Dickerson’s experience as a member of the APA Board was an advantage. He understood the requirements a breed must meet to be accepted: The written account of the breed’s history and proposed standard, affidavits from at least five breeders who have raised the breed for at least five years, 50 percent or more of offspring breeding close to type and birds being exhibited in APA shows for two consecutive years. At each of those shows, at least two of each cocks, hens, pullets and cockerels must be shown. The final qualifying meet must show at least 50 birds from five exhibitors in all classes of cocks, hens, cockerels and pullets. Full details are published in the APA Standard of Perfection.

Both Mrs. Davis and Mr. Dickerson were already raising Marans. Dickerson had seven of the twelve varieties recognized in France: Black Copper, Wheaten, Black, White, Blue, Blue Copper, Blue Wheaten, Birchen, Black-Tailed Buff, Cuckoo, Columbian (called Ermine in France) and Salmon. Fanciers also raise other color varieties, such as Blue Silver Salmon and Blue, Splash and Golden Cuckoo. Currently, Mr. Dickerson has all twelve.

Mr. Dickerson’s family has raised Marans since his grandfather and uncles brought birds back from France after World War II. He has visited the area, but didn’t notice the countryside to be particularly marshy. The climate is mild enough that the Town Hall is noted for its lush gardens of exotic plants.

Mr. Dickerson arranged an 18-course banquet and invited other poultry fanciers to honor Mrs. Davis when she visited him in Tennessee. They inspected his birds, followed by High Tea, in respect of Mrs. Davis’ English heritage, and set to work organizing a club. APA President Dave Anderson invited Mr. Dickerson to give a presentation to the APA at its Ventura show. With a constitution and bylaws modeled on other successful clubs, the organizers set up a web site and chat room and announced their project over the Internet in February 2008. The club has directors for five regions, a president and vice presidents. They confer regularly on conference calls.

Soon they had 900 enthusiasts signed on to the chat room. The club now has about 150 members and more than 1,000 in the chat room. They moved forward to the first qualifying meet, in Belvidere, Illinois in September 2009. Mr. Dickerson was among the 14 exhibitors who entered 82 birds. APA President Anderson judged the birds, accompanied by the Standard Revision committee. Although the meet was a success in satisfying the requirement, the birds were less than perfect.

“Some of them were pretty strange looking,” said Mr. Dickerson. “It was a trial run.”

Mr. Malone attended the meet as a member of the Standard Revision Committee. He was dismayed at the birds he saw there. “They were terrible,” he said. Many of the females had brown eyes instead of reddish bay. Males’ tails stood up at 70-75 degrees, instead of the required 45 degrees. They were too small, below the required 8 lbs. for cocks and 6 ½ lbs. for hens. Worst of all was that the females lacked the copper color on the hackles.

“It was such frustration in the beginning, trying to get a correct bird,” said Jeanette Smith, vice president of the Marans Club of America. She struggled with incorrect eye color, comb sprigs and white feathers in the Black Coppers.

Mr. Anderson described the birds as “right on the borderline of being accepted,” noting that in order for their acceptance to be done correctly, the birds exhibited needed to “reflect the quality necessary to warrant their inclusion in the Standard.” He reported that “The committee and I felt that if the next generation were equal to or better than the young birds shown at Belvidere, there would be no problem accepting them. I was impressed with the young birds shown at Belvidere and with the enthusiasm and sincerity of the exhibitors.”

Breeders took the advice back to their breeding pens and set to work. By the final Special Meet in Newnan, Georgia in February 2011, the birds had improved markedly. Breeders from 24 states showed 176 birds of 11 varieties.

“This time, the quality was deep,” said Mr. Malone. “It didn’t take a Solomon to figure it out. These birds are as they should be.”

One hen stood out as the Best of Breed standard-bearer. Mr. Malone was impressed with her in Newnan, and delighted to find that he judged her as superior again in March at the Pine Bluff, Arkansas show. She has been shown in three other shows, winning every time.

Owner Peggy Taylor of Texas doesn’t take credit for the hen. She acquired her and a dozen or so flock-mates from another Texas breeder. All those birds had the full, round bodies Mrs. Taylor had envisioned for her birds.

“Pat told me, ‘That hen’s got to die to get beat,’” said Mrs. Taylor. “I’d rather she’d get beat than raise her toes.”

Marans’ eggs are graded on a color chart from 1, a white egg, through 9, nearly black. Marans must lay eggs that qualify as 4 or higher. This hen’s eggs rate 7. Mrs. Taylor is breeding her, hoping her quality will prevail in the offspring. She’s got three roosters she likes, although none of them is exactly right. She finds incorrect combs and tail angles, narrow breasts and dark hackles. Her hens that lay darker eggs lack the exhibition qualities.

“How to we keep our show quality and go forward with dark egg color?” she said. “Getting all the pieces of the puzzle to fit with these birds is no cake walk.”

The Marans experience is an example of the importance of showing and attending shows. Seeing birds and getting advice from judges helped guide breeders. Breeders develop the sensitive eye needed to decide which birds go into the breeding pen when they see the birds and discuss their good and bad points with judges and other breeders. Photos and the Internet help, but they are no substitute for seeing birds in person.

“You learn a lot in the first 15 minutes of looking around at your first show,” said Ms. Smith. “For the first time, you see what other people have proclaimed to be the best of their flock. Everybody discusses and learns from each other.”

Mr. Dickerson intends to get all 12 color varieties approved in the future. Next on the list is Wheaten. He hopes that 50 or more good Wheatens will be available for a Special Meet as early as the Crossroads Poultry Show in October.

“Somebody has to do the homework and make the decisions,” said Mr. Malone. “That’s what the Standards Committee is all about.”

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Nashville okays chickens

With a sense of humor and armed with facts, Nashville residents are on track for full chicken approval. The Tennessean reports:

Scientific talk about the drawbacks of mass-produced eggs mixed with the excited chatter of children as the Metro Council took on an unusual subject — chickens — at a colorful public hearing Tuesday.

The council gave preliminary approval to a bill that would make it easier for urban residents to keep backyard hens after hearing from dozens of residents, most of whom spoke in support of the measure.

Partially organized by Urban Chicken Advocates of Nashville — which had put yellow Peeps marshmallow candies on council members’ desks earlier in the day — and sporting yellow hats and shirts, they spoke of the benefits of producing good, organic eggs. They also talked about teaching young people the thrills of living off the land and the need to solve the “food desert” phenomenon in which some neighborhoods have no grocery stores or markets nearby.

“Many residents of Nashville are united in their desire to produce their own food locally,” said Andrew Greer, a graduate student at Vanderbilt University. “Local farming lets people know where their food is coming from and provides a space for social interaction when neighbors share produce or even meals together.”

Three critics of the proposed law warned that chickens would make noise and attract predators, and they noted that enforcement would be based on residents’ complaints rather than proactive efforts by Metro government.

“Constituents have few rights and little recourse,” said Michelle Miller, who lives in the Hillsboro-West End area.

The legislation, introduced by Councilwoman Karen Bennett last fall, would allow people living in residential zoning districts to keep up to two, four or six chickens, depending on the size of their property, for an annual permit fee of $25. Chickens wouldn’t be allowed in front yards, and roosters wouldn’t be allowed at all.

The bill still must win one more approval from the full council to become law.

The right to keep hens has been a long-standing cause for groups like Community Food Advocates. That organization’s office administrator, Megan Morton, an East Nashville resident, said the opportunity to raise chickens would give some people more “food security.”

“When you’re living on such a low income in terms of what you can buy, being able to grow a tomato plant, grow lettuce, get eggs from your backyard plays such a key role,” she said.

Kids, celeb attend

Children had their say to an unusual degree for a zoning matter. One boy wore a chicken hat as he came to the podium and exclaimed, “I’m a chicken lover!” Another youngster said chickens are quieter than dogs, better at staying put and less likely to leave their waste in places where it doesn’t belong.

The hearing also attracted a celebrity of sorts in the world of backyard chickens.

Andy Schneider of Ideal, Ga., host of a radio show called Backyard Poultry with the Chicken Whisperer, said he has seen chickens unite neighbors, not divide them, in cities around the United States.

In an interview, Schneider, 42, said the hens never cause as much trouble as some people expect.

“Regardless of how strict or lenient the law, the city still doesn’t have the complaints everybody thinks they’re going to have,” said Schneider, the letters “CW” stitched into the collar of his yellow shirt.

He also dismissed fears about the smell chickens might generate, saying, “We’re talking about six chickens, not 60,000.”

Schneider said Urban Chicken Advocates of Nashville invited him to speak to the council. He said they planned to go to dinner after the hearing at Otters, a place known for its chicken fingers.