Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cinema Verde

I'm off to Gainesville, Florida tomorrow for Cinema Verde! They will show Mad City Chickens on Tuesday, along with other food films: Vegucated, Scientists Under Attack, a short from the Florida Organic Growers and Planeat & Fish Meat.

Trish Riley has done a great job over the past three years creating and building Cinema Verde. Lots of other great films are on the schedule: A Sea Change, Death of an American Town. Environmental films tend to be depressing -- I saw Gasland last night -- but several of these films put a more positive spin on their subjects.

For instance, Vegucated:
Vegucated is a feature-length documentary that follows three meat- and cheese-loving New Yorkers who agree to adopt a vegan diet for six weeks. There’s Brian, the bacon-loving bachelor who eats out all the time, Ellen, the single mom who prefers comedy to cooking, and Tesla, the college student who avoids vegetables and bans beans. They have no idea that so much more than steak is at stake and that the fate of the world may fall on their plates. Lured with true tales of weight lost and health regained, they begin to uncover hidden sides of animal agriculture and soon start to wonder whether solutions offered in films like Food, Inc. go far enough. Before long, they find themselves risking everything to expose an industry they supported just weeks before.

Scientists Under Attack presents the story of Monsanto's GMO crop plants and the company's resistance to finding answers to questions raised by this new technology. BR Online says: “Amazing how this movie brings facts to light that reveal the fine line between agrogenetic engineers and sellers of poison and proves how critics are ostracised by unfair means. Verhaag does not try to do justice to every party, and instead takes a harsh stance. He is consciously subjective when he reveals how Monsanto and the other large businesses finance science and determine what is investigated and how in accordance with the principle of 'He who pays the piper calls the tune.' Belief in noble and incorrupt research and science is reduced to absurdity."

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


More from the March 2004 SPPA Bulletin:

Saving The Lamona

Marion Nash

(Editor’s note: The following account was first printed in the 1986 SPPA Breeders Directory. Mr. Nash was SPPA Secretary-Treasurer from 1984 until his death in January, 1996 and worked to save the Lamona.) Back in January, 1985 I passed on to a young man very much interested in Lamonas the last of my Lamonas (2 cocks and 4 hens) after we had lost 30 birds to predators. Was very fortunate to find Lonnie Miller of Windsor, MO to assume the responsibility of saving the Lamona. I believe that some excerpts from Lonnie’s letters might prove of interest to you.

November 9, 1984: I will be taking over the Allen Hatchery, Inc. of Windsor. I realize that most mail order hatcheries don’t have a very good reputation with fanciers and breeders, and probably with good reason. I know the first thing on my list to change is our breeding. Also, I would like to add a few more breeds, or very good strains, to my list. One of those breeds, without a doubt, will be the Lamona. Since you sent me the literature on the Lamona I have really fallen in love with them. It was a shame that their popularity didn’t take off back in 1928 … if they have, they would probably still be a popular breed today. Their quality and characteristics were apparent then, and probably haven’t changed that much over the years. With my interest (not really experience) in breeding fine poultry, if they have problems, perhaps in the years to come I could make improvements for them.

November 24, 1984: I would be most happy to meet you half way and pick up the Lamonas. I am sorry to hear that you just have four hens and two roosters, however. It is too bad that the chicks your grandson hatched disappeared. I know how that is! When I first moved here to grandpa’s farm, I had varmints come in and get something nearly every night! There was hardly any night that I slept clear through without having to get up and either chase something off or shoot it! Last Summer I got rid of all my chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys and guinea fowl and was facing defeat in this war with predators. But Allen’s needed someone to have a flock of Brown Leghorns so I took 300! Believe it or not I haven’t lost a single chicken to any varmint at all.

February 13, 1985: The Lamonas are getting along alright, in spite of the cold weather we have been having. I lost one hen. I posted her but I suppose she died of natural causes. There is just one hen laying, and she lays about every day. It took them a while to start laying. I suppose due to the change and weather. They are the most content chickens I have ever been around. They are quiet and gentle, very easy going. It’s odd at how well the two roosters get along … usually when you have more than one male with a few hens they fight. But those Lamonas don’t seem to mind at all. I don’t know how many eggs I will get from them, but I will set all the eggs I can and get as many chicks from them as I can. I will do all I can for them, I promise.

March 16, 1985: I want to tell you that the Lamonas ARE dong excellent, especially as far as production. The second hen started laying in February, and most every day I got two eggs! Hardly a day goes by that I don’t get at least one. One hen laid ten days straight! They both took a day off yesterday, but I picked up two eggs again today. The third hen looks as if she won’t lay at all, but I can’t dispose of her! I think they are fighting for survival … and they do put up a great fight! You say you don’t know how old they are? I know one rooster has good-sized spurs. I am setting every Lamona egg … I don’t know what kind of a hatch to expect, but the eggs I am saving now should hatch better than the first set. Even though I gathered the eggs not long after they were laid, the cold weather could effect their hatchability. Also, it was awhile before I was able to get them set, so the first few eggs that they laid were about three or four weeks old.

April 18, 1985: The first 12 Lamona chicks are doing real fine. I had to debeak them tonight because they just started picking on each other a little. I just noticed it this afternoon so there was no problem. One problem, however, did happen with them today. When I went to shut up the chicken house door, I looked in the Lamona pen ad saw one dead on the floor. I hoped it was the hen that hasn’t laid at all, but sorry to say it was one of the best producers. This means that only one hen will be laying … now I just have two roosters, one hen that lays and one that doesn’t. The tragedy is seeing all those “would be” Lamonas when I posted her. I always post any dead chicken I have … happy to say there hasn’t been hardly any. I will have more Lamonas hatch this coming Tuesday and I hope they hatch good. Losing the hen tonight will cut down quite a bit on the number of eggs I can set. I have to save the eggs for a few weeks as I don’t want a lot of different ages to take care of. I don’t have that many places where I can keep them. I am remodeling my brooder house now, along with all the other things I have to do this time of year. I will move the Lamonas I have now in the brooder house when the next ones are ready to go in the coop they are now. I think everything will work out well for the future Lamonas. I sure hope nothing happens to the last producing hen! I suppose if something does happen, it just does, and I will still have more Lamonas to work with than I started out with. I’ll close for now so I can go to bed. I was going to bed at 10:00 but when I went to the chicken house to shut the door and turn off the light I saw the Lamona on the floor and I wanted to post her before I went to bed. I didn’t find anything out of the ordinary wrong with her like the last one. I still don’t’ know what was wrong with her … I had never seen anything like that in a chicken before. I guess the one died tonight of natural causes … she had been a good producer and there were MANY eggs on their way. I hope to have at least 24 eggs to set Tuesday and at least 24 more Lamona chicks to hatch the same day. I think the future looks well for the Lamonas. All I have to do is do my best because that’s what they are doing.

August 5, 1985: I have hatched and raised 38 chicks, all but a few of these eggs are from ONE hen who laid nearly every day … she died as well, however, so there will be no more eggs from the Lamonas as I got from you. I have one rooster left and one hen that never laid a single egg. Just guess … how old could those chickens I got from you be? Not as a complaint, but to “BRAG” ABOUT THE WAY THEY LAY! Of course, the hen that died first was full of eggs … the second one that died laid very well as I got two eggs many days before I found her dead on the nest. The one producer that did live was the very best one, and I would imagine that 90 per cent, perhaps more, of the 38 chicks I raised were hers. Let me tell you, these chicks are doing really GREAT! A man called me about buying a “spare” cockerel. He said all of his has crooked toes. Now the old one I got from you had crooked toes but none of the young ones do. The only defect I can see right now is the fact that some of the cockerels have uneven combs (I don’t know if that’s the proper term). At first I thought that they were rather leggy, but as the oldest pullets got older it seemed that they grew out of it. I guess that’s just the way they grow. It’s funny … working with the hatchery business all these years I have seen straight run chicks run just about 50/50 all the time. These Lamonas don’t … eight out of twelve chicks are pullets but the last five I hatched turned out to be two cockerels and three pullets. I also noticed that some of the chicks have little spurs, right when they hatch, and those are the ones that turned out to be cockerels … every time! I have two new houses, one 8X12 feet and the other 8X16 feet. They were at the hatchery and I moved them to the farm. These Lamonas are fascinating birds! I can sit in the backyard and they run to see me and jump up in my lap … following me all over the yard. They get in the way sometimes when I’m working with my plants, but they are just looking for bugs … it’s fun!

September 20, 1985: The Lamonas are getting along just fine … the oldest ones are sure beautiful. I will send you some pictures of them later. The old rooster that lived is a good one. I also still have that hen that never laid. (I think that’s her name.) I haven’t gotten a “sure” head count on how many pullets and cockerels I have. I do have enough cockerels to select pretty good for breeding stock, however. I was just looking at them again, noticing the combs on the cockerels. They aren’t good. They look more than a Leghorn type … uneven on some. BUT I do have a couple that are not unevenly serrated and don’t seem to have quite the Leghorn type. Legs … they are a bit leggy, as you told me, but most of the pullets are pretty good … it is just the cockerels. The wattles on most of them are O.K., but the good cock, the sire, had one long wattle and one short one … about 30 per cent of the chicks inherited this defect. No crooked toes at all! Their color is exceptional, no white in their ear lobes is noticeable yet. Lamona body type is definitely there, proper carriage and an abundance of feathers. I will have another chicken house soon. This one will have two pens. I want to put the best Lamonas in one pen and the rest of the pullets in the other pen. For the best ones do you suggest I select the shortest legs, and even wattles on pullets; for cockerels select for comb, legs, and wattles? If you have any suggestions I would like to have your advice. I would like to sell eggs, even chicks, next spring. I would like to hatch chicks for breeding stock from June sometime until the middle of August. With as many pullets as I have I think I can get enough during that time. The real problem I am having right now is that I have many ages … I would like to avoid that next year if I can. ***

Monday, February 13, 2012


This 1923 history of the Lamona is reprinted from the March 2004 SPPA Bulletin. The Lamona was admitted to the Standard in 1933. Breeders are now working to re-create it.

Creation of the Lamona

Editor’s Note: SPPA member Brian Tibbot located the following account, published by the U.S. Bureau of Animal Husbandry (USDA) ca. 1923. Lamonas enjoyed very brief popularity, but quickly disappeared as commercial egg production changed from colony housing to caged birds. The Lamona was a favorite of former SPPA Secretary, Marion Nash, who concentrated considerable effort to its preservation. Today, less than a century after its creation, the Lamona has most likely vanished.

The country will soon have a new breed of poultry, a white fowl with red ear lobes, that lays a white shelled egg, developed by the poultry experts of the United States Department of Agriculture at the Government Experimental Farm at Beltsville, Maryland. Heretofore, it is said, all breeds with red ear lobes have laid brown shelled eggs. The project was conceived by Harry M. Lamon, Senior Poultryman of the Bureau of Animal Industry, and at the suggestion of the chief of that bureau Secretary Wallace has named the new breed Lamona for the originator.

The new fowl possesses characteristics of great merit. It has sufficient size to fit the demands of the great number of consumers who want a bird weighing 4 to 6 pounds. The body is long and of good depth, giving a large capacity for the reproductive organs.

The Lamona fowl is larger than the Leghorn, approaching in size fowls of the American class. It is white, which is most desirable from the marketman’s viewpoint. It has a comb and wattles of medium size, which are not easily frosted, thereby checking development or egg production. It is well feathered, which makes it resistant to sudden changes in temperature. These points all combine to make it an exceptionally good winter layer of white eggs.

The project resulting in the creation of the new Lamona was started in 1912 when the idea was conceived of combining three varieties of fowls to produce a breed having the shape and the market qualities of the Dorkingg, with a yellow skin, white plumage, and four toes and laying a white egg. A low stationed, close-feathered White Plymouth Rock male was mated to a Silver Gray female; and a Single Comb White Leghorn male, having a rather small, low comb, was mated to a Silver Gray Dorking female.

The second year the offspring of these crosses were mated separately, the females were trap nested, and only the high producers of the largest and whitest eggs were used for breeders. Only males from high producing females have been used at any time. The third year the results of the crosses of the second year were mated, and in addition care was taken to select white specimens with yellow skins having only four toes. Since then it has been a task of careful selection and breeding.

By selecting according to Mendelian law most of the fowls have come white with yellow legs and four toes. White shelled eggs and red ear lobes have been more difficult to fix. There have been many hens that laid white shelled eggs, but they did not have red ear lobes, and there have been many hens with red ear lobes that laid tinted eggs. But a considerable number of hens have been raised that meet the requirements and several cocks have thrown daughters with red ear lobes which laid white shelled eggs. With these fowls of known quality and breeding mated together progress toward the ideal should be more rapid.

The second variety of this project is a Pyle colored fowl. The females have pale buff breasts, while the males are white with rich red wing bows and back, which makes them very attractive. They have not been so fully developed as the whites and some lay tinted while others lay white eggs. They have such unusual color markings that it undoubtedly prove worthwhile to develop them further. In this case an effort will be made to intensify the color in the females which at present is rather pale and unattractive. They should add a very noteworthy color combination in a breed of distinctive merity.

The new breed is not yet ready for introduction, and no specimens or eggs will be sold until the characteristics sought have been more firmly fixed. It is as well or better developed than were several of the breeds and varieties when they were introduced by their breeders, but the specialists of the department believe that it is not sufficient to have a few specimens that measure up to the ideal. They want the characteristics so well fixed that the fowls will produce a high percentage of progeny of the ideal type. When sufficient stock of such birds has been obtained specimens will be sent to State agricultural colleges and experiment stations to test their adaptability to different sections and conditions.

It would take an exceptionally keen sense of taste to distinguish any difference between white and brown eggs at breakfast but human beings are such faddists that in the opinion of some, the difference is there just the same. In New York the demand is for white shells while in Boston the brown eggs is just as popular. “Some men will have only Dutch Belted cattle or Hampshire hogs,” said one of the poultry specialists in the Department of Agriculture. “They are color enthusiasts. The liking for white shelled eggs may have grown from associating the egg with the white poultry an agreeable picture suggesting cleanliness. Actually, however, the brown shell egg is every bit as good as the white until you arrive at the price in New York. The defference there sometimes is considerably in favor of the white. At present all the general purpose breeds of chickens are layers of brown eggs. Some of the leading markets demand the white egg, however, and as the price favors the white product it is important to supply it, if possible, and at the same time produce a fowl having weight in meat. The new Lamona is designed to do these things.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Chicken Chase

National Geographic posted this video of animal control pros flummoxed by a chicken.

I'm not sure what the background is -- apparently someone's chickens either escaped or were set loose in this Queens, New York neighborhood. Now the neighbors are complaining. [The Chief Complainer is a ringer for my mother. Thanks, Mom!]

It made me think of The Sopranos, with a non-violent end.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

American Meat film

American Meat is a documentary about how commercial meat is produced in America -- and how it could be done better. It features Joel Salatin, who has taken on mythic proportions in the local food movement. He's a terrific spokesperson, even if I do have some differences with him.

The film is a good introduction for those whose interest has been sparked by choices on supermarket shelves -- what's organic, grass fed? How is it different from the rest of the meat in the case?

Bob Banner of HopeDance hosted the showing in San Luis Obispo's Palm Theater. He invited local ranchers who are raising grass-fed beef. One has made an attempt to raise chickens and turkeys but lost the chickens to predators and found the turkeys expensive to raise, costing $150 each. She found buyers for them anyway, but I'm confident that there are ways to do that better. Raising meat in more environmentally responsible and humane ways takes time and patience to restore. I applaud these ranchers for taking the steps to engage this change.

Our local university, California State Polytechnic University, has a large ag program that is committed to industrial methods. The administration stepped into a controversy a couple of years ago when Michael Pollan was invited to speak on campus and the ag department demanded that he not be allowed to speak unless industrial spokespeople were included in the program. The university terminated its organic farm CSA a year ago for dubious reasons. Nevertheless, some of the aggies and the faculty continue to carry a torch for alternative agriculture. An alum who left a ranch in Santa Cruz County provided a place to raise grass-fed beef, and it's available once or twice a year. Swanton Ranch Beef is worth the price, $6 a pound in 30-pound lots.

In the film, one hog farmer decides to raise some of his hogs in more humane conditions and on organic feed so that he can sell the pork at a premium price. When economic conditions changed, the buyer backed out, but the farmer continued to allow the hogs access to the outdoors. He wasn't able to get the organic feed, so that goal evaporated, but even so, he found that he and his fellow farmers prefer the flavor of the humanely raised pork. Oddly, he still resists agreeing that humane methods are better. Go figure.

Sadly, the outdoor access that qualifies as 'humane' is bare concrete. At least it's outside in the fresh air and sunshine. He remarks that he didn't think the hogs would want to go outside, and is surprised that they are outdoors even when the temperature is below zero. Duh.

Bob made the point that even though the meat produced by organic and humane methods is one percent of meat sold, it's a niche. That's the way I feel about backyard chickens and fresh eggs: every family with their own chickens is one less customer for that industrial system.