Saturday, December 29, 2012

Heritage turkeys gain in the market

Frank Reese of Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch in Kansas brought this news story to my attention today:

CHICAGO—New Research reveals its turkey, not chicken, that's taking the lead in poultry sales. Research from Mintel on the U.S. poultry market reveals that turkey, duck and other specialty birds grew 6.5 percent in one year, reaching $7.1 billion from year 2011 to 2012.

Growing from $6 billion in 2008, turkey increased most compared to other poultry products. Today, poultry in the U.S. is valued at $30 billion, with chicken accounting for 58 percent of the total poultry market, valued at $17.3 billion, sales of chicken parts grew 4.5 percent year-on-year and whole chickens increased 0.6 percent reaching $5.5 billion. 

"The growth of other poultry products over 2011 and 2012 is partly attributed to the increasing popularity of Heritage turkeys, which are bigger, take longer to reach maturity and sell for more than standard turkeys," says John N Frank, category manager for Mintel Food and Drink. 

The study showed poultry may be pulling consumers from the red-meat market, with 38 percent of U.S. consumers saying they have increased their consumption of poultry in the last year. Rates have also increased among young adults, reaching 43 percent, compared to the 36 percent of senior consumers. 

Ethnic consumers are a driving force behind the poultry market, with 73 percent of Asians or Pacific Islander consumers and 72 percent of Hispanic and African-American consumers cooking chicken at home, as apposed to the 62 percent of White consumers.

Boy, I'll say. Here's some true good economic news that deserves more attention. Heritage turkey producers never have enough turkeys to meet the demand. Those numbers will rise every year as more farmers get involved.

I reserved a Bourbon Red turkey from a local producer, Erin Krier of Babe's Birds in Nipomo, California for our Christmas feast. I was able to share it with family members who are unfamiliar with heritage birds. They were all impressed with how delicious it was. Moist, flavorful white meat and dark, dark meat. Yum. I'm still making soup from the carcass. The Bourbon Reds in this photo are at Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch.

I followed Steve Pope's suggestions for adding water to the roasting pan and covering the pan, to provide the moist slow heat that is necessary to cook heritage birds that are raised ranging on pasture.

Frank makes the point that heritage turkeys are not, as quoted in the article, bigger than broad-breasted white commercial ones. The Bourbon Red I got weighed 15 pounds dressed out, and it was one of the largest in the group. At $6 a pound, it was a bargain. We fed nine people at the feast with enough leftovers for a couple of turkey salad sandwiches, a turkey casserole and a gallon or two of soup.

I suspect that the reporter misunderstood the statement from the company spokesman, or he may have misunderstood himself. Educating the public about heritage breeds, what they are and why they are important, is part of the mission we are on.

Another interesting aspect of this brief story is that ethnic consumers are driving the market for poultry. Asian consumers are often eager to purchase live birds, and are usually an important part of local poultry markets. Black chickens are especially desirable.

Connecting with the new markets for heritage poultry is a route to success. Consumers are leaving commercial poultry behind.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Oregano in chicken feed

The NY Times reports on the latest attempt of factory farms to find ways to clean up their act: feed chickens oregano. I don't oppose it, but feel like it's putting a Band-Aid on a serious situation that requires a complete overhaul. Traditional breed chickens raised on an integrated farm don'tneed these extreme measures.

FREDERICKSBURG, Pa. — The smell of oregano wafting from Scott Sechler’s office is so strong that anyone visiting Bell & Evans these days could be forgiven for wondering whether Mr. Sechler has forsaken the production of chicken and gone into pizza.

Jessica Kourkounis for The New York Times
The experience of Scott Sechler, Bell & Evans’s owner, with using oregano oil led to a test at Country View Family Farms.
Jessica Kourkounis for The New York Times
Over the last six months, about 5,000 pigs at Country View Family Farms have eaten feed laced with By-O-Reg after being weaned from their mothers.
Oregano lies loose in trays and tied into bunches on tabletops and counters, and a big, blue drum that held oregano oil stands in the corner. “Have you ever tried oregano tea?” Mr. Sechler asked, mashing leaves between his broad fingers.
Off and on over the last three years or so, his chickens have been eating a specially milled diet laced with oregano oil and a touch of cinnamon. Mr. Sechler swears by the concoction as a way to fight off bacterial diseases that plague meat and poultry producers without resorting to antibiotics, which some experts say can be detrimental to the humans who eat the meat. Products at Bell & Evans, based in this town about 30 miles east of Harrisburg, have long been free of antibiotics, contributing to the company’s financial success as consumers have demanded purer foods.
But Mr. Sechler said that nothing he had used as a substitute in the past worked as well as oregano oil.
“I have worried a bit about how I’m going to sound talking about this,” he said. “But I really do think we’re on to something here.”
Skeptics of herbal medicines abound, as any quick Internet search demonstrates. “Oil of oregano is a perennial one, advertised as a cure for just about everything,” said Scott Gavura, a pharmacist in Toronto who writes for the Web site Science-Based Medicine. “But there isn’t any evidence, there are too many unanswered questions and the only proponents for it are the ones producing it.”
Nonetheless, Mr. Gavura said he would welcome a reduction in the use of antibiotics in animals.
At the same time, consumers are growing increasingly sophisticated about the content of the foods that they eat.
Data on sales of antibiotic-free meat is hard to come by, but the sales are a tiny fraction of the overall meat market. Sales in the United States of organic meat, poultry and fish, which by law must be raised without antibiotics, totaled $538 million in 2011, according to the Organic Trade Association. By comparison, sales of all beef that year were $79 billion.
Still, retailers like Costco, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, as well as some restaurant chains, complain that they cannot get enough antibiotic-free meat.
Noodles & Company, a fast-growing chain of more than 300 restaurants, recently added antibiotic-free pork to the choices of ingredients that customers can add to their made-to-order pastas. It ensured its supply by ordering cuts of meat that were not in relatively high demand and by committing in advance to buy a year’s worth, said Dan Fogarty, its executive vice president for marketing.
“We’re deliberately voting with our pocketbooks,” he said.
In a nationwide telephone survey of 1,000 adults in March, more than 60 percent told the Consumer Reports National Research Center that they would be willing to pay at least 5 cents a pound more for meat raised without antibiotics.
“Before, it was kind of a nice little business, and while it’s still microscopic in the grand scheme of things, we’re seeing acceptance from retailers across the country, not just in California and on the East Coast,” said Stephen McDonnell, founder and chief executive of Applegate, an organic and natural meats company.
Mr. McDonnell said a confluence of trends, from heightened interest in whole and natural foods to growing concerns about medical problems like diabetes, obesity and gluten allergies, were contributing to the demand for antibiotic-free meat.
There is growing concern among health care experts and policy makers about antibiotic resistance and the rise of “superbugs,” bacteria that are impervious to one or more antibiotics. Those bacteria can be passed on to consumers, who eat meat infected with them and then cannot be treated.
In November, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and 25 national health organizations and advocacy groups issued a statement on antibiotics that, among other things, called for “limiting the use of medically important human antibiotics in food animals” and “supporting the use of such antibiotics in animals only for those uses that are considered necessary for assuring animal health.”
In 2011, there were several prominent recalls involving bacterial strains that are resistant to antibiotics, including more than 60 million pounds of ground beef contaminated with salmonella Typhimurium and about 36 million pounds of ground turkey spoiled with salmonella Heidelberg.
Consumer Reports released a study last month that found the bacteria Yersinia enterocolitica in 69 percent of 198 pork chop and ground pork samples bought at stores around the country. Some of the bacteria were resistant to one or more antibiotics.
Analysis of Food and Drug Administration data by the Center for Science in the Public Interest found that 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States are used in animals. The majority of those antibiotics are used to spur growth or prevent infections from spreading in the crowded conditions in which most animal production takes place today.
The European Union has banned the use of antibiotics to accelerate growth, and the European Parliament is pushing to end their use as tools to prevent disease as well.
The oregano oil product Mr. Sechler uses, By-O-Reg Plus, is made by a Dutch company, Ropapharm International. In the late 1990s, Bayer conducted trials on the product, known as Ropadiar in Europe, comparing its ability to control diarrhea in piglets caused by E. coli with that of four of the company’s products.
In all four test groups, Ropadiar outperformed the Bayer products. “Strange but true!” Dr. Lucio Nisoli, the Bayer product manager, wrote in his report on the trial. “Compared to the various anti-infectives, with Ropadiar I have obtained much more effective and quicker results. Furthermore, piglets treated with Ropadiar look much more healthy and were not so dehydrated and wasted.”
Astrid K√∂hler, a spokeswoman in Monheim, Germany, for Bayer Healthcare’s animal health business, confirmed that the company had done the trial but said that “in further evaluations the results of the first study could not be replicated with the same species, nor with other species.”
Other testing is rare. A test of oregano oil on four small farms in Maine, which was financed by a $9,914 grant from the Agriculture Department, found it was effective in controlling the parasites and worms that afflict goats and sheep.
Dr. Harry G. Preuss, a professor of physiology and biology at the Georgetown University Medical Center, studied the effectiveness of oregano oil on 18 mice infected with staph bacteria. Six mice were given oregano oil, and half survived for the full 30 days of the treatment. Six received carvacrol, regarded by many experts to be the antibacterial component in oregano, in olive oil, and none of them survived longer than 21 days. Six other mice received only olive oil and died within three days.
The study, which was underwritten by a company, North American Herb and Spice, and presented at a meeting of the American College of Nutrition in 2001, was repeated and all those findings were corroborated, Dr. Preuss said.
Dr. Preuss said he had applied to the National Institutes of Health for financing of a larger study, with no luck so far. “This is really promising, particularly when you consider that we are facing a crisis in our hospitals and health systems with the increasing resistance to antibiotics,” he said.
After hearing about Bell & Evans’s use of oregano oil, Bob Ruth, the president of Country View Family Farms, a Pennsylvania-based company, decided to test it on some of his pigs. Over the last six months, about 5,000 pigs have eaten feed laced with By-O-Reg after being weaned from their mothers.
“The preliminary results are encouraging, but we need to be sure it’s giving us the results we need to give us the confidence to start using it more broadly,” Mr. Ruth said.
Mr. Ruth and Mr. Sechler warned that using oregano oil to control bacterial infection also requires maintaining high standards of sanitation in barns where animals are sheltered, as well as good ventilation and light, and a good nutrition program.
After a chicken flock leaves a barn at Bell & Evans for slaughter, for instance, the facility is hosed down, its water lines are cleaned out and everything is disinfected. It sits empty for two to three weeks to allow bacteria to die off and to ensure that the rodents that carry salmonella and campylobacter are eliminated.
“You can’t just replace antibiotics with oregano oil and expect it to work,” Mr. Sechler said.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Chickens add to our quality of life. Merry Christmas to all the chicken owners and their birds!

People like chickens. When I first started keeping a few in my suburban back yard in San Jose, California, heartland of Silicon Valley, the first thing many visitors said was a wistful, “I always wanted to have chickens.” When one chick unexpectedly grew up to crow, neighbors mentioned how charming it was to hear the sounds of the countryside.

Chickens attract the eye as well as the palate. Chickens are naturally pleasant to see. Some breeds are especially beautiful and have been bred specifically as ornamental birds. Poultry can decorate your estate, whether palatial or rustic.

They are excellent interpretive birds. Historically accurate flocks are kept at farm museums, such as Virginia’s Frontier Culture Museum, which keeps Dorkings on its 17th century English farm exhibit.

Chickens can be good therapy birds. Pat Foreman brings Oprah Henfry to nursing homes where she sits with the residents. They enjoy her peaceful company and soft feathers.

Chicken flock owners are widely diverse. Some keep a few and make pets of them. They aren’t cats or dogs, but can be delightfully personable. Their individuality adds the same sparkle to our lives that other animal companions do.

Those with more businesslike reasons for keeping chickens nevertheless enjoy their company and take pride in raising healthy, vigorous, beautiful chickens. They contribute to local economies and offer alternatives to industrialized agriculture.

The diversity of chickens speaks to the diversity of people. They touch us in profound ways. Jesus was inspired by the protection a mother hen gives her chicks: " often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!"

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas chickens

The Muppet chickens sing a Christmas carol. What could be better?

Terry Golson is offering a HenCam calendar, for that chicken person on your list. She'll have vintage chicken photographs available in January.

Chicken Run Rescue offers a calendar and note cards, too.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Red mottled Houdans

Does anyone have pictures of Red Mottled Houdans? Daniel Maennle in Germany raised the question. It’s a variety that has been raised in the past, but none have been reported in recent years. He wonders whether red mottled Houdans might look like Orloffs or Leghorn or Polish tollbunt, a mix of brown, black and white.

Please let me know and I’ll pass them on to Daniel! I’m eager to see them, too.

The black and white Mottled Houdan is an historic breed that was included in the original 1874 Standard. The solid White Houdan was added in 1914. Solid black, blue mottled and red mottled varieties have been raised but are not recognized by the APA.

Houdans are an Old French breed that became popular as a dual purpose production breed in the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Houdans were developed from early French market hybrids. Historically, they were considered one of the best table fowl breeds, but are also good egg layers. This historic illustration comes from Lewis Wright’s 1890 Illustrated Book of Poultry.

Feathers decorate their faces. The ones below the beak, around the throat, are the beard, and the ones on the rest of the head, below and around the sides of the eyes, down to the beard and over the earlobes, are muffs.

The V or horn comb, required for exhibition in the U.S., is unusual. Crevecoeurs, the solid lack birds shown with mottled Houdans in this illustration from the 1924 Toutes les Poules. and Sultans also have V combs. In England and France, the leaf comb, shaped like butterfly wings, is still recognized. Leaf combs are the result of the V comb crossed with a single comb. Dr. J. Batty’s Poultry Colour Guide, 1977, shows these drawings of leaf and horn combs. Lewis Wright’s Illustrated Book of Poultry, 1890, shows a prominent leaf comb. Polish, Crevecoeur and Sultan chickens also have V combs.

They are crested, like Polish chickens, with which they share some heritage. The crest is not only feathers – the skull actually has a knob on it. They get their fifth toe from the Dorking, another inherited influence. They lay large chalk-white eggs. At 8 lbs. for a mature rooster and 6 ½ lbs. for a hen, they are also meat birds. The quality of their meat commends them to gourmet menus. It is fine-grained, white and juicy. The delicate bones reduce the proportion of bone to meat. All around, it is a fancy bird with a delightful appearance that is a serious producer.

Houdans are good foragers but are amenable to being kept in confinement. They are considered non-sitters, so their eggs must be hatched in artificial incubators or under hens of another breed. They are good winter layers.

Houdans have suffered from excessive crossing with Polish, to increase the size of that irresistible crest. Some birds have so much crest they can hardly see. While increasing the crest, crossing with Polish has reduced Houdans’ size. Devoting a flock to maintaining Standard size and keeping the crest in proportion is a worthy goal. Joseph Marquette of Yellow House Farm in New Hampshire is experimenting with crossing his Houdans with a white Dorking rooster, to increase their size. His goal is hens that weigh five pounds by six months of age.

“The biggest overall issue is that there are not enough of them,” he says. “We need more people breeding them.

The feathered faces require some extra care. The birds need easy access to fresh water without getting their feathers wet. If they get dirty, they should be washed and dried so that it doesn’t interfere with their ability to eat and drink. Mr. Marquette provides one-gallon chick waterers for all his Houdans.

“This keeps their crests clean and dry,” he says. “In the winter, it is necessary to empty the waterers at night fall so that they don't freeze and crack.”

Houdans are included with the Crested Breeds in the Polish Breeders Club, headed by Jim Parker, who keeps both large fowl and bantams:

RR #6, 3232 Schooler Road
Cridersville, OH 45806

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Dreaming of Spring

It’s December, the beginning of winter for a lot of people but the month when poultry people start thinking about what they’ll raise next spring. It’s a time to reflect on the past and look forward into the future. Tyler Danke of Purely Poultry in Wisconsin, has some unusual chickens available, as well as the old favorites.

He works with breeders who can specialize in their chosen breeds. He’s connected with a Marans breeder who is raising a rainbow of color varieties. Tyler has Black Copper, Blue Copper, Birchen, shown in this photo, and Wheaten available now, sold as an assortment. Blue Splash and Cuckoo are also available. He plans to add more colors in the future, such as black-tailed buff, copper splash, white and golden cuckoos. Let him know what you’re interested in by starting a flock in 2013. Only Black Copper and Wheaten varieties have been recognized for exhibition, and Tyler assures me that the birds he is offering are show quality. Contact the Marans clubs, the MaransChicken Club, and the Marans Club of America, founded after personal differences, for more information.

Tyler sold around 150 of the Marans chicks in November. At $18 a chick, that’s a good indicator of how excited poultry people are about Marans!

For other dark egg layers, he also has Penedescencas, Welsummers and Barnevelders.

For green eggs, he has true Blue Ameraucanas. Blue is a difficult color variety to produce, because the offspring are never all blue. Some are black and some splash. They will be available in March 2013.

Among old favorites are Rhode Island Reds, black Australorps, Barred Rocks, Black Orpingtons, and New Hampshires.

“My favorite breed is the Black Australorp,” he said. “Here in Wisconsin, the large Hmong population offers an instant market for black chickens. They are great layers, too.”

At Purely Poultry, Terri and Megan answer the phones (920-359-0554) and both have backyard flocks. “They are available 9-5 Central time to answer questions and help you choose the best backyard chicken for you,” he said.