Wednesday, May 29, 2013


There are lots of ways for people to participate with chickens. Here's a woman who has made a business of it:

 Madeleine Scinto reports in the New York Post

Folks are a—cluckin’ for Rent-A-Chicken—the first American business to offer hens on loan!
Founder Leslie Suitor launched her feathery venture after neighbors in Traverse City, Michigan started cooing for local eggs as part of a growing farm-to-table trend. Now Suitor makes thousands of dollars a year loaning birds to folks all over North Michigan, and her operation has spurred a wave of chicken rentals across the country.
"I just love chickens! They’re fascinating. Their personalities are really cute. They’re really giving. They’re fun to watch," Suitor squealed to The Post.
“You know the crazy cat lady? We’ll, I’m the crazy poultry lady!” she laughed.
She owns over 75 chickens, 10 miniature ducks and several roosters. And the 43-year-old mom has no plans to slow down, having just bought extra incubators to expand her family of fowl.
The Post interviews Suitor for the low down on her chickity biz—

Leslie Suitor
Leslie Suitor, 43, sits with one of her beloved chickens on her ten-acre property right outside Traverse City, Mich.
Why did you start your chickity biz?
My hubby and I first brainstormed the idea when our city lifted its ban on keeping chickens as pets in 2010.
We knew chicken equipment could be expensive; our friends bought an Amish, custom-made coop for $2,000! It can be difficult to raise baby chicks, which are delicate and frail, and we knew keeping any kind of pet outside over the winter can be a real pain.
So we thought it’d be a nice service to rent people hens in May, and take them back in early November before they stop laying as many eggs and the winter snows come. For $250, we give you two hens, a summer-cottage type coop and feed.
Customers become so attached to their hens over the season, we tag their chickens so they can have the same ones each year.

Leslie Suitor
A love for poultry runs in the fam! Suitor's 5-year-old son, whom she calls "the chicken whisperer," snuggles with his favorite hen, Carmelita
How did you get started?
We ordered 25 chicks from hatcheries all over the state. They overnight day-old babies in a big box in the mail. The chicks are tiny, tiny!
We started raising them in the bathroom. Don’t do that!
What kind of folks come a clacking?
We serve people in the suburbs who are interested in chickens, but they usually don’t know the first thing about chickens. They’re attracted to the “back to nature,” “back to farm life” idea. They want to teach their kids , “This is where your food comes from... not from a box!” They like the idea of healthy, natural eggs; they want free range a lot of the time.
Homegrown eggs are amazing, by the way. It’s like gourmet versus fast food. And they have one-third the cholesterol compared to store bought!

Leslie Suitor
Some of Suitor's chickens of the breed Buff Orpingtons mingle on Suitor's 10-acre property.
How’s your business growing?
Well, we have way more than 25 hens now. I think we have 9 breeds of chickens and about 75 chickens in total. I eventually want to offer every breed of chicken possible, including the Easter chicken breed. They lay blue and green eggs!
We’ve had people ask us if we were going to franchise. I don’t know the first thing about franchising! I didn’t want anything overwhelming like that. But there are lots of similar businesses that are taking off across the country. (They include companies like Coop and Caboodle in Alabama, Lands Sake in Massachusetts, and Rent a Coop in Maryland.)
Why did people in your area start wanting chickens in the first place?
When we first started doing this—it was chickens, chickens, chickens. It was almost a fad, and I feared it would phase out. But it hasn’t!
In my city and other cities, they now have “The Coop Loop.” You know how people have garden tours and you look at people’s gardens? Well, this is the same thing except it’s a walking tour of anywhere from five to eight coops in people’s back yards.

Leslie Suitor
Suitor fell in love with poultry at an early age. Here she is at two years old, feeding her pet rooster.
Why do you love chickens so much?
They’re fun to watch. Their eggs are great. They’re just absolutely incredible animals!
We’ve actually had people call and email us from all over the world about my fascination with chickens and the rentals. Four productions, two from New York and two from California, who wanted to do reality shows on us. I said, no, though. I do have four boys to raise, after all.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Poultry art

Chris Jones is a poultry artist in Wiltshire, England. His beautiful work is welcome.As standard breeds become more popular, their owners also want to see them featured in art.

He's had a lifelong interest in wildlife, which he also paints beautifully.  Chickens came to him about ten years ago, "after painting a few and enjoying it immensely," he wrote in an email.
"I was quite ignorant of all the breeds though, until I saw Richard Green-Armytage's book 'Extraordinary Chickens' which I am sure you will know. Those photos so inspired me that I went to the National Poultry Show later that year and immediately 'got the bug' to paint nothing but chickens."

His Ancona rooster.
 Light Sussex
 Out of the egg, a wealth of breeds

Partridge Wyandottes

He currently keeps a small flock of mixed bantams, which give him eggs as well as serving as subjects of his portraits. He favors pure breeds, or crosses that are visually interesting to his artist's eye. Currently included are a Black/red Yokohama, known in England as a Phoenix, partridge wyandotte and a black silkie x pekin, an English term for a dwarf cochin.

Thanks for your work, Chris!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Coop Tour season!

These models, covered in feathers, strutting down runways and largely ignoring their gawking admirers, were featured attractions Saturday along with their elaborate homes in the Tour D’Coop, a benefit for Urban Ministries of Wake County that capitalizes on the popularity of backyard chicken houses.

On the tour, chicken fanciers could visit birds – once known strictly as farm animals – living the high life. A coop that looked like a schoolhouse, another built with recycled materials, and another billed as a “mini atrium” were on the tour that also offered a look at urban and suburban sustainable gardening.

Children who visited one of the Raleigh coops at Greta and Gray Modlin’s home close to Capital Boulevard got to feed their chickens and ogle the orange koi fish in the backyard pond while their parents checked out the coop, the beehive and the garden.
Benjamin Parrish, 6, shrieks with laughter at the chickens housed in the first coop featured on the 9th annual Tour D'Coop in Raleigh on Saturday May 18, 2013. The self-guided tour gave participants the opportunity to sample 21 different coop designs and chicken care methods in just one day. The proceeds from the tour will benefit Urban Ministries, a non-profit that seeks to provide essential items to the homeless and uninsured of Wake County. Photo by Casey Toth.

Read more here:

Chickens are all-purpose pets, said owner Greta Modlin. They produce food, weed the yard, help keep snakes away and make great material for compost that’s used in the garden. She lets the chickens run around the backyard while she gardens. “They’re chuckling and cooing and very enjoyable to be around,” she said.

Gray Modlin, an engineer and professional chef, designed and built the coop, which has a big picture window in front. He used to use some of his chickens’ eggs at the Raleigh restaurant he owned.
“I still eat the eggs every day,” he said “They have become like pets almost.” Some people eat the chickens when they stop laying, he said, but “I don’t think we’ll be eating ours.”

The tour, which attracted about 1,000 people, has its origins in an event eight years ago when a group of neighbors in Raleigh’s Five Points neighborhood wanted to put their chickens and henhouses on display, said M’Liss Koopman, the Tour D’Coop chairwoman. Some years ago, Whole Foods became a sponsor. The tour has grown to 21 coops this year and included Cary coops for the first time. The town voted last year to allow backyard chickens.

Koopman first bought chickens home a year after she went on the tour. Chickens are friendly and curious, she said. When they live outside the confines of a factory, chickens are able to express a broad range of behaviors. “They’re great, low-maintenance pets,” she said.

Money from ticket sales goes to Urban Ministries. The organization runs the second-largest food pantry in Wake County, said Dr. Peter Morris, executive director. The tour helps highlight sustainability and the nonprofit’s move from processed to more fresh foods.

“You can actually do farm-to-fork in your own neighborhood,” he said. “Chickens and gardens are good urban agriculture. Folks are very proud of their coops.”

Teaching children about animals is one of the motivations for owning chickens.
Nine-year-old Caswell Choi’s parents call him “the chicken whisperer” because he can distinguish among their pet chickens that look remarkably alike and knows all their habits. He poked around the chicken enclosure in his family’s Raleigh backyard while the birds flocked at his feet. Chicken owners say the birds have distinctive personalities, and it’s easy to tell which is at the top of the pecking order.

Caswell said his favorite among the birds is Goldie, because she’s mean. “When she gets angry, she’ll hiss at you,” he said.

Caswell’s mother, Anna Choi, said the family got chicks about a year ago. She’d been on the tour and thought owning chickens might be fun for her children.

“It was kind of kooky, but not bad kooky,” she said. And the neighbors get free eggs in the summer.
Her husband, a former architecture student, designed the coop with large windows that are painted to match the house.

One of the best things about having chickens is the fresh eggs, said Lynn and Jim O’Brien, new chicken owners in Cary. Their coop wasn’t featured on the tour, but they were visiting fellow Cary residents Michael and Alissa and Manfre, who fought for four years to persuade Cary to allow backyard chickens.

Fresh eggs are richer and creamier than store-bought, said Jim O’Brien. “The eggs you get at the store taste watery,” he said.

Lynn O’Brien said she didn’t like eggs until she started eating fresh ones. And when you have chickens, there’s always food in the house.

“You know the eggs you’re going to get are from chickens that are treated well,” she said.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Young pullets

The pullets I acquired at the Ventura Poultry Show are growing up! They are about two months old now, a Welsummer, an Ancona and a Blue Laced Red Wyandotte.

They quickly learned to peck corn from the hook where I hang it on the fence. They are getting along with the other girls well. They're a little intimidated by them, which is as it should be. But no pecking or aggression of any kind among them.
They all like to take their dirt baths together. That must be the best place.

I'm especially happy to have an Ancona. Anconas are a Mediterranean breed that shares the background of the Leghorns. In Europe, both breeds are known as Italian. They take their name from the Italian city from which they were imported to England in the mid-nineteenth century. Like the Leghorns, they are excellent egg layers with little broody instinct.

They have yellow skin and lay white eggs. Single and Rose Comb varieties with black and white mottled feathers are recognized by the APA and the ABA. Blue, Brown and Red Mottled varieties have been raised by fanciers.

Cecil Sheppard of Berea, Ohio, president of the International Ancona Club, wrote about the breed in a book, A Little Journey Among Anconas, in 1922. He pointed out that his strain of Anconas was mentioned in advertisements in 17 of the 67 ads published in the American Poultry Journal at that time.

This Ancona is living up to the breed reputation of being somewhat flighty, but she's not at all empty-headed. It's more as if she is following a different drummer. She's bold and curious, doesn't hesitate to venture out on her own. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Selling farm-fresh eggs

Sarah Mahran, <>, posted a question on Comfood about what's required to sell eggs:. Anyone got any help for her? This is a great way to people to get started with small-scale production.

Hi everyone,

I'm a student that's interested in exploring ways to bring local eggs into
grocery stores and supermarkets. I know that there are both USDA & state
regulations surrounding the sale of eggs, and I've spent the past few days
reading about grading, washing, sorting, etc.

1) I'm still unclear as to whether unwashed eggs (i.e. eggs that haven't
gone through the formal process of being washed w/ water @ 90 degrees,
sprayed with sanitizer, etc., but are dry cleaned/wiped, etc) could be sold
legally if they are labeled and documented properly (one USDA document I
read made it sound like such eggs could be labeled as unclassified).

2) The more I'm looking through regulations, the more I feel like it could
potentially be feasible for an organization to obtain grant funding in
order to create a facility that could wash, sanitize, grade & candle eggs
according to regulations so that they could be sold to stores. Does anyone
have any sense of the obstacles that one would face in going through this
process or how arduous it would be?

*Any *information would be greatly appreciated. I'm also happy to pass
along information that I've found to others. Asides from USDA and state
regulations, I've found ATTRA's guide on Small-Scale Egg Handling very

Thanks so much.


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Egyptian Fayoumis

                                                                                    Photo credit Cyndy M. Carroll, Syrynx Farm

The Fayoumi Chicken, known in its native Egypt as the Bigawi, traces its history back 3,600 years, to around 1550 BC. Its development was shaped by long periods of isolation, changing direction when new birds arrived with traders and conquering heroes. The Fayoumi in the 21st century is a unique living treasure.

It emerged at the crossroads of the flourishing civilizations of India, Sri Lanka, Africa and the Near East and reflects those ancient cultures. Its progenitors sailed on trade ships and were carried overland with armies and caravans. On its journey through history, it developed its distinctive identity in consecutive stages, from one significant point in history and location in geography to the next.
Egyptian traders sailed forth loaded with millet and sesame to trade for the incense, spices, essential oils and resins they used religiously to mummify the dead. Punt, on the Horn of Africa, had coffee, myrrh and frankincense, India had cumin, turmeric, black pepper and citrus. Sri Lanka had cinnamon and ginger. Indonesia had cloves. Everything worth anything eventually ended up in Egypt and it arrived through trade carried from every corner of the ancient world.

Trading ships came from India to the shores of Punt, what is now northern Somalia, where trading partners made the deal and subsequently carried the goods north to Egypt via Yemen and Oman. The Bigawi fowl came along with domestic cattle, precious metals such as gold, silver, bronze and electrum, a naturally-occurring gold and silver alloy, and gems such as emeralds, amethyst, malachite and turquoise.

The Indian Sub-Continent and Sri Lanka in relation to Northeast Africa: The Horn of Africa, Punt, and Egypt; the Sinai Peninsula and the Arabian Peninsula

The chickens that came with the earliest traders were valued as ceremonial birds, rather than for their economic value as food. Their ancestors were Red Junglefowl, with influences from the other wild junglefowl species: Grey, Sri Lanka and Green Forktail. Each species is adapted to different environmental conditions, and passes its unique traits on to its offspring. In Canaan, present day Israel, the Hebrews bred progenitors of the Asil, which had arrived from India, into an egg-laying wonder. This domesticated chicken is one of the Fayoumi’s ancestors. Pharaoh Thutmose III, Queen Hatshepsut’s younger brother and co-regent, brought them to Egypt after the battle of Tel Megiddo in 1479 BC.

Thutmose III would have brought them to Fayoum’s great temple complexes of the Amen cult, where they were kept as exotic curiosities rather than domestic fowl. Egyptians already had plenty of geese, quail ducks and guineafowl. They ranged free in sacred gardens and building complexes. The ancient Egyptians must have been fond of the Canaanite fowl to allow them to free range in such an important monument of Egyptian culture.

Climate was working against the Fayoum, as its water table began to drop. The Fayoum basin had been a lush agricultural area where coriander, artichokes, Egyptian garlic, Egyptian tree onion, leeks, radishes, lettuce, watermelon and kamut wheat were developed. Drought took its toll on crops and population.

About 70 years after the Battle of Tel Megiddo, scores of dazzling male Sri Lanka Junglefowl arrived along with a major tribute of cinnamon from Sri Lanka during the reign of Thutmose’s great grandson, King Amenhotep III. In Ancient Egypt, failure for the river to rise was seen as a failure of the God-Kings themselves. The birds’ arrival was a blessing, because their multi-syllabic crow sounded to the Egyptians like the mantra river priests chanted, pleading for the river rise:
Haaypi Haaypi! Herhut! Heqet! Herhut! Heqet!
Hail to thee, O Nile! Who manifests thyself over this land, and comes to give life to Egypt!
Herhut! Heqet! Herhut! Heqet!
Come and prosper!
Come and prosper!
Herhut! Heqet! Herhut! Heqet!
O Nile, come and prosper!
O you who make human beings to live through His flocks and His flocks through His orchards!
Herhut! Heqet! Herhut! Heqet!
Come and prosper, come,
O Nile, come and prosper!
Haaypi! Haaypi Hotep! Haaypi Hotep!

Even this tribute failed to restore the water table. As the desert steadily encroached, most of the people left Fayoum. The fowl, hardy birds, hung on and adapted to flourish in the marshes amongst the reeds. They foraged in the thorn forest and took shelter in the dense palm forests surrounding the evaporating lake bed.  For the next thousand years, this population bred on its own in isolation from other influences.

Drought stalks the Fayoum

But the weather was not on Thutmose’s side. The drought that had begun a century before continued to dry up the Fayoum basin. The water table dropped, leaving stagnant pools of water that allowed insect-borne diseases such as malaria, bilharzia and river blindness to add to the region’s misery. Surface water became more saline. Even the religious temples would have had a rough time of it.  By Thutmose III’s time during the 18th Dynasty, Itjtawy was already largely in ruin. After Thutmose III's death, the center of Egyptian government and politics moved to Karnak and the Delta. Many of the temples within Fayoum fell into further disrepair.

Hundreds of generations of chickens would have hatched among this very limited population, probably never more than a few thousand.

The Sri Lanka Junglefowl roosters added genetic diversity to what must have been a rather inbred population. The result was a uniquely skewed founder base. The addition of so many roosters would have unbalanced the equilibrium between the sexes for a few generations. Survivability and capacity to fight were probably significant for the first few years but ultimately the flock would have found its balance again. Male Sri Lanka Junglefowl defend their nests and enjoy extended relationships with offspring. Females often have up to three suitor/providers, who hold guard over the nest site and take over the chores of nurturing eight- to twelve-week old chicks while she hatches another clutch. Under this social organization, called facultative polyandry or serial monogamy, hens can raise three to five clutches a year. They may breed year round, which has been observed in captivity in bantam chickens, many old breeds of which are also derived of Sri Lanka Junglefowl sires in their deepest antiquity.

Males may have responded by forming cooperative guilds rather than competing aggressively. It could also lead to the marked precocity, early sexual maturity, of Fayoumis. Roosters start to crow as early as five weeks old and pullets begin to lay at around four and a half months. Today, when Fayoumi flocks have a surplus of roosters, two or more per hen, the entire group gets along amicably. Of course teenage roosters don’t learn to cooperate until later in their life.

Nature reclaims the Fayoum

The Fayoum remained basically deserted, save for a few temples and larger fishing villages. Farmers continued to cultivate the area, but Fayoum’s population was a fraction of what it was during its ascendance. The Fayoumi chickens naturalized in their environment. They were as isolated as they would have been if they were marooned on an island. They took their Junglefowl heritage and returned to the wild.

Sri Lanka Junglefowl are native to the semi-arid coastal mountain habitat, not the rain forest.
That heritage served the feral Fayoumis well, helping them succeed at forging for insects and other invertebrates in the marshes along the lake and river. It may be that the considerable influence of Sri Lanka Junglefowl in the genetic pedigree of the Egyptian Fayoumi is what rescued its progenitors from extinction. Like that wild species, the hybrids had to find food where there was very little to be found and compete with native wildlife all the while avoiding formidable predation. Their saving grace may have been their ability to capture flies in mid-air and being able to nest amongst the crowns of old palm trees . One still sees them in the more remote reaches of the Fayoum wading along canals and irrigation ditches, apparently living almost entirely on flies.

Fayoumis find ways to survive

The Fayoumi had a long walk along the road of survival before it came into its own. Predation must have taken many.  Every movement of these noisy foreign intruders was most assuredly watched by native predators. Birds, both adults and chicks, whose plumage contrasted with the background of bright white and burned grey of shore and hillock, ochre and red of sand would have been vulnerable. Camouflage plumage would prevail in survivors, making them less obvious as they made their way across the ever-growing banks of lakes and canals. They would have needed camouflage even at night, when the moon shines so bright as to make the light-reflective desert as clear as day.  

Survive they did, through a thousand years, until the Greco-Roman period, when Herodotus visited Egypt and noted in passing that wild fowl lived in the marshes. By that time, they were completely wild and served no practical purpose to humankind.  Greek and Roman invaders brought with them their own domestic chickens, recent descendants of the Canaanite hens so deep in the Fayoumi’s ancestry. These tame domestic birds came to live amongst newly bustling settlements along the banks of the lakes of Fayoum as the Greeks once again transformed the basin into a lush region of vast natural resource wealth.

This may well have invited the attentions of a few wild Bigawi fowl, which came to frequent towns and villages, interbreeding freely with their humanized cousins. The modern day Fayoumi Chicken available from hatcheries is generally a descendant of this ancient composite. It has been refined by successive generations of poultry scientists in modern day Egypt, Turkey and Italy.

Fayoumis today

Fayoumis are not recognized for exhibition by American poultry associations.  They are small birds, roosters weighing around 4.5 pounds and hens around 3.5 pounds. Their plumage is similar to Silver Campines and Friesans, which are both descendants of the original Fayoumi. As a rule Fayoumis have silver-white heads on black and white barred bodies, but may vary considerably. They have diminutive single combs and lay small off-white eggs, with a grey or lavender tint. They are reputed to have some natural resistance to diseases such as Avian Influenza, West Nile, Malaria and Choryza.

Modern Egyptian Fayoumi chickens separate into three breeds worth describing:

The Bigawi is differentiated from the Modern Fayoumi by size, colour and temperament. The Bigawi is a bit smaller and battier than the Fayoumi. Females are a rich chestnut brown with bold black transverse barring. Males are difficult to discern from Modern Fayoumi, though they tend to be darker in the wings with darker and longer tails. Both Bigawi and Modern Fayoumi should have dark facial skin and an unusual crow that is distinguishable from any other breed of rooster. In Kassala and Port Sudan in Eastern Sudan, one sees Bigawi fowl that are pewter in colour. They are camouflaged against the dark soil there. Their combs are very like those of the Sicilian Buttercup, another breed with African roots. Many Bigawi roosters are white with grey barring appearing only on the breast or undertail. They are a land race and as such there is some diversity amongst them.

The Shakshuk Fayoumi is the common strain of unimproved Fayoumi that one sees in villages throughout the Fayoum and in the cemetery of Old Cairo. They are brightly colored with vivid yellow legs and ginger hued feathers.

The Dandarawi is a recent dual purpose utility composite created in an agricultural university in Assiut. It was bred by crossing Fayoumis with old African breeds like the Malagasy and European breeds such as the Braekel.

City of the Dead and Mokkatum

In Mokkatum, high in the hills above Cairo, live the Zabbaleen, a minority religious community of Coptic Christians who have served as Cairo's informal garbage collectors for the past 70 to 80 years. A Bigawi Shashuk Modern Fayoumi and Dandarawi composite known as the Mokkatum Fowl scavenges with them in the mountains of refuse. This is an important livestock species to the Zabbaleen, as eggs are a significant part of their daily nutrition.

In the City of the Dead, a four-mile cemetery running the length of Cairo, people make their homes with their ancestors. Established during the first Arab conquest of 642 AD, the cemetery is the site for monuments and shrines to the dead. The poor, fleeing rural poverty, settle there. They share it with flocks of local chickens.

They are unique in appearance, and the locals respect them. They may take eggs that they find, but otherwise leave the birds unmolested. One hopes that Cairene backyard poultry lovers will conserve a few flocks before the chickens are mongrelized with the commercial utility breeds that have become common in Cairo, so that we may continue to follow these birds into the future.

Thanks to Kermit Blackwood for his substantial contribution to this brochure.

Research projects at Iowa State University are exploring their natural immunity to disease, where they maintain breeding flocks but do not sell to the public.