Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Turkey history

This post comes from an article I wrote for Early American Life. If you are considering raising turkeys this year, you'll want to know the interesting history these uniquely American birds have:

Tracking the Traditional Turkey

Feeding time at the zoo brought hundreds of turkeys to the predators’ enclosures, where they met their fate at the claws of cat and talons of bird. In Montezuma’s early-sixteenth-century personal menagerie, domestic turkeys were the food of choice.
Human members of Montezuma’s court likewise favored the bird, although more delicately prepared. They called it huexolotl, probably a name imitative of the turkey’s gobbling. They also deified it as Chalchiuhtotolin, the Jeweled Bird that presided over ritual self-mortification. This illustration, form Sabine Eiche's book, Presenting the Turkey: The Fabulous Story of a Flamboyant and Flavorful Bird, shows  Chalchiuhtotolin, the Jeweled Turkey from the Codex Borbonicus. The Codex is dated to around 1507, prior to the Spanish Conquest of 1518-1521, although some scholars date it later.
            Tomas de Torquemada recorded that Montezuma’s account books showed 8,000 turkeys consumed by the palace household, which was a military establishment, at one marketing.
Turkeys were likely one of the first American critters Columbus and his men saw when they landed on the Caribbean islands, probably on his fourth voyage in 1502. The explorers brought them back to Europe at the mandate of the king. In a letter of 1511, Ferdinand of Spain ordered his chief-treasurer in the West Indies to send five males and five females on every ship sailing home to Spain, presumably for breeding.
            At that time, the Spanish called the American bird pabo. Exactly how the bird, scientifically designated Meleagris gallopavo in the eighteenth century, acquired its common name remains clouded. Sabine Eiche, in her 2004 book Presenting the Turkey: The Fabulous Story of a Flamboyant and Flavourful Bird, translates Gonzalo Fernando d’Oviedo’s 1525 summary of the natural history of the West Indies, where he includes turkeys in the Peacock section. “Although their tails are not as large or as beautiful as those of Spanish peacocks, the rest of their plumage is most beautiful,” he wrote. “The flesh of these peacocks is very good, and incomparably better and more tender than that of the peacocks of Spain.”
            These domesticated turkeys would have been somewhat different from the endemic wild turkeys, although they are the same species. A second wild species, the ocellated turkey Agriocharis ocellata, is native to the Yucatan Peninsula in Central America, but the two interbreed freely. Some modern authorities suggest that the two should be considered species of a single genus. More than one farmer tells of a turkey tom that came to visit his hens and stayed. An infusion of wild blood is usually advantageous in small barnyard flocks.

North American turkeys arrived in England sometime after 1520. The guinea fowl, an African fowl, already claimed the appellation “turkey,” and Englishmen called both species turkeys for a time. Their obvious differences, however, required separate names. “Turkey” might have been a general term for foreign goods: the English used Turkey as a vague geographical term associated with Central Asia and Tartary. Some believe that English trade with the Eastern Mediterranean, called Turkish at that time, conferred its name to the exotic bird.
            William Strickland of Boynton-on-the-Wolds, Yorkshire, is sometimes credited with bringing the turkey to England in 1524, a result of a voyage with Sebastian Cabot. Although historical documentation is lacking, Strickland was honored with a grant of arms with the turkey cock as crest in 1550.
            Europeans may have seen turkeys much earlier. St. Peter’s Cathedral at Schlesing, Norway, has a frieze with eight medallions depicting American turkeys below a mural believed to have been painted around 1280. If turkeys were in Norway at that early date, they didn’t catch on as they did later.
            By 1541 the name was established and the bird became a delicacy among Englishmen and mainland Europeans. In Spain, Cervantes included turkey as emblematic of exalted personages in Don Quixote (1605). In England, turkey remained in the top three or four most expensive fowls until late in the seventeenth century, competing with swan, crane, and stork. The French called the bird coq d’Inde, rooster of India. It appeared as an item of upper-class feasts in Francois Rabelais’s second edition of Gargantua and Pantagruel, dated 1542. (Since it was not in the original 1534 edition, it must have acquired cachet at noble tables at that time.) At sixteenth-century Italian banquets, the carver, trinciante, provided part of the evening’s entertainment. Vincenzo Cervio published a book on the subject in 1581, Il trinciante, describing the art of carving everything from meat to fruit.

So, Pilgrims would have been familiar with this most American fowl when they arrived in 1620. (Domesticated English turkeys were sent to Jamestown to supply the Virginia colony as early as 1584.) Plimouth Plantation welcomed the bird, as recorded by William Bradford some years after the December 11, 1621, feast that later became celebrated as Thanksgiving. “And besides water foul, ther was a great store of wild Turkies, of which they took many,” he wrote.
            A pamphlet for the proposed colony of New Albion, dated 1616, touts “millions of Elkes, Stags, Deer, Turkeys, Fowl [and] Fish.” In 1629, Francis Higginson of Massachusetts Bay wrote to friends in England that he was shooting “fat, sweet and fleshy” turkeys and hen-sized ruffed grouse, which he called partridges, in the woods. For “a great part of the winter” the colonists had “eaten nothing but roast meat of divers fowls which they have killed.”
            The abundance of game astonished the colonists, who believed that they might have found Eden. The Bible, after all, told that Adam and Eve had been driven out of the Garden, which might still exist on Earth. In 1498, Columbus believed he had discovered the Gihon, one of the four rivers leading out of Eden, when he sailed into the Orinoco River in South America.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

New chicks!

After carefully talking it over with my husband, we decided that we didn't want to acquire more chicks right now. We both have a lot of work on our plates and although we are set up for chickens and have three girls in our run now, we didn't need another project. New hens need attention as they work into the existing pecking order. It's always an adjustment.

So as we packed to drive the couple of hours to Ventura for the Seaside Feather Fanciers show April 13, we didn't bring a carton for birds. We knew we wouldn't be getting any.

Until we got there and saw these adorable month-old chicks, raised by Christie Hittner of Harmony Farms in Los Alamos. I was especially excited about the Ancona. Obviously, one was not enough, and we both loved the Welsummer and the Blue-Laced Red Wyandotte, so we took three.

 They immediately began to enjoy the backyard grass.
 This Welsummer is so sweet!

 The Ancona is living up to her breed reputation as flighty, but she's curious and eager to explore, if a bit high-strung.
The Wyandotte is already the largest of the three. I'm calling them The Three Graces -- Aglaia (elegance, brightness and splendor); Thalia (youth, beauty and good cheer); and Euphrosyne (mirth and joyfulness) -- or, if I can't remember which is which, Grace, Grace and Grace.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Emu egg breakfast

I attended the Ventura Poultry show on Saturday. A great turnout, with 768 birds entered, an increase over the usual spring show participation of around 500 birds. Great looking birds, too.

I won an emu egg in the raffle! The donor assured me that it was fresh but not fertile, so I could eat it without feeling that I was depriving the world of a potential emu. We eagerly approached it as our Sunday morning breakfast.

My husband got out his electric drill to drill holes in both ends so we could blow it and keep the shell. It cracked a little, but is salvageable.

The albumen was very thick, difficult to blow even with fairly large holes. We shook the egg to break the yolk so that it would flow out of the egg. Much more albumen than yolk, proportionately, than chicken eggs.

The albumen was so thick I couldn’t scramble it with a whisk. The electric beaters did the job. It remained thick, with a custard texture, about two cups’ worth.

I used a regular frying pan to cook it. It cooked up light yellow and delicate. The flavor was mild. I prefer chicken eggs, but this was an interesting experiment.

Thanks for the opportunity to try a new poultry product!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Chicken hotel

Image: Chicken hotel
Photo courtesy of Bill Bezuk / Eugene Backyard Farmer 

Bill Bezuk, owner of the Eugene Backyard Farmer in Oregon, has opened what he believes is the first chicken hotel in the country.
Chicken owners often take to urban farming blogs with this lament: Where to house the ladies when they leave town?
Bill Bezuk, owner of Eugene Backyard Farmer in Eugene, Ore., used to offer a chicken sitting service, but biking around town before and after work proved onerous, so he came up with another idea: a luxury chicken hotel.
Bezuk named it The Nest, and for now there are two suites next to Bezuk’s urban farming supply store: The Blue Andalusian and the Gold Campine. (The former is named for a rare breed with black or mottled feathers; the former is a haughty show chicken with a perky chest.)
The basic service – fresh food, water and a safe place to sleep – costs $2 per chicken per night. For a dollar more, Bezuk offers “deluxe accommodations” – organic food, fresh vegetable scraps and turndown service.
Yes, really. Turndown service.
When the store closes, which is around bedtime for chickens, Bezuk or one of his four employees will lure the hens into the enclosed area with meal worms.
The chicken hotel opened in February, and May is already booked – another indicator that the urban chicken phenomenon continues as city councils across the country vote to approve urban livestock. Bezuk said he plans to add two more split-level chicken suites, each of which houses six to eight chickens.
Bezuk believes that he has the first chicken-boarding business in the U.S. – there are a handful in the U.K., where chicken ownership has also ballooned in the last five years, a response to the growth of the organic and local foods movements.
There’s Fowlty Towers in Cowden, a village in south east England, and The Chicken Hotel in Cornwall, which boasts spa treatments, including emery-board pedicures to “round the tips.”
“Rooster nails are especially a problem for the backs of their lady-friends,” The Chicken Hotel explains on its website.
(No boys allowed at The Nest in Eugene. "City regulations prohibit roos, and we want to be consistent with ordinances," Bezuk said.)
Anna Goeser, who runs Easy Acres Chicken Sitting in Los Angeles, said she hasn’t heard of any other chicken boarding business – possibly because of the risk of spreading avian-borne illnesses. She doesn’t even know of other chicken sitters.
Goeser started her chicken sitting service three years ago with just a handful of business cards – she says it’s grown into a successful venture. Last week, she was taking care of five flocks – for $25 a day, or $40 if the family lives more than 10 miles away.
At each home, she wears shoe covers and gloves to reduce the risk of spreading infection.
“I have a tub and I have bleach and a lot of flip flops that I end up disposing of,” Goeser said. “I’m not a hazmat girl, but I get intense about it.”
Back in Eugene, a mid-sized city known for its quirky and free-spirited politics, Bezuk says that keeping a clean chicken hotel is crucial. Thoroughly cleaning the coops is key to avoid the spread of mites and avian illnesses, although he believes there's little chance of that given that the chickens who stay at The Nest don’t mingle with other livestock.
Even so, after the chickens leave, he and his employees go into the suites with a shovel and bucket to scoop up the bird poop. They sprinkle diatomaceous earth – an organic compound used in toxic liquid spills -- in the nesting boxes to absorb parasites that may be lurking.
“The challenge with The Nest is the challenge with any hotel – avoiding overbooking and making sure that the chickens check out on time,” Bezuk said. “Cleaning the room between guests is clearly important.”

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Salt Lake City

My friend Judy Fahys, environment reporter at the Salt Lake Tribune, took this picture over the weekend:
Thanks, Judy!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Pomeranian Geese

Pomeranian Geese are a historic German breed, associated with the Pomorze region of eastern Germany between the rivers Oder and Vistula. Although only Gray Saddleback and Buff Saddleback varieties are recognized, they are also raised in Gray, White and Buff varieties. In Germany, the Buff Pomeranian is known as Cellar Goose.

True Pomeranians are distinguished by their pink bills and pink legs and feet. They have a single lobe. Orange bills and feet or a double lobe disqualify a bird as a Pomeranian.
 Terence Spencer of Nebraska generously shared his beautiful photos for the article in the current issue of Backyard Poultry magazine. These are Brown Saddlebacks with a Lavender Saddleback in the foreground.
Is there anything sweeter than a mother goose and her goslings? These are Terence's Buff Pomeranians.
 A pair of his Brown Saddleback Pomeranians. Note those bright pink bills and feet.
 A happy farmyard of beautiful Pomeranians -- brown and lavender saddlebacks.
 A closer look at that lovely lavender color.

Thank you, Terence, for sharing these wonderful photos!